MONEY Shopping

What Has the World Come to When Dunkin’ Goes Dark and Guinness Goes Light?

Guinness Blonde
courtesy of Diageo

Guinness, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Dunkin' Donuts are trying to win over new customers by taking a sharp break from their core mission. They should be worried about alienating their core customers in the process.

Everywhere you look, it seems, there’s a major brand introducing a new product, service, or store model that’s more or less the opposite of what the company is best known for. Taco Bell, famous for cheap, indulgent, down-and-dirty Mexican food, is trying to woo foodies with an upscale “premium” taco restaurant. Starbucks, which became a phenomenon for its personalized, barista-made (and slow) approach to rich, dark caffeinated beverages, recently announced plans for a series of small express stores where the focus will be on speedy takeout rather than the laid-back café experience. JetBlue, born with the principle that all passengers should get the same high-quality service, introduced a VIP business class called “Mint” over the summer. Wal-Mart, the blue-collar favorite that has always focused first and foremost on cheap prices, has dramatically expanded into a realm normally considered the domain of elites and picky foodies: organic foods.

And now Dunkin’ Donuts, a stalwart purveyor of light, sweet, mainstream coffee, is introducing a dark roast blend, while also playing up to niche dieters by adding almond milk to the menu. Meanwhile, the rich, dark, iconic Irish stout Guinness is going in the other direction with a light new Blonde American Lager.

For some, Guinness’s move is tantamount to sacrilege—if not for selling out its Irish roots with a beer for the “American” audience (that’s made in the U.S. too), then for producing the lighter beer itself, which few have tasted but some have compared to Bud Light—in certain respects anyway.

Why are Guinness and these other brands risking the possibility of alienating their core customers? What’s behind this trend of straying in the opposite direction from what made these companies successful to begin with? Do these moves represent a smart expansion of the brand or an identity crisis? The answers largely depend on whether consumers deem the new products and services as brilliant and appealing or as puzzling, weird, and perhaps even desperate.

Dr. Edward Tauber, who coined the term “brand extension” in 1979, told AdWeek that the best brand extenders have three things in common: “The brand should be a logical fit with the parent brand; the parent should give the extension an edge in the new category; and the extension should have the potential to generate significant sales.”

Some might argue that the efforts mentioned above aren’t logical expansions for the parent company. They may even turn off some regular customers. But expanding a brand in the opposite direction—while remaining in the same product category—is a lot more logical than heading off in some random, nonsensical fashion. You may not be keen on Guinness’s brand being applied to a light beer for Americans, but at least pale lagers and dark stouts are both beer. When Heineken introduced a brand of shoes, AdWeek voters listed it among the worst brand extensions of 2013.

When Dunkin’ Donuts announced the addition of a dark roast, the reaction was more It’s about time than What in the world are they thinking? “We saw an unmet demand for a dark roast product that had a bold flavor but a smoothness that’s often associated with Dunkin’ Original Blend,” John Costello, Dunkin’ Brands’ president of global marketing and innovation, quite logically explained to the Wall Street Journal regarding DD’s new dark roast.

Today’s executives aren’t satisfied simply by reaching a large group of customers with a stable set of tried-but-true products and services. In our fast-moving, constantly changing marketplace, brands feel compelled to hunt, relentlessly and shark-like, for the business of every consumer, at every opportunity.

For decades, the majority of fast food chains were content to do the vast majority of their business during the lunch and dinner hours. Then someone realized that formula was writing off plenty of hours of the day in terms of sales potential. Hence, the increased marketing of fast food “snacks,” meant to be consumed in the odd “day parts” in between normal meal breaks, as well as late-night specials and a huge push for breakfast

Similarly, a few years back Starbucks realized that it was overlooking a huge market by sticking exclusively with darker roasts—40% of coffee drinkers prefer lighter, milder roasts—so the Blonde roast was introduced to fuel growth among folks who otherwise wouldn’t be Starbucks customers. Thanks partly to its ability to expand the customer base, Starbucks seems to be winning the coffee wars, with same-store sales growth that’s surpassed competitors like Dunkin’ Donuts.

Wal-Mart’s organic foods push is an indication that the world’s largest retailer had gotten tired of allowing Whole Foods to dominate the space. The expansion into healthier foods wouldn’t seem to be all that controversial—Wal-Mart promised shoppers that they’d save 25% or more compared to similar products—yet even this move is not without risk. During the mid-’00s and beyond, Walmart was criticized for betraying blue-collar shoppers by raising prices and getting rid of “rollback” specials in an attempt to keep pace with Target and other, more upscale competitors. What’s more, there’s a significant portion of consumers who aren’t fans of organic foods. According to a recent Gallup poll, 15% of Americans say they “actively try to avoid” organic foods. Why? Perhaps because they assume such foods cost more or don’t taste good. And it’s safe to assume folks who feel this way are far more likely to shop at Wal-Mart than at Whole Foods.

MONEY deals

The Apple Store Is Now the Last Place You Should Buy Your iPhone

customer carrying Verizon bag
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

For the best deal on a new iPhone, avoid the company that actually makes the device.

UPDATE—5:12 P.M.

In the past, it didn’t really matter where you bought your iPhone. It would cost the same upfront, and you’d be presented with the same plan and pricing options almost anywhere you went to make the purchase.

Over the years, however, retailers and providers have periodically offered discounts and other perks—trade-in and sign-on bonuses, special gift cards, etc.—to set themselves apart from the competition and win the business of more iPhone customers. This week’s unveiling of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus has been accompanied by particularly compelling deals from Sprint and Verizon, among others. And what makes these deals especially interesting is that they can’t be had by consumers buying directly from Apple.

In other words, all of those people camped out at the Apple Store in anticipation of buying the new iPhone are waiting at the wrong place if what they want is the best deal. (Admittedly, the most fanatical Apple fans aren’t waiting in line for days in order to get a good price—they’re in it for other, mostly illogical reasons.)

Sprint rolled out two special deals for the new iPhones: an unlimited talk, text, and data plan for $50 per month with either the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus; and an “iPhone for Life” plan that includes all of the above plus a free iPhone upgrade every two years, at a cost of $70 per month for the iPhone 6 16GB. Note that the latter is a lease: You’re technically paying $20 monthly for the phone, plus $50 a month for the service plan. Because it’s a lease, when you upgrade, Sprint gets to resell the old phone, not you. Also, note that for both of these deals, customers pay $0 upfront when signing up. (The lease option costs $0 upfront for everyone, and for the $50/month plan, Sprint gives new customers a credit up to $300 for trading in an old phone, which should cover the initial cost of a new iPhone.)

Finally, note that for now at least, these offers aren’t available from Apple. “Both the Sprint Simply Unlimited Plan – unlimited data, talk and text for $50 per month – and the iPhone for Life lease option ($20 for 16 GB iPhone 6) are available through Sprint branded stores, sprint.com and Sprint telesales,” a Sprint spokesperson clarified to MONEY via e-mail. “At this time, iPhone for Life Plan is not available at Apple stores.”

T-Mobile, meanwhile, announced that starting September 17, it’ll beat any old phone trade-in offer from Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon by $50. Verizon Wireless promises a $200 gift card for customers who are trading in an iPhone 4 (or later model) and are signing up for a new two-year contract. The credit essentially offsets the $199 upfront cost of the iPhone 6. AT&T just announced that new and existing customers will get a $100 bill credit when registering a new iPhone for service by September 30.

What all of these deals have in common is that they’re not available to shoppers who buy iPhones at Apple Stores or Apple.com. Apple has its own trade-in programs and promotions, but ironically, the iPhone’s manufacturer offers the worst deals of all. Go into an Apple store on September 19 (assuming you can fight through the crowds) and you’ll be able to pick up a brand new iPhone 6 starting at the carrier-subsidied price of $199. Apple also offers the AT&T Next program, in which customers can upgrade their phone as soon as once every 12 months.

And… that’s about it. The company offers a recycling program where customers can get money off their next purchase or an Apple gift card in exchange for old Apple hardware. Unfortunately, this program pales in comparison to similar initiatives from Verizon and T-Mobile. An iPhone 4 in good condition will get you $60 from Apple, compared with $200 from Verizon—and even more from T-Mobile, which again will match competitor’s trade-in offers and top it by $50. There are many other options for selling an iPhone on your own that’ll net far more cash than what Apple would offer.

[An Apple spokesperson later contacted us to point out that Apple stores offer services that carrier locations do not, such as setting up a customer's iPhone to connect with iCloud, downloading their favorite apps, and otherwise helping iPhone buyers get comfortable with their devices.]

The new iPhones are officially on sale as of September 19, and preorders are being accepted starting September 12. We understand that buying an iPhone at an Apple Store is part of “the experience” for some consumers. Just bear in mind that by doing so, you’ll likely be paying a price beyond the time you spent waiting in line.

Related:
Apple Pay Is Here—And There’s One Big Problem
Why Only Apple Has What It Takes to Disrupt Our Wallets
Watch Apple’s Big Product Launch in Less Than 2 Minutes

MONEY identity theft

Watch Home Depot’s Response to Huge Data Breach

Hackers may have stolen tens of millions of credit and debit card numbers from the home improvement retailer.

MONEY Smart Shopping

3 Tricks to Help You Snag the Best Deals Online

140908_EM_AGOODPRICE
Claire Benoist

New 'dynamic pricing' models make it tougher to find bargains online, unless you know how to beat the system. Use these strategies to beat back price bots.

There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of shopping for a product online and discovering that one site sells the item for 20% less. But perhaps you’ve noticed that snagging that kind of deal isn’t as easy as it once was?

Increasingly, online retailers are employing complex pricing algorithms that take into account factors like an item’s popularity and what competitors are charging for it. Sometimes the systems also factor in data about you—such as where you live, when you shop, how often you’ve visited the site, and what you’ve bought in the past.

The result? You might see prices for an item fluctuate by 15% to 20% in a short period, says Rafi Mohammed, author of The 1% Windfall: How Successful Companies Use Price to Profit and Grow. And the amount you’re charged could very well be different from what your friend will pay.

So-called dynamic pricing has long been used by airlines and hotel chains, which index prices to supply. But now both dynamic and differential pricing (based on who’s buying) are becoming “extremely common” in all aspects of online shopping, says Columbia Business School professor Robert Phillips. Amazon, BestBuy.com, and Walmart.com are among the e-tailers that cop to using these tactics. Beat back price bots with these tricks:

Be a secret shopper

If a retailer knows what you tend to buy and when, it can use that info to jack up the price on items you’re likely to pay more for, says Christopher Elliott, author of Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals. So you generally want to tell merchants as little about yourself as possible.

Most of what sellers know about you comes from “cookies,” small files sent to your browser by each site you visit. These relay info about your habits to other sites you surf.

You could delete your browser’s cookies—“clear browsing history” in the settings menu—before you shop. But this may erase info that could help you in the pricing wars (a shoe e-tailer, for example, may market better deals to someone who often shops at Zappos).

So first try opening a “private” window on Firefox or an “incognito” window on Chrome or turn on “private browsing” in Safari, all of which let you surf without saving cookies. That way, you can compare the prices a retailer offers when it doesn’t know who you are with those it offers when it does.

Also, use multiple browsers or devices. “A different IP address can turn up a different price, even if you’ve cleared cookies,” says shopping expert Andrea Woroch. Digital Folio, a real-time pricing site now known as Cartbound, offers a demo on YouTube: A site rep pastes the URL of a TV costing $199 at Walmart.com on Firefox into Chrome—where it’s priced at $168.

Play hard to get

“Customers who are loyal are the least price sensitive, so it makes sense to charge them more,” says Phillips.

Hesitating on a purchase shows your willingness to go elsewhere and may get a retailer to sweeten the pot. Web research firm Baymard Institute found that 68% of online shopping carts are abandoned after initial click-throughs. Retailers are desperate to convert those carts into sales, so in many cases they’ll offer a better deal to get you to buy, says Phillips.

Coupon site Rather-be-shopping.com found 17 well-known retailers (including Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macy’s, and Williams-Sonoma) that offered coupons (ranging from 20% off to free shipping) to customers who left their carts.

Don’t want to pay full price on those towels from Pottery Barn? Log in to your Pottery Barn account and put them in your cart. Within a few days, you may get an email offering them at a lower price.

Arm yourself

There are a few tools you can use to benefit from price fluctuations.

Camelcamelcamel.com, for example, lets you create price watches on Amazon products. (See the chart below for an example of how dramatic price fluctuations can be over a 30-day period.) You are alerted to changes and can browse products with the biggest price drops.

Another smart tool is InvisibleHand, a browser extension you can install on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Whenever you land on a page selling a product, it automatically searches the web for the lowest prices on the item.

These tools can help you stay a step ahead of the retailer, says Woroch. “It’s not always easy, but you can save a lot of money in the long run.”

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MONEY Advertising

Kmart Unleashes Season’s First Christmas Ad

Xmas displays in Kmart store
Richard Levine—Alamy

They're trying to be cute by calling it the "Kmart Not a Christmas Commercial," but that's not fooling anybody.

Last year, Kmart received some grief for its decision to start airing Christmas commercials in early September. Mere days after Labor Day, in fact, when most families were still in the thick of back to school shopping and the winter holidays were note remotely on the radar.

After being subjected to the unseasonably early ads, consumers took to Kmart’s Facebook page to air their grievances. “What happened to Halloween and thanksgiving?” one commenter posted. “Stop with the Christmas commercials ALREADY!!” Another raged, “Why don’t you just start this on 1st each year! This is ridiculous and if I see on ad on tv I will never stop in your store!”

Fast-forward a year, and lo and behold, Kmart is again airing a Christmas commercial within a few days of Labor Day weekend. Yet it can’t be said that Kmart, which has managed to put together some remarkably clever and funny viral commercials of late (remember Ship My Pants and Big Gas Savings?), is entirely tone deaf to last year’s criticisms.

The new Christmas commercial, the ad’s spokeswoman clarifies, is “not a Christmas commercial.” She then goes on—coyly, with strategically raised eyebrows—to make the case that shoppers should start using Kmart’s layaway right now if, “say you have an event in late December that you need a lot of gifts for,” deadpanning, “Like maybe if your entire family is having a birthday on the same day.” The ad ends wishing everyone a “Merry Birthday.” Watch it yourself if you like:

Why is Kmart taking the risk of yet again turning customers off by unleashing a Christmas commercial more than 100 days before Christmas, thereby raining on everyone’s late summer? (It’s technically still summer for a couple more weeks, remember.) It seems like every shopping season seems to expand every year, so retailers are constantly trying to beat the competition to the punch in terms of snagging shopper dollars. If a shopper puts some toys and electronics on layaway at Kmart in September, after all, that shopper isn’t going to later be buying those same items at Target, Walmart, Amazon, or wherever.

What’s more, Kmart, which tends to attract low-income shoppers, has an especially longstanding layaway tradition. The big toy store chains and all-purpose retailers revamped layaway program a couple of years ago, slashing fees and adding perks to try to get customers on board. That trend came as something of a surprise considering that just a few years before that, many big-box stores had largely gotten rid of layaway as an option. During the years that the majority of retailers played down or did away with layaway entirely, however, Kmart kept its layaway tradition alive. And Kmart’s latest commercial and layaway promotions—no money down, no fees for many layaway contracts—shows that the retailer still considers layaway to be very important for the company, especially during the Christmas season.

Oh yeah, forgot: It’s not Christmas season yet!

The other reason Kmart executives decided to air the early commercial is that, presumably, they think it’s funny, and they hope that viewers do too. Not everyone is on board, however. Here’s a recent comment posted at Kmart’s Facebook page:

On September 5th I have seen the very first Christmas ad of the 2014 season. SHAME on you Kmart, summer isn’t even officially over and you have the nerve to run a Christmas ad!!!! I wouldn’t shop at your store if it was the last one on the face of the earth!

MONEY Apple

Why Only Apple Has What It Takes To Disrupt Our Wallets

$50 on screen of iPhone
Erik Dreyer—Getty Images

Many companies have tried to revolutionize how we pay for things, but only Apple has what it takes to succeed.

Apple’s September 9 event is quickly approaching, and there is widespread consensus that the Cupertino computer giant will release a new iPhone, a smart watch, and, perhaps most unexpectedly, a mobile payments platform.

The iWatch has gotten the lion’s share of the media’s attention so far, but it’s mobile payments that might ultimately be Apple’s most important announcement next Thursday. The future has brought us fancy touch-screen phones and video chat, but we’re still paying for things in roughly the same way we did 25 years ago: by putting it on the plastic. Tech lovers have been waiting years for a digital wallet or other service that could dislodge the old system. And while many have tried, Apple may be the only company that has a real shot at succeeding.

Crowded Market, But Few Successes

If Apple actually does announce a mobile payment service—likely powered by a near-field communication (NFC) chip in the company’s newest iPhone that will allow users to “swipe” their devices at checkout—it certainly won’t be the first to promise a new and better way to pay for things.

Square, a San Francisco startup headed by one of Twitter’s founders, in 2011 introduced the Square Wallet app, which promised to let users connect their credit cards and pay for merchandise at participating retailers simply by giving their name. LevelUp, another mobile app, also connects to a shopper’s credit card; users then scan a QR code at checkout to pay for their purchases. Even mobile carriers have gotten in on the act. AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have banded together to create their own payment system, Isis Wallet. The service works through NFC and ships with certain smartphone models.

But none of those businesses has managed to make the mobile payment dream come true. Square Wallet was retired in May of this year, and LevelUp lingers in obscurity. Isis, for its part, has not only failed to catch on, but might be responsible for torpedoing Google Wallet—another mobile payment effort—out of the gate when Verizon, in an effort to protect its own platform, blocked Google’s service from using NFC components on its devices.

Why have these efforts failed? Two key reasons: Processing payments isn’t a good model, and even if it were, none of these players has enough market clout to get businesses on board. Luckily for Apple, its service will be immune to both of these issues.

Great Feature, Bad Business

Being a middleman in a transaction sounds like a great business model. Billions of smartphone users spend money every day, meaning even a small slice of that commerce could be extremely lucrative. Unfortunately, those slices are generally too small to create a profitable company. Ben Thompson, founder of the technology news site Stratechery, points out that most of Square’s 2.75% transaction fee actually goes to credit card companies or the card-issuing bank, leaving Square with just 43 cents on a $50 transaction. With margins that low, it should come as no surprise that Square lost about $100 million in 2013. In mobile payments, just breaking even is a win.

That’s good for Apple, though, because the iPhone maker would be adding mobile payments as a feature, not making them its central business. Like iTunes, which until recently was run at cost, and iCloud, which gives out five gigabytes of storage for free, a payments service wouldn’t be expected to turn a profit. Instead, it would simply be a nice feature that helps sell more iPhones. That’s where Apple actually makes its money.

Too Big to Fail

Most mobile payment companies run into the problem of scale. It’s hard to get merchants to adopt a new technology if they aren’t sure a lot of their customers will use it, and the mobile payments market has been too fractured to accumulate a critical mass of users. Enter Apple, and the roughly 400 million credit cards that are tied to its iTunes service. That’s quadruple the amount of payment information Amazon holds, according to Business Insider.

In one fell swoop, Apple could become the dominant player in mobile payments and turn a confusing, splintered industry into one merchants can’t afford to ignore.

It’s all speculation for now, but the strategy adds up. Apple’s no stranger to industry disruption, and come September 9, we’ll find out whether our wallets are next on the company’s hit list.

MONEY Odd Spending

Fine! Whatever! Top 10 Gifts for the Passive-Aggressives In Your Life

Reclining airplane seat into passenger's knees
Jason Hetherington—Getty Images

The Knee Defender—which prevents airline seats from reclining—is one of many products passive-aggressive consumers can use to protect their turf or ward off uncivil behavior. Hopefully without confrontation, of course.

Two recent passenger squabbles on airplanes have greatly boosted the profile of the Knee Defender, a $22 device that can be attached to the back of an airline seat to prevent it from reclining. The device prompted a brawl on a recent United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver, causing the plane to be diverted to Chicago, where both the man who attached the Knee Defender and the woman who didn’t like it (and threw a glass of water at the guy behind her) were escorted off the aircraft. Sales of the device soared after the news of the incident went viral, and plenty of observers weighed in with opinions, some defending the Knee Defender, others bashing it and anyone who would selfishly prevent a fellow passenger from “right to recline.”

Many others lamented the apparent need for such passive-aggressive behavior in the first place. Ira Goldman, the inventor of the Knee Defender, said the airlines are to blame for these ugly incidents because they’ve reduced legroom. By extension, the airlines are also to blame for the newfound popularity of his odd gadget. “When the airlines solve the problem, I’ll go out of business,” he said.

Flying is hardly the only sphere where humans have been known to exhibit uncivil behavior, and where others feel forced to resort to passive-aggressive (OK, sometimes more aggressive than passive) strategies as a counteroffensive. Here are some other products for the passive-aggressive people in your life.

The Parking Chair
People in Boston, Chicago, and other snowy cities regularly use chairs (or ironing boards, or buckets, or oversized kids’ toys) to call “dibs” on the street parking spaces that they dug out in front of their homes. The passive-aggressive tactic for defending one’s spot is popular but often illegal. In fact, a “No Savesies” movement was launched via social media by police in Philadelphia to spread the word that savesies, dibs, or whatever you want to call it is not allowed.

Spike Away Vest
Tired of fellow commuters bumping into her or otherwise invading her personal space, an industrial designer in Japan created the Spike Away vest, a plastic, porcupine-like accessory sure to keep strangers from rubbing up against you on the train.

Slogan T-Shirt
Rather than boldly confronting those exhibiting boorish, insensitive, or just plain dumb behavior, the passive-aggressive have been known to wear certain T-shirts as a way to get across a message—and perhaps their sense of humor as well. Here’s one offering the message “Thank you for not crop dusting” (a.k.a. farting).

Office “Courtesy” Signs
The office, a mishmash of different personalities from different backgrounds where everyone is expected to behave professionally and politely, is always a hot spot for subtle passive-aggressive behavior. And sometimes overt and totally juvenile passive-aggressive behavior too. Signs posted at cubicles (“Quiet Please… Important Work in Progress”) and in office kitchens are often rife with passive-aggressive intent.

Bumper Stickers
Pretty much every bumper sticker is passive-aggressive—a means to get some sort of message across without saying a word or doing much of anything besides driving around. Like this one, which aims to keep would-be tailgaters at bay: “Sorry for driving so close in front of your car.”

Toilet Decal
Confronting people in your house about their refusal to put the toilet seat down is so, well, confrontational. It’s also difficult to do in the middle of the night, when said people are probably barely awake. The passive-aggressive solution just might be a glow-in-the-dark toilet decal with the reminder to lower the seat after relieving oneself.

Curb Your Dog Signs
“Please Don’t Water Our Plants!” one Curb Your Dog sign pleads, showing a pooch peeing on what’s presumably a garden. “Make Sure Your Dog Doesn’t Drop Anything,” another sign warns, showing a dog doing something worse than merely peeing. Either option is nicer than putting a fake headstone on your lawn marking the spot of “The Last Dog That Pooped in My Yard.”

TV-B-Gone
OK, this one is probably more aggressive than passive. The TV-B-Gone gadget hit the marketplace in the mid-2000s, allowing anyone to turn off a TV blaring CNN or whatever at the airport or some other public venue. Tranquility at last!

The Ordinary Cellphone
Nearly everyone is in possession of a tool that makes it incredibly easy to passive-aggressively avoid talking to people or even making eye contact. According to a Pew Research Internet Project survey, 13% of all cell phone owners—and a whopping 30% of millennials—say that they have pretended to be using their phones for the express purpose of easily avoiding interactions with people they come across.

Related:
5 Reasons September Is the Best Month to Go Shopping

 

MONEY deals

5 Reasons September Is the Best Month to Go Shopping

Red lawn mower and sprinkler on lawn
PhotoSlinger—Alamy

September is an in-between month for consumers. It's not really a peak period to buy anything—which is why it's absolutely a peak month for savvy shoppers looking for deals on everything from lawn mowers to houses.

You may be still paying off your summer vacation. You may feel the need to start socking away money to cover your winter holiday shopping budget. There may be nothing that your household really needs to buy right now. Even so, there’s a good argument to be made that you can and should be shopping in September—and that you can feel smart, thrifty, and virtuous about it. Here are five reasons why.

1. Summer is over. The need for summery goods such as lawn mowers, barbecue grills, patio furniture, bicycles, bathing suits, and anything related to the beach is rapidly disappearing. So, naturally, stores want all typical summer purchases off their shelves and out of their aisles, pronto. Look for them at increasingly discounted prices until they’re gone. For instance, patio furniture should be listed at clearance prices of 50% to 75% off, according to dealnews. In addition to markdowns on summer items, Consumer Reports noted, shoppers can also expect stores to be discounting snow blowers for a similar reason—they’re just not top of mind for consumers, so some extra incentive is needed to make customers bite.

2. Kids are back in school. Retailers started pushing back-to-school sales in June, before most kids even started their summer vacation, and August is generally considered peak season for back-to-school purchases. But this year, at least, shoppers seem to have wised up to the simple fact that prices drop for those who wait. After a fairly lackluster summer season, stores were promoting early Labor Day deals to pump up apparel sales in particular. Even that wasn’t enough to drive many shoppers into stores.

“Consumers, not stores, are driving the trends these days, which means September will be the busiest back-to-school month this year, contrary to what stores and retailers may think,” the NPD Group’s Marshal Cohen noted recently. Here’s how Cohen explained why consumers have changed in their approach to back-to-school shopping:

Parents are prioritizing by purchasing supplies first, then some basic wardrobe necessities, and lastly following up with fashion, putting summer aside and purchasing clothing and apparel for colder rather than warmer weather. The reason consumers are delaying this significant aspect of their back-to-school shopping is twofold: they want to find out what’s “cool in school” before making their purchases and, looking at the broader trend, consumers don’t want to buy early anymore; consumers today want to buy in season.

Seasonality is just part of it; parents are also hip to the fact that prices are likely to drop on many back-to-school items and fashions once retailers consider peak back-to-school season to be over.

3. New gadgets are coming. Which means that older models will be marked down soon, if they haven’t been already. Consumer Reports suggests September as a great month for buying all sorts of small electronics (MP3 players, Blu-ray players, etc.), and dealnews points out that iPhones currently on the market are bound to be discounted when Apple introduces the new model, which should take place next week.

4. The winter holidays are looming. The overarching reason that stores are extra aggressive with markdowns in September is that they are eager to gear up for the Thanksgiving–Christmas shopping period. Sure, summer is an important season for retailers, but it pales in comparison to the end of the year. Some outlets routinely ring up more than half the year’s sales during the winter shopping season. So they understandably want to be fully prepared to make the most of it. To do so, it helps to start with a clean slate, with little or nothing in stores left over from the summer. Hence, major deals to clear out stores.

5. House hunting slows to a crawl. A new Trulia report explains that September marks the beginning of a sharp slowdown in people searching for homes to buy in most markets. For the most part, the arrival of Labor Day is bad news for owners who have listed their homes but have yet to close a deal with a buyer. On the other hand, fewer buyers in the market means an advantage for those who remain. Sellers who would have laughed off a lowball bid in, say, early June will be much more likely to consider such an offer come September.

MONEY Shopping

WATCH: Why Abercrombie & Fitch Will Ditch Its Logo

Responding to years of declining sales, the youth-oriented clothing retailer has decided to pull its logo from most U.S. clothes.

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