For the real bargains postpone buying until later in January.
Put that credit card in your pocket. There are lots of things you shouldn't be buying before Christmas. They're the items that the retailers keep at full price or not far off.
This column was meant to cover the eight or 10 things you really shouldn't buy before Christmas. But it has morphed because the answer isn't black and white. Canny Christmas shoppers will find some true bargains between now and December 24. Many others will be lulled into emptying their wallets on overpriced merchandise.
There are items it doesn't make sense to buy before Christmas. Even if they have a "sale" ticket on them, the prices will be better the longer you wait. Some of those include TVs, cameras, computers and tablets, tools and other boys' toys, swimwear, outdoor furniture and barbecues, perfume and luxury goods, Christmas decorations and cards and newly released products such as games.
Retailers know that we're going to buy truckloads of these things before Christmas. There will be flyers advertising sales. But by and large you're never going to get a great bargain between now and December 24.
If you've got nerves of steel, bypass Boxing Day sales as well. We tend to buy in a frenzy on Boxing Day, says Jonathan Elms of Massey University, a retail management specialist. The reality is that Boxing Day rarely offers the best bargains of the season. They come in January and even possibly later when the stores need to clear the floor for new season stock.
Retailers want to panic us into buying, says Elms. My experience of shopping for a TV in a Boxing Day sale a few years ago bears this out. The salesman said the TV that had caught my eye would never be so cheap again. Yet in April, when I finally got around to buying it, the price was lower.
I did some unscientific research on prices for a few items this week by using priceme.co.nz's price trend information. Almost all the random items I looked at were cheaper in January than they had been on Boxing Day. In fact when PriceMe did an analysis of the number of price changes on its site for the holiday season last year only 7765 prices changed on Boxing Day compared to 22,317 on January 15. The price changes on Boxing Day are more than double the average, but not an extreme spike at all.
For example, the Lego City Police set, which some children would die for this Christmas, was $150 on Boxing Day last year. The average price was $136 on March 11. On both July 1 and September 23 it was $118.
The Lego prices on PriceMe don't include the likes of the Warehouse and Farmers, where the majority of parents buy Lego in my experience. My contact at Farmers tells me toys are discounted across the board up to seven times a year. That means if you'd waited for the sale you could have got 20 per cent off your Lego.
The Warehouse has 20 per cent off Lego until Tuesday and I'm told Farmers will have a similar short sale sometime between now and Christmas.
The most popular perfume on PriceMe is 100ml of Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb EDP. It was $150 last Christmas, had a sneaky little price spike in early January to $169 and by early February it was $122.
By January, says Elms, retailers need to move what's left of their summer stock to make way for new season's ranges and products.
What might be a good bargain for Christmas is all those items that people don't shop for at this time of the year because they're too busy. "Gazebos, chilly bins and outdoor furniture romp out the door at this time of year," says PriceMe marketing director Chris Palmer. The same can't be said of chests of drawers and plumbing supplies. Sales from those stores might be best before Christmas.
While perusing PriceMe, I looked at the price trends of tablets and other technology. The price trend for an Apple iPad Air Wi-Fi 16GB is interesting. It was $661 at Christmas last year and had dropped to only $654 on January 25. On February 8 - just after kids went back to school and had been bought their iPads - the price went into freefall. For a short period in March and May it was $469, climbing back up to $594 in July/August.
The stores rely on pester power. It's a thick-skinned parent who can resist being nagged when it comes to buying Apple and other trendy devices.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive price survey. The iPad prices on PriceMe include locally sourced products, parallel-imported goods, refurbished products direct from Apple as well as high street stores such as Dick Smith, Noel Leeming, PB Technologies and Harvey Norman. Many of the online retailers that are part of the comparison will be doing very small amounts of business compared to the likes of Noel Leeming.
Elms says the cynic in him would think along the same lines as me. January is bonanza month for the sale of tablets - all those kids going back to school who "need" one. I have two children who take tablets to school (both of whom bought their own). I've no doubt that if they don't turn up with them on the first day of school, they're not going to be educationally disadvantaged for life. Typically kids share them because they work collaboratively.
Wait until the price is right and then buy.
There is another school of thought. Derek Bonnar, general manager of Canstar New Zealand, a company that provides consumer product comparisons, bought his daughter a tablet last Christmas despite knowing it might be cheaper if he waited a month or two.
The reason was that it became the Christmas present, when he would have had to buy one anyway. That's smart.
In our household we'd probably go a step further and give an IOU or voucher for Christmas. The kids are quite used to that and know we'll go shopping together in January to buy the much-anticipated item. That works for all sorts of things. We first discovered the IOU when a friend turned up to an 8-year-old's birthday party with one because his parents had forgotten to buy a present. It caused great mirth and the kids to my surprise understood the concept.
The Christmas IOU or voucher is especially good for clothing, which is usually heavily discounted in January.
Summer clothing is far better bought in January or even February. If you can survive with last year's wardrobe until after Christmas, do. That's especially the case with swimwear.
Another clever use of the IOU could be between partners. Instead of surprising your partner with something that he or she may not actually want, give the IOU and suggest you go shopping together for the perfume or wetsuit or whatever it is that he or she wants. Make it sound romantic and you won't end up in the dog house.
Shopping for the item could prove to be quality time as well as money-saving. That is so long as your other half isn't someone with zero control over money and will want the latest/most expensive item instead of the discounted one.
We could see some changes to the Christmas shopping landscape in the next few years, says Elms. Kiwi and other retailers are starting to follow the Black Friday sales example from the United States.
The Warehouse is even calling it Red Friday. Prices are slashed on the first Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday in November rather than Boxing Day as they are here. Shoppers then get more bargains in the lead-up to Christmas.