Presidents Day isn’t the sexiest of holidays when it comes to shopping. It's not romantic like Valentine’s Day, or as patriotic as the 4th of July, or as lush and indulgent as the winter holiday season. No, President’s Day weekend is the workhorse of shopping holidays. Typically, big burly items are on sale like mattresses, appliances, furniture and cars. So is last resort clearance merchandise like leftover January white sale linens to go with that new mattress and lingering holiday decorations.
Discount to mid-tier department stores like J.C. Penney’s, Sears, Kohl’s, Target and Macy’s typically have storewide sales to clear out the final bits of merchandise left over from the holidays. Many luxury retailers don’t participate at all. Nor do boutiques, unless they spell classy with a K.
President's Day sales are also easy to overlook as the retail world has shifted to a calendar in which sales and promotions never really disappear. The retail component of every holiday has been creeping, spreading well beyond the traditional boundaries. Holiday shopping started in early October last year, and Mother’s Day promotions begin more than a month in advance of the actual day. But President’s Day weekend sales -- perhaps because they lack charisma, or perhaps because they overlap with the more popular and marketable Valentine’s Day -- remain constrained to a long weekend, maybe a week at the most. A few eager online retailers are making feeble attempts to build the holiday up, but for the most part it’s just a weekend.
Despite the time constraints and general lack of excitement, President’s Day bargains should be worthwhile this year. Here’s why.
Holiday retail sales were mediocre, and President’s Day is the last resort for stores to clear out winter merchandise to open shelf space for spring styles. So while President’s Day weekend is typically reserved for the big burlies, this year a wider variety of merchandise, including small electronics, clothing and home decorations, will be available from a wider variety of retailers.
Last year’s holiday retail sales demonstrated with absolute clarity that shoppers want to buy online. But some types of merchandise simply demand a personal inspection. Only desperate insomniacs buy a mattress without giving it a test spin in a store first. The same is true for most appliances, cars, furniture and the other giant items associated with this shopping weekend. This President’s Day is an opportunity for retailers who want to get shoppers into their stores again to showcase special products, remind shoppers how helpful a great salesperson can be, and tempt shoppers with alluring impulse purchases.
Shoppers in many parts of the country have yet another reason for switching from a screen to a store: They’ve been cabin-fevered by challenging weather. Between the wider variety of merchandise, cabin fever, and the necessity of at least visiting a store to check out big, somewhat risky purchases, shopping on President’s Day weekend 2016 will be more alluring than usual.
But shoppers, caveat emptor: Browsing leads to buying. In fact, there is a correlation between the amount of time people spend in a store and how much they buy. There's a tendency to feel like going to a store and leaving empty-handed is a waste of time, leading consumers to make poor purchasing decisions. So map out your plan and shop with a clear goal in mind. Remember the founding father dictum that a penny saved is a penny earned.
Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.