Attention shoppers: Get ready for what could be one of the longest, most frustrating seasons ever for holiday deals. Due to an unprecedented mix of supply chain problems and labor shortages, the most popular products are likely to be hard to find — and shoppers can expect fewer discounts when gifts actually are in stock.
One way some retailers are coping with the situation is by expanding the season for deals. Amazon started rolling out its 2021 holiday deals earlier this week, and Target is launching a major sale this weekend. All signs indicate that deals and promotions will pop up regularly now through Dec. 25.
Amid the flurry of deals, you may be wondering whether it's wise to buy now or wait for Black Friday or Cyber Monday. It's a question shoppers have every year around this time, and in 2021 clear-cut answers will be especially hard to come by.
In recent years, "Black Friday" sales have generally arrived on Nov. 1. But 2021 is no ordinary year. The crisis in the global supply chain has led to shortages and delayed shipping of toys, electronics and other popular gifts. At the same time, many businesses — including retailers — are facing a labor shortage and are struggling to hire enough workers to staff stores and fulfillment centers during the year's busiest shopping months.
"It's all a perfect storm to make this Black Friday season a painful and unfamiliar experience," says Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst for the shopping site dealnews.com.
Amazon and others have been pushing pre-Black Friday promotions for years. Given the shortages and uncertainty in 2021, early shopping may make good sense for retailers and consumers alike.
"The best thing shoppers can do is make their list for holiday shopping now and keep an eye on these early sales — if they see a price they like, go ahead and get it early," says Ramhold.
Best holiday deals: buy now or wait?
Target is launching a massive three-day Target Deal Days starting Sunday, Oct. 10, with all deals available online and in stores. Amazon introduced what it's calling both "Black Friday-worthy" and Epic Deals starting on Oct. 4. Meanwhile, Walmart, Best Buy and other retailers are continuously promoting sales and discounts that may or may not be branded specifically as "holiday" savings.
Are these deals as good as you'll find on Black Friday? It's hard to answer that definitely, but for the most part, the answer is no. In all likelihood, there will be far more deals and bigger discounts around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
That said, there are some genuinely compelling deals that are available now or will be soon, and some shoppers want the peace of mind that comes with buying now rather than waiting for the possibility of saving a few more dollars.
For example, the Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker on sale right now for $24.99 ($39.99 originally), which is the same deal available this past summer on Amazon Prime Day. Apple's AirPods Pro earbuds are $179 at Amazon ($249 originally), which is the lowest price we've ever seen. Amazon was also offering Beats Studio3 headphones for just $170 (down from $350 originally) earlier this week, though that sale has expired.
Target has not yet released details for its Deal Days sale, but when the retailer hosted the event last October, there were great deals on KitchenAid mixers and Beats headphones, among others.
Could prices go even lower than what's offered lately? It's always a possibility. If that happens, you can try to get the price difference refunded to you. Target is introducing a special holiday price matching policy on Oct. 10, promising to make price adjustments for shoppers who make purchases between then and Dec. 24, only to see a lower price appear in the store. Take note, however, that shoppers must proactively request a price match — Target isn't going to refund the difference automatically.
Holiday shopping predictions: Black Friday deals and more
Retail experts are forecasting big increases in holiday spending overall this year — in particular for online shopping. Deloitte is projecting a 7% to 9% increase in holiday sales this year compared to 2020, along with an 11% to 15% rise in e-commerce purchases for the holidays.
Unfortunately, while shoppers will probably be spending more, they won't necessarily be getting more. Instead, one reason they'll be dropping more money on holiday purchases is simply that prices are higher. Salesforce says shoppers should expect an increase of roughly 20% on prices of holiday gifts this year.
Even so, there should be quite a few amazing deals in the weeks and months ahead. Dealnews.com is predicting that around Black Friday, 50" smart TVs could go as low as $150, and Chromebooks might dip down to $129. Toms Guide, another shopping and deals site, is anticipating Black Friday deals such as $89 AirPods, which would be the lowest price ever.
Bear in mind that it may be more competitive than ever to actually complete a purchase of one of these terrific sales, which are likely to sell out extremely quickly. So, if you worried about missing out, the safe approach is to be content with scooping up gifts sooner than later — even if that means you pay a little extra.
For example, Walmart has a Lenovo 11.6" Chromebook on sale for $149 right now ($249 originally). That's nearly as cheap as the deals being predicted for Black Friday.