Pandemic or not, there’s seasonality to the retail industry as certain products are more popular at certain times of the year.
It’s a combination of motivations shared by the retailers and shoppers, according to Kristin McGrath, editor and shopping expert at Offers.com. The supply-and-demand cycle of the year culminates during the holiday shopping season as stores “have certain items that are very gift-able right now, and that might not be super gift-able or super compelling to people come January,” McGrath said.
Discounts and sales mean certain items didn’t sell as intended and retailers are looking to offload that extra inventory to make room for new stock.
“Now and throughout the year it's very smart to be in tune with the rhythms of seasonality,” McGrath said, “even though the pandemic could disrupt certain things or change certain things.”
Here’s what to buy this December and what to avoid.
What to buy in December 2020
Gift cards: Restaurants and retailers commonly offer limited-time gift card deals to incentivize and reward shoppers. Deals typically consist of meeting a spending threshold and then receiving a bonus card with additional credit.
Calling it a “smart strategy,” McGrath said it’s a great option for shoppers looking to stretch their budgets since there’s something on the backend for them. She also considers it a great self-gift for those preparing to hole up for the winter and order take out.
Toys and video games: December is synonymous with toy sales. McGrath mentioned that “consumers are in the mind frame” to buy children’s toys and video game consoles and retailers are looking to keep stocked shelves, which is up until January. Certain products like board games, dolls, action figures, among others get discounted starting mid- to late-December, but online shoppers should buy early to cushion for potential shipping delays.
Select electronics: Missing Black Friday weekend sales isn’t the end of the world if you’re in the market for certain electronics like smart home speakers, headphones, and kitchen appliances. Retailers typically run flash promotions all month long.
Fall clothing: Finding physical space on sales floors or stockrooms for bulky winter parkas is a challenge for retailers, so that’s why fall staples like vests, jackets, and lighter coats can now be found in clearance sections.
Shopping one season behind is considered a “smart” and budget-conscious move, said McGrath, who suggests shopping sales and then saving those items for the following year.
Holiday goods and decorations: Holiday decorations are one of the items retailers don’t want to keep in stock past December, so shoppers can see discounts as high as 75% beginning December 26. Space permitting, stock up after the holidays for next season for bigger ticket items like artificial Christmas trees and inflatable lawn ornaments.
Wedding dresses: Since the pandemic has disrupted weddings and the winter months are a slow time for weddings, bridal retailers will discount existing stock to lure brides into spending in anticipation of new spring collections.
A new car: Dealerships have been known to strike deals and offer incentives at the end of the year to meet sales quotas. Shopping over the holidays means fewer crowds and sales associates are more inclined to sell you a car for the right price that meets your needs.
Tools: December deals on tools are second-best, following Black Friday, but low prices and deals aren’t expected to return until the Father’s Day season in June.
What not to buy in December 2020
Winter clothes: If you can get another season out of your heavy-duty winter gear like hats, scarves, gloves, boots, and coats, it’s best to wait until the end of winter clearance sales, or at least until New Year discounts.
“Start looking in January for the biggest selection of winter clothing,” McGrath suggested. “If you wait till March to buy winter stuff, the pickings are going to be really slim.”
Mattresses and linens: Deals on mattresses aren’t likely to surface again until New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January, followed by Presidents’ Day in February.
The best savings on linens like bedding, comforters, duvets, robes, and towels perennially come during January’s white sales.
TVs: TVs make popular holiday gifts, but if you didn’t make the purchase on Black Friday, it’s best to wait a few more weeks. Deals on a broader selection of TVs will crop up again in early February, right before the Super Bowl.
“Most of the deals we see on Black Friday are TVs that retailers are trying to just sell, so they may be lower-quality models,” McGrath explained.
Read more information and tips in our Spending section