Holiday decorations and seasonal promotions always seem to appear earlier and earlier, but this year that may actually be true.
In fact, the holiday shopping season has already started.
“Amazon Prime Day will be, for 2020, the unofficial kickoff of the holiday shopping season,” predicts shopping expert Trae Bodge. Because of the pandemic, the online retailer’s annual sales bonanza kicks off on Oct. 13 this year, instead of its usual July start. Other stores, like Target and Macy’s, have joined the action, offering their own discounts to compete with Prime Day.
It’s set to be the biggest shopping day of the season, according to data from the shopping site RetailMeNot.
But you don’t need to click “Buy Now” on every early-season deal. Experts anticipate plenty of opportunities to save throughout an extended season this year. In fact, this year’s unusual shopping season offers new incentives to be smarter about how you spend. Deals will be spread out over a longer period of time, and you’ll need to plan ahead to avoid crowds and shipping delays.
With lingering concerns about public health and the state of the economy, 2020 is all about shopping smart.
Here’s what you can expect from retailers this season, and how to maximize savings no matter your budget.
You’ve Got Plenty of Time
With the shopping season kicking off so early, retailers expect you to spread out your purchases across several months this year, according to data from the National Retail Federation (NRF)—and they’re planning sales calendars accordingly.
That means you don’t have to rush. Not only can a longer shopping window help you avoid crowds on busy shopping days, but it also allows for breathing room in your budget. Plan ahead to give yourself time to find the best deals, and space out your purchases. Rather than racking up credit card balances on one or two shopping sprees, create a budget and allocate a portion of your next few paychecks toward holiday spending.
Taking it slow can help save you money in other ways—you may be able to resist an impulse purchase just because it’s on sale. “If you can defer a purchase long enough, you might find you don’t really need it at all,” money expert Ilyce Glink recently told us.
Look Beyond Amazon
Don’t limit your browsing to only Amazon deals over the next few days. Look for promotions everywhere from your favorite local businesses to big box stores and other online merchants.
“On Prime Day, Amazon is not the only place to shop,” says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot. “There’s going to be hundreds of other retailers competing with deals and savings opportunities. It’s really in the shoppers’ best interest to look around.”
Target, for example, is holding Deal Days Oct. 13 and 14 with discounts on everything from electronics to wall art. Walmart, too, is in the midst of its Oct. 11 to 15 Big Save Event, offering savings on small appliances, media, and toys, among other items.
Black Friday Isn’t What It Used to Be
Prime Day is only the beginning. Bodge predicts we’ll see a “spread of deals” starting now and running through the late December holidays, so be savvy about where and when you buy.
Retailers have made clear their goal is to stretch out sales and promotions across the season, says Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry & consumer insights at the NRF. “You’ll certainly see deals at different time periods on different products. But they’re very cognizant of avoiding a crunch on the part of consumers and crowds in stores.”
That’s especially true for traditionally crowd-heavy deal days, like Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. As a precaution, many retailers have already stated they will remain closed on Thanksgiving. And while Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales will still include discounts on favorites like electronics and toys, there may be fewer in-store-only doorbusters this year, or “Black Friday” sales will span beyond the actual day.
“It’s not just occuring on Black Friday, it’s occuring every Friday in some instances,” Cullen says. “Or they’re offering the same deals online and in-stores so there’s no pressure if you’re nervous about crowds. Those are the types of strategies that we’re seeing.”
Avoid Crowds and Shipping Delays
Lots of holiday shopping traffic has migrated online in recent years, and experts predict that trend will accelerate this year.
Even in the middle of a pandemic, plenty of people (27%) do still plan to complete most shopping in person, according to a report from global insights firm Morning Consult. But nearly half (47%) of Americans plan to do most of their holiday shopping online this year, with their main drivers being safety (48%) and convenience (29%).
Shipping and Inventory Concerns
Online shoppers have faced shipping delays and reduced inventory since the start of the pandemic, and you can expect those supply chain challenges to continue as online orders increase over the holidays.
Like the product shortages in early spring, Skirboll predicts there may be a run on more practical items on people’s shopping lists — home improvement, work-from-home or school essentials, and home workout gear — as early as mid- to late November.
Shopping early-season online deals can help avoid the crunch across categories.
To ensure delivery by the holidays this year, shoppers will be wise to get their orders in by the end of November. “I would say don’t take any risks in December, because you just don’t know,” Bodge says. “I would strongly suggest consumers get their shopping done early.”
Consider Curbside Pickup
Shopping in-store — especially if you plan ahead to avoid crowds and shop early promotions — is one way to avoid major shipping delays and inventory issues. But don’t forget to take advantage of other methods that have become more popular in the months since the pandemic began, such a picking up in-store.
“If you transact online, you can still take advantage of those deep discounts, then pick your item up curbside and you eliminate the need to have it shipped,” Skirboll says. You may even find targeted promotions specific to curbside orders.
It’s OK to Spend
With the economy still in recession and uncertainty around government stimulus and unemployment still lingering more than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, the holidays will be a tough time for many.
Still, RetailMeNot’s research shows a majority of Americans (66%) are actually planning to spend a similar amount or more than usual this year, perhaps to maintain some sense of normalcy. The Morning Consult report shows that 39% of shoppers plan to spend less on gifts this year.
“Consumers are dealing with a lot of stress and uncertainty, but they’re trying to take moments to create joy for themselves and their families, and sometimes that’s through gifting,” Cullen says. “They might be celebrating virtually, or trying to send extra treats to make up for those traditions that they would normally partake in in person.”
How to Get the Best Value This Holiday Season
It may take a bit of extra planning (and earlier than usual), but many changes this holiday season create even more opportunities to save, regardless of your budget. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Prime Day is a great time to start checking off your list, but if you haven’t already, take some time to think through wish lists and budgets. Otherwise, you might end up overspending on Amazon Prime Day and creating budget challenges later in the shopping season, Bodge says.
Don’t wait to start planning with friends and family. Work out a budget that allows you to spread your spending out across the next few months. Build out a list so that when you do come across a great deal, you can jump on it.
Bodge recommends thinking about people on your list who may be struggling this year, too. Rethink your family’s approach to the holidays early to help inform your own budget. Consider whether you can forgo some gift exchanges, pare down your spending, or offer assistance to a loved one in need.
Don’t Spend Your Whole Budget Upfront
As Prime Day deals and related promotions from other retailers surface during the week, stay within your budget so you’re not out of cash two months before the actual holidays.
You may find some great deals this week, but more sales — and perhaps even steeper discounts — will be available over the coming weeks. Don’t put false pressure on yourself to buy now, especially if you don’t have the funds available.
And throughout the season, take advantage of consumer protections from stores and your credit card. “Some retailers do offer price protection, so if, as we get later into the holiday season you’ve already purchased something that you see at a lower price, there will be some protections in place,” Bodge says.
You don’t want to go overboard on early deals, but if you see an item you want at a price that works for you, go ahead and get it. “You’ll avoid added stress and avoid the chance that some of the items you’re looking for could sell out,” Cullen says.
Skirboll recommends 25-30% off as a good threshold for deciding when to purchase. Pay attention to what’s out there, so you’ll be able to spot a deal when you see it. Then, don’t pass it up.
Being ready to jump on a good deal doesn’t mean you should give into every discount, though. That’s why it’s important to stick to your plan. “Work on your list now, get a sense of who you need to buy for and how much you might have to spend on each person,” Bodge recommends, in order to avoid both social pressures to overspend and impulse buys that might upend your budget.
“If you’ve never used savings tools like coupon sites or browser extensions, this is the year to start,” Bodge says. Get in the habit of searching for an additional offer via sites like Rakuten or Honey before completing your purchase. Even if you only save a few dollars, that can quickly add up.
This year especially, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find some kind of stackable deal on nearly every purchase. “The final price you see on the screen is not the final price,” Skirboll says. “Always try to find a coupon code or a cash back offer to apply at checkout.”