This fall, shoppers can expect cut-rate prices on electronics, home furnishings, and other popular categories as retailers fight for their dollars. Practical items, including vacuum cleaners and beauty products, are among those being offered for less—but to get the best deals, customers will need to shop around and be flexible on the timing of their purchases.
In some cases, retailers are even willing to take a loss or earn a tiny profit on certain products (dubbed "loss leaders") in order to get customers into their stores. "Over the last year, people have gotten used to extraordinary discounts. The way to hook people into coming into your store is with a few loss leaders," says Dan de Grandpre, chief executive of www.dealnews.com. Another reason for the low prices: Consumers have been cutting back for almost a year now, and retailers with too much inventory are eager to unload it.
Televisions, DVD players, and computers will be heavily discounted this fall as stores kick off Black Friday sales, which traditionally begin the day after Thanksgiving or as early as October. Customers looking for flat-screen televisions will find the cheapest deals on off-brands with fewer features; de Grandpre suggests that those looking for higher-end sets wait until December when pricier televisions will go on sale.
Blu-ray DVD players, which a year ago cost between $200 and $300, are now priced at as little as $100. By Black Friday, de Grandpre predicts, they will hit $49. "They will be off-brands and have fewer features, but for most people, it doesn't matter. They just want to play a DVD," he says.
As for computers, netbooks from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Lenovo will very likely be marked down this fall. A recent www.PriceGrabber.com survey found that the average price of the 10 most popular laptops dropped to $487 from $599 last year. Over Labor Day, HP offered up to 50 percent discounts on laptops, desktops, and printers.
The recession explains some of the discounts among common household items, such as vacuum cleaners and home furnishings, says Sara Rodriguez, market research analyst for www.PriceGrabber.com. On the site, discounts in the home furnishings category—which includes home décor and rugs—currently range from 15 to 55 percent. Vacuum cleaners are down as much as 37 percent. Jewelry, on the other hand, isn't as popular right now, so discounts are harder to come by.
Although these deals will probably last through Black Friday, there's no way to predict if they'll continue through the holiday season. It's possible, de Grandpre says, that consumers will start to spend more as the holidays approach because they feel they've been frugal for so long, which could cause an uptick in consumer spending and inspire retailers to scale back their sales.
Either way, customers will get the best deals by shopping around because pricing differs depending on the retailer. Rodriguez also suggests planning ahead, since prices tend to fluctuate. On www.PriceGrabber.com, visitors can set price alerts so that the website informs them when a product reaches their desired price point.
Here are some of the best deals this fall:
1) Nintendo Wii console: One of the most popular products for holiday gifts for several years now, the Nintendo Wii console could drop below $200 this season, reports www.dealnews.com. But the lowest prices will probably come after Black Friday, says de Grandpre. Also, because sales have slowed compared to previous years, customers don't have to worry as much about stores running out early.
2) Netbooks: These minilaptops are cheaper than their larger versions, which makes them popular among parents looking to trim their back-to-school shopping, says Rodriguez. Netbooks are also lightweight and easy to carry. This fall, look for prices under $250.
3) Blu-ray disk players: Prices for these DVD players, which offer superior picture quality on high-definition televisions, have been falling throughout the summer. This fall, prices could approach $100 and possibly go lower. Customers who can do without the special features offered on the higher-end models will get the best deals.
4) Flat-screen televisions: An analysis by www.PriceGrabber.com shows that flat-screen televisions are discounted at rates between 24 and 38 percent. Even high-end brands slash prices for Black Friday, but retailers will differ on the depth of their discounts, so consumers should shop around. (If you want a high-end television, wait until December for the best prices.)
5) Southwest's Friends Fly Free program: To encourage more people to book getaways this winter, Southwest is offering free flights for your companion when you book a flight and hotel package to certain cities. The airline is currently taking reservations for Las Vegas and Orlando.
6) Mountain bikes: These are a popular seller this fall, with www.PriceGrabber.com reporting discounts ranging from 15 to 50 percent. Marked-down brands include Mongoose, Schwinn, and Kawasaki.
7) Beauty products: Consumers are saving money at the salon by styling their own hair, which means they're buying flat irons and blow dryers. That's one reason prices on health and beauty products are up to 76 percent off, according to www.PriceGrabber.com.
8) Handbags: With luxury items selling slowly, some retailers are cutting shoppers a deal. On www.PriceGrabber.com, handbag discounts range from 20 to 50 percent. Brands include Coach, Gucci, and Big Buddha.
9) Vacuum cleaners: Every home needs one, which is probably why vacuum cleaners have proved popular despite consumer cutbacks. Discounts of up to 37 percent off can be found on Hoovers, Dysons, and other brands.
10) Home furnishings: People are spending more time at home, so items that make living rooms and kitchens seem more luxurious are popular—and on sale. A digital photo frame from Haier, for example, starts at $30, or 57 percent off.