Is a post-holiday shopping spree in your plans? Consider these tips
Eli Portillo / The Charlotte Observer
CHARLOTTE — If there was a Zen saying about the holiday season, it might go something like this: Before Christmas, shopping. After Christmas, shopping.
Many consumers finally have a chance to shop for themselves, now that children, spouses, in-laws, girlfriends and BFFs are all satiated with gifts. And after-Christmas sales are a busy time for retailers, as they use discounts to unload merchandise and entice consumers to spend gift cards.
Retail sales results have been mixed this holiday season. Following a record-setting Black Friday, sales declined for two weeks at many stores compared with last year, according to one trade group. Sales bounced back last week, up 4.6 percent compared with the same week a year ago.
The National Retail Federation was encouraged by early results and raised its forecast, calling for holiday shopping to rise 3.8 percent, to $469 billion. But it’s still an open question how much profit retailers will generate on that growth: Best Buy, for instance, said its profit margins were hurt by deep discounts on electronics, even as sales rose.
Here are some things you should know for your post-holiday shopping spree:
Beware the odd-sized leftover
Retailers have been a lot more careful with inventory since the recession kicked off, to avoid being stuck with heaps of unsold goods that have to be sold at a deep discount.
“With apparel, you’re not going to find what you want in typical medium or large sizes,” said retail consultant Jeff Green. “You’ll probably find small and extra large or larger.”
And with large discounts on flat-screen TVs and other electronics already taken by many retailers during Black Friday, Green said he expects electronics to be “picked over” by the time after-holiday sales pick up. His advice? Wait until just before Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 5) to look for killer deals on TV sets.
Read that return policy
Secretly returning those lovely sweatpants Aunt Dottie gave you — it’s often an inevitable part of the holidays.
Many of the National Retail Federation tips for ensuring smooth returns are common sense. Don’t unpack an item you plan to return, bring a receipt (almost two-thirds of consumers the NRF surveyed this year planned to provide gift receipts, so hopefully Aunt Dottie got one), and, simply, be patient.
Retailers also offer special return policies for the holidays, so check with individual stores to see what exactly you need.
For online items, policies on returns vary. Mailing them back might cost you. Amazon.com’s website says it may deduct the cost of return shipping from your refund, provided you’re not returning an item because of a mistake on Amazon’s part.
Know your gift cards
The NRF estimates that 80 percent of holiday gift-givers bought someone a gift card this year, for an estimated $27.8 billion in gift-card spending.
The 2009 Credit Card Act added some protections for consumers when it comes to gift cards. They can’t have an expiration date of less than five years from the time of purchase, and fees (which come straight off the card’s balance) generally can’t be deducted until the card has been dormant for a year. After that, fees can be assessed monthly — so don’t let that department-store card sit in your drawer until 2015, or it might have a lot less money than you remember.
And you don’t have to let unwanted gift cards expire or regift them. You can try to sell them online for cash (which is what you probably wanted anyway) at resale websites such as www.plasticjungle.com and www.cardcash.com.
You don’t need to go to the stores
By now, it’s no surprise that online shopping continues to grow at a double-digit pace, no matter what happens in brick-and-mortar stores. So, skip the crowds and just log on to your favorite retailer’s website.
On Black Friday, every major retailer offered many, if not all, of the same sales in-store and online. Free shipping, either on everything or on purchases over a certain amount, has also become de rigueur, so look for the same during after-Christmas sales.
And don’t just hit the malls and Amazon.com
Even though after-Christmas shopping might bring to mind images of packed department stores offering 70 percent off, plenty of locally owned, smaller shops are offering deals, too.
Check with your favorite local boutiques and other stores to see what sales they’re offering — they need to clear out merchandise, just like chain stores. Many small retailers have started announcing sales through their Facebook pages, so check there as well.