By Brad Tuttle
November 11, 2016
Christopher Dilts—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The 2016 elections were supposedly so engrossing that they stopped Americans from getting a head start on their holiday shopping. Even so, it’s been impossible for most shoppers not to notice that retailers have rolled out loads of early season deals.

Amazon launched the first of its pre-Black Friday sales on November 1, while stores like Best Buy and Target have already promised free no-minimum shipping on all purchases throughout the season, in addition to a range of early discounts and promotions. Many of Walmart’s Black Friday deals are live in stores and online right now as well.

Your e-mail in-box is probably brimming with special offers from retailers right about now too. Marketing research indicates that consumers are more likely to open and read promotional retailer e-mails in the two weeks after Halloween than they are later in the holiday shopping season. Why? Apparently, because by December—which is unsurprisingly the peak month of the year for retailer emails—shoppers are swimming in so many promotions that they’re easier to delete.

In any event, we are entering the peak season for retailer emails and deals. Perhaps among the most eye-catching of discounts is the simplest one: the flat percentage discount that applies to all of a store’s merchandise. There are plenty of these offers available right now. Through November 17, Old Navy is offering 30% off sitewide, and 50% off winter apparel (use the code WARM at checkout). Dockers has 40% off the purchase of any two items, or 50% off orders of three items (code: FROSTY50). Crocs and J.C. Penney were promoting 30% across-the-board discounts for Veterans Day, while Gap and Banana Republic have been hosting 40% off everything sales.

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They may seem like pretty good sales. But they speak to how inflated regular prices are at America’s stores, revealing a business model in which insanely high markups mean that no one should ever pay full price—and that you’re probably paying too much even with discounts of 20% or 30% off. More importantly, if you want to pay the least for gifts or treating yourself during the holiday season, you should probably resist all of the deals on the table now. Why? If history is any guide, much more substantial discounts are on the horizon.

For example, the flat 30% off promotion at J.C. Penney is paltry compared to the retailer’s average discount of 68% on Black Friday last year. What’s more, retailers are all but guaranteed to repeat the kinds of huge sitewide discounts they’ve offered on Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays in the past.

It’s become standard protocol for stores like the ones mentioned above to discount all purchases by 40%, 50%, or even 60% during the long Thanksgiving-Cyber Monday weekend. What’s more, during the weeks in between Cyber Monday and Christmas, there is a history of these exact same kinds of discounts popping up over and over, often with free shipping thrown in to sweeten the deal.

So by all means feel free to ignore the deals being breathlessly promoted by retailers right now. The discounts that will be available in the weeks ahead will certainly be just as good—and, odds are, much deeper markdowns will appear periodically on peak sales days like Cyber Monday.

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Perhaps, though, you may not want to ignore the current sales entirely. Instead, consider them a baseline that can be used to compare with the inevitable sales down the line. Create a list of items you want to buy and note their current prices. This way, you can quickly identify the truly outstanding deals in the coming weeks and pounce on them with confidence that you’re getting a bargain.

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