12.29.2005

After Christmas Sales Strategies

Econ gurus cited a number of reasons why retailers didn't do as well as expected this holiday season. Some people were forced by high gas prices to cut back on their Christmas spending. Others were smart (or lazy, depending on how you look at it) and decided to buy gift cards instead. Another factor is the timing of Hannukah this year. Either way, gift card recipients, Hannukah shoppers, Kwanzaa shoppers, and people rewarding themselves are cashing in on after Christmas sales, in which retailers are supposedly heavily slashing prices in desperation to match their forecast numbers. However, I went to the mall 2 days before and then 2 days after Christmas and didn't really find that big of a difference in prices. Sure, a few items were much more heavily discounted yesterday (like yummy smelling body butter at Bath and Body Works, now $5 instead of $13), but for the most part, meh.

If you're treating yourself, proceed with caution. You avoided "sales" traps while you were doing Christmas shopping, so don't fall into them now. Don't buy things just because they are on sale, especially if you don't really need them and they'll just sit in some dark corner of your house. I had to tear myself away from the pumpkin spice body butter because I already had several bottles of lotion that will last me for a long time; even if it's "only" $5, it's $5 that could have been spent on better things like gas (which is still over $2/gal X 10 gal/wk = $20/wk). If that doesn't encourage you to avoid the traps, just remember how much of a hit your wallet just took for Christmas presents. For me, it's around $150; it might be more for you. Those 3-digit figures should hopefully chill your rash charge-it impulses.

Before you go shopping for you, make a New Year's resolution. Even if it won't last you that far into the New Year, it does help save you a bit of money; if it does stick, it's a great beginning to a better you. My bad habit is that while the clothes I buy are good and cheap, $5 here, $10 there, and it really adds up. Hence, I resolve that for the next 3 months, I'll buy only what I need or have always wanted if they are supercheap. After that, my monthly allowance for fashion items is $20, allowing for roll-over but no "advanced credit." The resolution forced me to think hard and make a list of things I really need and just a couple of things that I really want. I encourage you to make a similar list for your post-Christmas shopping adventures. What do you really need? What can wait?

The what you want/what can wait list is helpful for the next step: deciding *when* to go buy those items. Right now some stores are pricing things between 50-60% off. Based on my experiences, the 70-75% sales will come in late January. For things that you want but don't need, or things that are too expensive even on sale now, just wait. Face it, if you can't afford it, you're not getting it. Looking good isn't worth a credit card debt especially when there are so many cheaper alternatives (like accessories from Forever 21, H&M, or Target) you can turn to. If it's something you've always wanted AND you know will fly off the shelves AND you have the money for it, pounce now. When you love something you'll wear it a lot, so that makes up for the higher prices. How do you know if it flies off the shelves? Well, if it's a must-have for you, I'm sure you've been to the store (or website) and ogled at it for the longest time, and you know how quickly certain sizes disappear. If there's plenty of your coveted item, there's a greater likelihood that you'll win if you wait for an extra week or 2.

If you're a student, recent grad, or looking to improve/build a wardrobe, there are several timeless "luxury" items that just became affordable. Prices on cashmere sweaters are starting to drop off and will probably fall even lower if you wait. It may be lower still at discount outlets in a few months, but when it comes to cashmere, I prefer to get them at boutique sales instead of outlets because the delicate cashmere may get more snagged and otherwise damaged the more times it changes hands. I've seen some good cashmere sweaters around $50, and one even as low as $30. Another good staple is a good wool coat. They're falling under $100 now, and with global warming hurting sales this year, prices are likely to go down even more. If you live in warm climates, the need for a coat isn't so urgent (unless you plan to travel), so you can wait another month or two. Keep an eye out for websites of Nordstrom's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, and e-tailers for closeouts. I bought an Anne Klein carcoat this past spring/summer from Classic Closeouts for $30 and have made great use of it these last few weeks. Not the most fitted or the greatest looking, but it does its job and I've gotten so many compliments for it. If they repeat the sale, you can probably score a great deal, too. Finally, if you're into leather, now's a good time too. A good leather blazer or bomber will last you for years. I got a leather blazer from RobMay for $35 about 3 or 4 years ago for $35 instead of $100+. It may not be the greatest quality, but it looked and continues to look great.

A caveat on buying out-of-season items, especially the aforementioned "luxury" ones--make sure that you don't buy crazy colors or cuts that are too trendy, unless you KNOW you'll wear it for years because it fits your personal style. For instance, this year cashmere sweaters were dyed in all kinds of colors and comes in all types of cuts, and some creations were frankly frightening. They may be cheap now, but you aren't going to wear them next year, you're shoving money into a black hole. Personally, I'd go with either cuts and colors that are classic (like crewnecks or cardigans in black, navy, and pastel colors) or something really tastefully avant-garde that will stay interesting year after year. Also, don't buy things in multiple quantities except for basics. This is a default rule to prevent waste in general, but is especially important for trendy stuff.

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