MONEY deals

Free Shipping Day Deals: Better Than Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

shipping box with confetti and styrofoam peanuts coming out of it
Sverre Haugland—Getty Images

Thursday, December 18, is Free Shipping Day, when more than 1,000 retailers are offering free shipping on all orders—and sometimes an extra 50% off on top of that.

Let’s be honest: Free shipping isn’t all that hard to come by. E-retailers are well aware of how exorbitant (or, for that matter, any) shipping costs are likely to cause online shoppers to abandon their virtual shopping carts before completing transactions, so nearly all merchants offer some form of free shipping—typically, when a minimum purchase threshold of $50 or $75 is met.

On Free Shipping Day, however, participating retailers agree to offer free shipping with no minimum purchase required, and the event is held one week before Christmas so that orders can be delivered by December 24. Still, let’s have another reality check: Many Free Shipping Day participants have offered free, no-minimum-purchase shipping on plenty of other days in the holiday season. Target has been doing this for two months, and stores such as REI are offering free, no-minimum shipping guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve on orders placed as late as 10 a.m. on December 23.

The point is that free shipping, while nice and all, is hardly the most unique and dazzling deal in today’s promotion-heavy marketplace. And free shipping alone shouldn’t make you pull the trigger on any old purchase.

The best deals for online shoppers combine free shipping with substantial discounts. Many retailers are pairing up across-the-board markdowns with Free Shipping Day promotions, and they’re presenting them as amazing, can’t-pass-up bargains. But are they? Below, we’re listing some seemingly impressive Free Shipping Day deals, and we’re comparing them with what these same retailers were offering on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other times during the holidays. Indeed, many are truly good deals—on par or better with what we’ve seen on other big sales days—but others just aren’t that special.

Here’s just a sample of today’s offers. As you’ll see, before biting on any Free Shipping Day deal, it’s wise to do some clicking around to investigate whether the promotions you see today are the same, better, or worse than what these retailers were offering days or weeks ago—and may offer again tomorrow.

Abercrombie & Fitch: Use code 15588 for 50% off everything plus free shipping—the same exact deal the retailer offered on Cyber Monday. Abercrombie offered across-the-board sales of “only” 40% off on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

American Eagle: Use code HOLIDAZE for 40% off everything and free shipping on all orders—the same exact offer promoted on Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday.

Children’s Place: Use code 25OFFER3 for free shipping on all orders, plus an extra 25% off sitewide—on top of sales marking down all merchandise by 40% to 60%; on Black Friday, by contrast, Children’s Place offered free shipping and a flat 50% off all merchandise.

Hollister: 50% off everything in store and online (use code: 35588), plus free shipping on all orders; Hollister also knocked 50% off everything on Black Friday, but shipping cost extra for customers who didn’t meet a minimum purchase threshold.

Lane Bryant: Free shipping and 50% off select merchandise such as pants, jeans, skirts, shoes, and boots (use code: SNOWMANLB), compared with free shipping and 50% off absolutely everything on Cyber Monday.

Levi’s: 30% off everything (through December 21) and free shipping (on December 18 only); occasionally, the Levi’s site is known for discounting all purchases by 40% off, but only on orders of $250 or more.

Sports Authority: Customers get 15% off nearly all merchandise and free two-day shipping for orders placed on Free Shipping Day; from time to time earlier in the season, this sports retailer has offered 25% off and free (standard) shipping on all orders.

Tommy Hilfiger: Use code TOMMY100 for free shipping on all orders and $30 off if you spend $100 or more; it’s not nearly as good a deal as the Cyber Monday deal of 50% off your entire purchase.

TIME deals

New York Gambles on Full-Size Casinos to Boost Cash-Strapped Communities

New York Casinos
The Proctors Theater marquee displays a celebratory message after a New York State board announced earlier on Dec. 17, 2014, that the former Alco site in Schenectady, N.Y., would be recommended for a casino Patrick Dodson—AP

The recommendations favor gaming complexes situated in struggling upstate towns

A state board has recommended the approval of three full-size, Las Vegas–style casinos in New York State.

The three gaming complexes are slated for Schenectady (near the state capital, Albany), Tyre (near the Finger Lakes) and Sullivan County Catskills (north of New York City), the New York Times reports. They will be the first of their kind in the state.

The recommendations cap a competitive campaign by 16 casino developers for the right to set up shop in New York State, many of them hoping to tap New York City for customers.

Yet the board in the end rejected all six proposals for casinos immediately kitty-corner to the Big Apple, favoring instead developers with plans to give northward communities, still mourning the loss of a teeming manufacturing sector, a heady injection of jobs and cash.

Critics of New York State’s effort to expand gambling have doubted that casinos will renew hard-up towns and cities, citing a saturated regional gaming market, as well as predicting that casinos might hurt, not help, such places by sowing crime and spooking property values.

[NYT]

MONEY online shopping

How to Get Fast, Free Last-Minute Shipping on Holiday Purchases

An Amazon employee packages an order to be shipped from its Coffeyville, Kan., warehouse.
An Amazon employee packages an order to be shipped from its Coffeyville, Kan., warehouse. Brian Corn—The Wichita Eagle/AP

Hey, holiday shopping procrastinators, now's the time to get your act together and take advantage of offers guaranteeing free and speedy delivery of online purchases.

Here’s everything you need to know about last-minute online holiday shopping, including how to ensure your orders will arrive in time to tuck under the Christmas tree—and how to not pay top dollar (or any money whatsoever!) for it.

The sooner you order, the better. While many retailers are guaranteeing that orders placed very late in the game—perhaps even by December 23—will arrive by Christmas Eve, it’s unwise to bank on these guarantees holding up. After last year’s debacle, in which orders from Kohl’s, Amazon, and others failed to arrive in time for Christmas, retailers have tried to push shoppers to place orders earlier to help avoid the mad rush in the few days before December 25. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, however, that many consumers are procrastinating, and that retailers are yet again guaranteeing last-minute delivery to entice desperate shoppers into placing late orders.

But there are two simple reasons why you should make online holiday purchases asap: 1) Doing so will save money, because (with the exception of Free Shipping Day—see below) the likelihood of free shipping disappears the longer you wait, and you’ll pay through the nose for expedited delivery at the very last minute; and 2) even though retailers and shipping services have taken steps to avoid a repeat of last year’s troubles, Mother Nature or sales overload could still cause shipping delays. After shoppers were burned last year, why take the risk?

More retailers are offering delivery guarantees. Heading into the 2014 holiday season, retailers seemed a little hesitant to make the sort of last-minute shipping guarantees that were commonplace in 2013. According to a survey conducted in the fall, 21% of retailers said they would set their deadlines for guaranteed December 24 delivery at December 19 or later, compared with 26% a year ago. Yet more recently, there’s been an increase in such guarantees. The consulting firm Kurt Salmon told USA Today that 25% of retailers are guaranteeing free delivery by Christmas on orders placed one to three days beforehand.

Retailers typically have a series of deadlines and varying costs for shoppers who want delivery by December 24. Target says that customers who order by December 20 are guaranteed delivery by Christmas, but only “on select items.” Target is also offering free standard shipping on all orders placed by December 20, but the policy stipulates that standard shipping is “3-5 business days.” There are only four business days between December 20 and December 24 (including both of those days), so it wouldn’t be surprising if some December 20 orders aren’t delivered by December 24.

Many news outlets have reported Amazon’s first deadline as Tuesday, December 16—that’s the last day shoppers can get free delivery via Super Saver Shipping for non-Prime members who meet the minimum purchase threshold ($35). Yet Amazon itself is now listing Friday, December 19, as the final day for free (non-Prime) shipping. Prime members, meanwhile, get two-day shipping on all orders fulfilled by Amazon, so they can order as late as December 22 for delivery by Christmas Eve.

Free Shipping Day is Thursday, December 18. As of Monday, roughly 1,000 retailers said they’d be participating in Free Shipping Day, an annual event held about a week before Christmas, in which stores offer free shipping on all orders, with no minimum purchase. While that sounds terrific, it must be noted that the many retailers offer essentially this same exact deal before and sometimes after Free Shipping Day. Target has given customers free shipping on all orders for weeks, while retailers like REI are offering free shipping guaranteed to arrive by December 24, with no minimum purchase, for orders placed as late as 10 a.m. on December 23. In select areas, Banana Republic is even offering free same-day shipping thanks to a partnership with a speedy delivery specialist, Deliv.

There are other ways to get fast—and free!—shipping. As mentioned above, Amazon Prime members get free two-day shipping on their Amazon purchases, and if you’ve never had a subscription before ($99 annually), it especially makes sense to get a free trial membership during the holiday period. Students get six months free, while everyone else can enjoy Prime benefits for 30 days. Also, the December 2014 issue of MONEY offers all sorts of tricks for saving money on online purchases, including the tip that ShopRunner, another two-day shipping service, is free for American Express customers who register a card with the site. By subscribing to either of these services, every day is Free Shipping Day.

MONEY online shopping

Believe it or Not, Amazon Isn’t the King of Cheap Holiday Prices

mouse on top of present
Junos—Getty Images

Amazon is losing its edge as the lowest-cost retailer.

This is shaping up to be the year all the rules of shopping were broken. First came the bombshell revelation from NerdWallet showing that Black Friday goods may not be quite the deals retailers claim, as many were selling year-old items at the same prices as last year’s Black Friday. And if the newest report from ShopSavvy is correct, the decade-long maxim that Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN 0.7288% has the lowest prices could be wrong as well.

For those unaware of the company, ShopSavvy’s purpose is to help would-be shoppers find the best deal on products by providing retailer information through its website and its barcode-scanning mobile app on Android and iOS. And if its recent ShopSavvy Showdown (say that three times fast) is correct, both Amazon and Best Buy BEST BUY BBY 1.3773% offer higher prices on overlapping items than the undisputed King of Retail: Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT -0.9076% .

The survey says …

This survey is not the first showing that Amazon is losing its edge as the lowest-cost retailer. Earlier this year, a report from Wells Fargo and online price-tracking company 360pi found Amazon had higher prices overall when compared to Wal-Mart and Target in four critical areas: shoes, electronics, housewares, and health products. However, the report found that Amazon typically offered the lowest prices when it came to “like-to-like” items. Essentially, when a specific item was on both sites Amazon still had the lowest price.

However, this newest data finds the exact opposite. The survey, based only on the same products for sale at Walmart, Amazon, and Best Buy, finds that “Wal-Mart has the cheaper option on over 50% more products than Amazon and Best Buy across the categories analyzed.” In addition, the survey notes Wal-Mart’s online price match policy, in which the company specifically agrees to match prices from Amazon and Best Buy.

The survey results were rather shocking when compared with Amazon. In the heavily trafficked categories of electronics and TVs (the survey distinguishes between the two), Wal-Mart was cheaper on 66% and 85% of total products, respectively. The average percentage difference of price was 28% and 23%, again, respectively. Essentially, this survey finds that shopping at Wal-Mart, and not Amazon, for TVs and electronics will save you nearly a quarter of your money.

So I should go to Wal-Mart right now, right?

If these results are correct, you should go directly to Wal-Mart and not worry about shopping around online, right? Well, not so fast. As the survey clearly shows, Wal-Mart didn’t always have the lowest price, although it was a good bet they did. In addition, the survey didn’t go into a lot of detail about the product selection. Without that critical piece of information, it’s hard to know whether these goods are representative of a true head-to-head comparison or whether these items are merely a good selection for Wal-Mart.

In addition, the data presentation concerns me. Although there were three retailers chosen for the survey, the data was only presented as Wal-Mart versus Amazon and Wal-Mart versus Best Buy. Without the third head-to-head comparison, Amazon versus Best Buy, the survey can come across as less of an unbiased comparison and more of a pro-Wal-Mart piece.

Finally, competition between megaretailers is rather intense. In many cases, retailers consider prices of 3%-5% lower as being worthy of running commercials specifically outlining these differences. The closest ShopSavvy comparison between Wal-Mart and the other retailers was in the TV category, with Wal-Mart being “only” 15% cheaper than Best Buy on average. When matched up against Amazon in the Kids category, ShopSavvy reports that Wal-Mart is a massive 45% cheaper on average.

Overall, this doesn’t mean that ShopSavvy’s data is wrong, but this should be considered only one data point in your holiday deal-hunting comparison. One shopping rule that will never be broken is to continue to shop around for the best deal; you’ll be thankful you do.

TIME deals

BC Partners Buying PetSmart for $8.7 Billion

The Petsmart store in Westminster
The Petsmart store in Westminster, Colo., is seen Nov. 18, 2014 Rick Wilking—Reuters

Pet retailer goes to a British bidder in the year’s largest U.S. private equity deal

London-based private equity firm BC Partners has won the auction for retailer PetSmart Inc. in an $8.7 billion deal. This would suggest that BC Partners made a last-minute move to best Apollo Global Management, which yesterday was reported to be the front-runner.

According to a press release, BC Partners will pay $83 per share for Phoenix-based PetSmart. That represents a 6.86% premium over PetSmart’s closing price on Friday, but a whopping 46.2% bump over its 2014 nadir on May 22.

Shares stayed fairly low until activist hedge fund Jana Partners disclosed on July 3 that it had amassed a 9.9% stake in Petsmart, and only continued to climb as the company’s board responded by launching an auction process led by J.P. Morgan. Jana had threatened to nominate its own slate of directors if it wasn’t satisfied with the results of the auction, although it’s hard to imagine that it would oppose $83 per share.

Longview Asset Management, PetSmart’s second-largest outside shareholder with a 9.02% position, will roll its shares into the company as part of the BC group. Also participating are several limited partners of BC Partners limited partners, including La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and StepStone Group.

The purchase price represents a 9.1x EBITDA multiple for the 12 months ending November 2, 2014. No word yet on specifics of the debt package, except that lenders will include Citigroup, Nomura, Jefferies, Barclays and Deutsche Bank. There has been recent Federal Reserve pressure on banks to keep leverage multiples below 6x EBITDA, and deals that surpass that threshold have had some difficulty getting syndicated.

In addition to Apollo, PetSmart reportedly received a joint bid from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Clayton Dubilier & Rice.

The retailer operates 1,387 stores in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

MONEY Shopping

Why All Those Great Holiday Deals Aren’t Really Great Deals

deflated balloon saying "Sale Now On"
MONEY (photo illustration)—Kutay Tanir/Getty (string); Adrian Turner/Alamy (balloon)

Sale prices are faker than ever this holiday season, as retailers openly admit that no one buys items at the ridiculously inflated "regular" or "suggested" amounts listed on price tags.

When seemingly everything is always on sale, is anything really on sale?

That’s a question that any savvy, value-oriented shopper must ask from time to time—and especially during the annual holiday shopping season frenzy, when it’s routine to see entire stores discounted by 40% or 50%. When such markdowns are a dime a dozen, who is foolish enough to actually buy anything at full price?

The answer could very well be no one. Something called “price anchoring” is a widely employed tactic in the retail world. Basically, the concept involves the establishment of a high price anchor, which locks into place a perception of value. You’ve probably seen tens of thousands of these anchors, in the form of “list,” “regular,” “original,” “suggested,” or “compare to” amounts shown on retailer websites or price tags. Anchor prices are set intentionally high, not with the idea that consumers will actually pay the inflated prices, but so that the retailer can create the perception of a tremendous deal when the item is inevitably placed “on sale.”

For example, picture a sweater listed with an original price of $100. When it’s placed “on sale” for $50, that seems like quite a deal—a far, far better deal than if the original price were listed at $55 or $60. All along, however, the store selling these sweaters has been planning on getting around $50 apiece for them, and it would probably make a profit even if it sold them for $25 each—which the store surely will during after-Christmas sales.

There’s nothing new about price anchoring. What is new—and pretty darn galling among consumers who expect more pricing transparency—is that in today’s promotion-heavy retail world, “original” prices appear to be getting exponentially more inflated. What’s more, retailers aren’t even pretending that a single customer ever paid its “regular” or “original” prices for anything.

In a new New York Times column, Farhad Manjoo wades into this murky world, trying to figure out how shoppers can evaluate whether or not a deal is a deal when seemingly everything is presented as one. What he reports, among other things, is that this season in particular has seen an “explosion of less-than-stellar deals advertised on the web,” in which there’s really nothing special about all but a very few of the sale prices available on Black Friday and other supposedly amazing days for bargains.

While nearly all retailers engage in the practice of inflating list prices more or less with the sole purpose of making discounts seem more impressive, a Macy’s spokesperson openly admitted that it came up with its original prices “based on many different factors, including the cost of the item, overhead, benefits we offer … as well as our ability to offer the item at a lower price during sale events.” Macy’s also pointed out some fine print on its website alerting shoppers of the following:

“Regular” and “Original” prices are offering prices that may not have resulted in actual sales, and some “Original” prices may not have been in effect during the past 90 days.

Holiday season sales and discounts are presented as being very special, but in fact there’s often nothing special about them—because in all likelihood, the only purchases occur when these items are “on sale.” If a price exists that no one ever pays, it shouldn’t be referred to as a “regular” or “original” price. It could be described by another term: a fake price.

There was a lot of discussion about the topic of fake pricing back in early 2012, when J.C. Penney tried to shake up its business model, in which more than 99% of its sales were below list price, and items were routinely marked down by 50% or 60%. J.C. Penney’s attempt to get rid of such extreme discounting and offer fair prices from the get-go failed miserably, at least partly because shoppers are compelled to buy more when retailers use the ruse of inflated price anchoring. And now we’re left in a situation in which sales are ubiquitous, both sale and original prices are arguably more meaningless than ever, and it’s never been more difficult to tell when a deal is actually a deal.

To some extent, shoppers seem to be aware of all of this. Some of the reason that Black Friday purchases were down this year is that the majority of consumers felt that Black Friday sales are meaningless because they assumed—rightly so—that there would be “more sales throughout the holidays.”

TIME Media

You Can Buy the Complete Breaking Bad for Next to Nothing Today

Amazon

It's a barrel of a deal

If you were waiting to buy Breaking Bad, now’s probably the time to pull the trigger.

The collector’s edition Blue-ray ‘barrel’ is being sold on Amazon for an all-time low price of $120. The package includes all 62 episodes as well as bonuses like 55 hours of special features, a replica money barrel, a commemorative challenge coin, and some other stuff to eventually put in your basement for a while and then forget about.

The standard edition complete Blu-ray set is being sold for $86, if you don’t want the extra knick-knacks, and the DVD version is $60. According to Kinja Deals, that’s the cheapest it’s ever been offered for on Amazon.

[Amazon]

MONEY deals

The Hottest Holiday Deals Are for Stuff You’d Never Give as Gifts

Staples copy paper
Mark Lennihan—AP

Right now, arguably the best holiday shopping deals are for household staples: printer paper, tissues, disinfectant wipes, and toilet paper.

Retailers engage in all sorts of crafty tactics to manipulate customers into buying things they otherwise wouldn’t, but there would have to be one seriously masterful sales job to make consumers think that toilet paper is the perfect item to wrap and place under the Christmas tree.

Instead, retailers are offering dramatic discounts right now on items that shoppers need for their own households. Think: printer paper for 1¢ and disinfectant wipes for 75% off.

While it might seem to make more sense during the holiday season to have great deals on things that people would actually give as holiday gifts, the strategy is perfectly logical in one fairly obvious way: It draws loads of shoppers out to stores (or pushes them into making purchases online), with the idea that once these customers are in the buying mood, they’re likely to be tempted into buying gifts and other items that aren’t discounted quite as dramatically.

What’s more, this strategy seems timed well for the period right after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s normally somewhat of a lull for consumers, who are likely exhausted after browsing the barrage of deals during the big shopping weekend, and who don’t yet feel the pressure to make last-minute holiday gift purchases. In this way, can’t-pass-up-deals on things that everyone needs serve as a sensible prod to woo shoppers into buying more stuff.

Hence this week’s roster of coupons from Staples, which can be printed out and presented in-store only for some amazing deals through Friday, including:

for a ream of multipurpose paper (normally $7.99)

$2.99 for three-pack of Kleenex facial tissues (compare to $7.99)

$8.99 for 12 rolls of Bounty Basic paper towels (normally $16.19)

$8.99 for 24 rolls of Charmin Basic bath tissue (normally $11.49)

20% off cups, plates, and cutlery

50% off select Philips lightbulbs

Staples’ big competitor in the office-supply space, Office Depot (and its sibling Office Max), is also discounting some necessities, including deals for buy one, get one 50% off its store brand paper and 75% off Lysol and Clorox disinfectant wipes.

Meanwhile, Walmart and Amazon appear to be engaged in a price war for a necessity that isn’t really much of a gift on its own, but that’s necessary for many gifts: batteries. The former has an online special right now for a 40-pack of Duracell batteries (30 AA and 10 AAA) for $16.99 (list price: $40), while the latter is listing a 40-pack of Duracell AAs for around $20 (list price: $60).

MONEY deals

Why Black Friday Sales Were a Bust—and How to Get the Best Deals Now

Shoppers pass by stores windows advertising Black Friday deals after the stores opened their doors at midnight.
Shoppers pass by stores windows advertising Black Friday deals after the stores opened their doors at midnight. Derek Davis—Press Herald via Getty Images

When "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" sales are available before, during, and after these traditional events occur, what's the point of shopping on the actual days?

Black Friday weekend was not the sales blockbuster retailers had hoped. In fact, the number of shoppers hitting the stores during the four-day period commencing on Thanksgiving and stretching through Sunday was down by more than 5% compared with last year, and overall spending was down 11%, according to National Retail Federation (NRF) data. The NRF blamed “early holiday promotions” as a key reason for the weekend’s sales slump. In other words, shoppers were buying less over the weekend because they had been buying more in the days and weeks before Thanksgiving—understandable considering that Black Friday-type sales popped up well before Black Friday.

Nonetheless, the numbers were received as a shock in certain circles because the hype machine had built up big expectations leading into Thanksgiving. According to a consumer poll conducted by Accenture before the holiday weekend, consumer excitement for Black Friday was at its highest level in eight years. Two-thirds of Americans reportedly said they were likely to shop (in stores or online) on Black Friday, up from 55% the year before and just 44% in 2007. Polls from the NRF indicated that some 140 million consumers would shop sometime between Thursday and Sunday of last weekend, and the NRF also forecast that retail sales for the holiday season as a whole would be up more than 4% this year.

There are many theories explaining why the forecasts were wrong and sales during the big shopping weekend failed to impress. They include the following:

There’s no sense of urgency. One criticism about stores being open on Thanksgiving is that doing so does not necessarily boost sales overall. Instead, Thanksgiving Day sales simply displace transactions that would have taken place on Black Friday or some other day during the holidays. By pushing Black Friday-type promotions in early November (and at the start of Thanksgiving week and on Thanksgiving itself) and then by following up that big shopping weekend with widespread Cyber Monday deals and weeks of markdowns thereafter, retailers give shoppers the impression that broad discounts are the rule rather than the exception pretty much through all of November and December. Consequently, because deals are a dime a dozen, shoppers have less of a sense of urgency about making purchases on Black Friday or any other particular day.

The Washington Post quoted NRF chief executive Matthew Shay making just this point in a recent conference call with reporters. “Shoppers have changed the way in which they view exclusive deals,” Shay said. “They have this expectation that they’re going to be here all the time.”

There’s no mystery as to how consumers developed this expectation: It’s come as a result of great deals being made available all the time during the last two months of the year. The widespread feeling among shoppers is: Don’t worry about missing out on some supposedly short-lived deal, because when it expires surely another will follow quickly on its heels.

The deals simply weren’t that great. With the exception of some extraordinarily cheap doorbuster promotions, the sale prices offered by stores over the past weekend weren’t amazing enough to convince consumers that they absolutely must trek or to the mall or pull the trigger on online purchases. Surely, the ubiquity of nonstop deals (see above) has something to do with lackluster excitement on behalf of shoppers. But the increased savvy of shoppers—who are armed with smartphones, who now do price comparisons instinctively, and who are primed to always expect bigger and better deals—factors in as well.

Fewer shoppers assume that stores have their best price on Black Friday nowadays. According to one poll, 70% of Americans said that Black Friday is meaningless because there will be more sales throughout the holidays.” There is also some hard evidence that there’s often nothing special when it comes to prices during Black Friday weekend; one study estimated that the average discount on Black Friday was less than 5%.

Whereas in the past shoppers may have made purchases simply because it was Black Friday or Cyber Monday, today’s consumers are more inclined to hold off until they see deals that seem so genuinely awesome they cannot be skipped. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious that this is not the case with a retailer’s sale. Take the Cyber Monday promotion at Puma’s website. It offered 20% off purchases of $75 or more, 30% off orders of $100 and up, and 40% off orders of $150+. Meanwhile, by the time the Cyber Monday deal was being promoted, there was already another Puma promotion circulating on deal-tracking websites announcing that starting on Wednesday, December 4, Puma would be offering all merchandise at 50% off, with no minimum purchase requirement.

Sales forecasts are highly flawed. Barry Ritholz has made an annual tradition out of bashing holiday spending forecasts, including those of the NRF, as well as others from the likes of Forrester Research, which was cited by the New York Times in early November predicting a 13% rise in holiday sales. Ritholz ripped apart such forecasts as “acts of idiocy,” because to be accurate, they must take into account factors such as:

• How much income people will earn between now and the holidays, minus their actual expenses, plus their availability of credit;
• The psychology of how much Americans will actually be spending on gifts;
• The weather;
• And any other random events—ISIS, Ebola, Taylor Swift—that may interfere with holiday cheer.

What’s more, the forecasts are generally based on the input of consumers, who typically don’t have holiday budgets and have no idea how much they spent last year or how much they’ll wind up spending this year. Then add in that the poll data is often shaped and presented to the media by retailer interests—notably, the NRF—and what we have is a system that is so highly unreliable no one should be surprised when the forecasts are way off.

In terms of the overall economy, the good news is that the strength or weakness of Black Friday weekend sales is not necessarily an indicator of how sales will shape up for the holiday season as a whole, nor do slumping Black Friday sales mean that the economy is slumping as well.

What dismal Black Friday sales do mean for the rest of the season is that from now on, retailers are under extra pressure to unload merchandise—typically with increasingly more aggressive price promotions. “Every day is going to be Black Friday, every minute is going to be Cyber Monday. You can’t let up for a minute because of the competitive nature that is out there,” the NRF’s Shay said.

Bear in mind that the above comment, like much of the holiday spending survey data that has been proven questionable at best, comes by way of folks who are actively interested in helping retailers boost sales.

What does any of this mean to shoppers who simply want to know when they’ll find the best prices on holiday gifts? Pinpointing the optimal time to buy every last item in the worldwide marketplace is impossible, and we’re not going to even try. Suffice it to say that there is almost never, ever a reason to pay full price, and that you should use the biggest discounts on Cyber Monday and Black Friday as something of a benchmark. If you know what you want and see prices in the vicinity of what was listed on these big sales days, go ahead and make the purchase without hesitation.

Sure, you could shop relentlessly day after day and perhaps do a bit better, but that’s a formula for one seriously stressful holiday shopping experience. To save yourself both time and anxiety, make use of some of the shopping tricks we recommend, including price-adjusting services—which give you money back if goods wind up being discounted further after you bought them.

 

TIME Companies

Uber Hires Goldman Sachs to Raise Money From Bank Clients

German Court Bans Uber Service Nationwide
A woman uses the Uber app on an Samsung smartphone on Sept. 2, 2014 in Berlin. Adam Berry—Getty Images

Uber is hitting up high-net-worth bank clients for new money

On-demand ride company Uber has hired Goldman Sachs to raise money from the bank’s high-net-worth clients, Fortune has learned.

Goldman’s global wealth management team was informed of the deal this morning, and began sending out packets of information to their clients. All we know right now is that the offered securities are structured as convertible debt, and could raise hundreds of millions of dollars to support Uber’s balance sheet and international expansion efforts.

This offering is completely separate from a previously-reported fundraise targeted at institutional investors, which could raise more than $1 billion at around a $40 billion valuation. Given that Goldman clients would have fewer downside protections and information rights than would the institutional backers, this deal likely comes with a significantly lower valuation.

It is unclear what clients are being told about possible liquidity scenarios, given that they’ll be getting convertible notes for a company that is neither promising an IPO nor one that permits secondary trading of its stock. In the past, Goldman has managed similar fundraises for then-IPO candidates like Facebook.

To date, Uber has raised around $1.5 billion from firms like Benchmark, Fidelity Investments, First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital, Menlo Ventures, Google Ventures, TPG Capital, Summit Partners, Wellington Management, BlackRock and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Goldman Sachs also is an existing investor.

An Uber spokeswoman declined to comment.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

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