10 Holiday Shopping Secrets Retailers Don’t Want You To Know

Smiling young couple buying Christmas presents online using a credit card and a digital tablet.
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If there’s one thing finance experts agree on this holiday season, it’s shopping early to get the best deals. And even if you aren’t planning to buy immediately, it’s best to begin tracking prices so you can shop as soon as prices drop.

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“We tend to see the lowest prices in the week leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as well as during these actual dates,” said Radhika Duggal, chief marketing officer for money-saving app SuperShop. “It is generally a good idea to start Black Friday shopping before the actual Black Friday holiday. We are finding that more retailers are publishing their Black Friday on Nov. 1 and sustaining them for the entire month.”

There are other benefits to starting your holiday shopping as soon as possible, as well. “Amidst ongoing supply chain challenges, holiday shopping early also increases the chances that highly coveted items are still in stock and can ship to you in plenty of time for the holidays,” said Marc Mezzacca, founder of the CouponFollow app. “According to a holiday shopping survey from CouponFollow, 24% of parents said they’d pay more than the retail price to get a coveted gift for their child. By shopping early, consumers can hopefully get ahead of the demand and not have to pay above retail.”

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Even if you miss the biggest holiday shopping weekend, or if you begin shopping in advance to space out your purchases, there are still plenty of other ways to stay within your budget this holiday season. Retail stores and e-commerce sites alike may not want you to know these money-saving secrets.

1. Wait for Coupon Codes

Another expert in the “shop early” camp, Matt Smith — CEO of Near Apogee Consulting — suggests that shoppers “plan to buy early and use coupon codes that follow.”

As a consultant specializing in e-commerce, Smith knows how it works: “Make a purchase but not for everything you want. The company may send you a thank you with a coupon code account. Some companies keep this trail of coupons coming as long as you continue to make purchases. Just plan out your purchases in advance, keeping in mind free shipping thresholds for a double bonus.”

2. Put Items in Your E-commerce Shopping Cart… and Think About Them

“Companies like to target first-time buyers,” Smith added. “If you put something in your cart and start checking out — making sure to enter an email address for your account and allowing communication from the site — companies may email three times or more trying to get you to come back. Usually on that third time they might include a discount, a bonus like free shipping or some other incentive!”

Make Your Money Work for You

He urges online shoppers to wait up to 72 hours to get the best discounts.  

3. Take Advantage of Free Shipping Day

If you like free shipping, or simply missed out on Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, wait until Dec. 14 to finish your shopping, experts told GOBankingRates.

“This year, Free Shipping Day is on December 14,” said James Angel, co-founder of DYL, an all-in-one business growth tool. “Numerous shops provide free delivery with no minimum purchase requirement in addition to additional discounts. On Free Shipping Day, you may save a ton of money if you intend to purchase the majority of your gifts online.”

4. Get to Know Small Businesses

Sandwiched in between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is Small Business Saturday, when consumers are encouraged to shop on their local Main Streets or through small business owners online. You can even look for the “small business” tag on Amazon when you make purchases.

If you’re looking to get a head start on your holiday shopping, you may be able to snag deals from small or local businesses at any time. Smith advised, “Check local social media groups for moms, local regions, or hobbies that you are interested in. Follow companies and engage with them. Companies just getting started need to get the word out. If you follow them and engage you may get the chance to get first in line for promotions.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Some small businesses may offer you a discount if you ask. But if you share their posts and show support, they are even more likely to share savings with you.

5. Remember To Use Your Bonus Cash, Rebates and Gift Cards

Large retailers count on you forgetting to use bonus cash or free gift cards that you may receive, according to The Krazy Coupon Lady. Make sure to check your shopping bags for bonus cash. If you’re shopping at Target, make sure you receive your bonus gift cards. Also, be sure to enter offers in the Target Circle app and scan the barcode at check-out to get all the deals.

If you shop at Kohl’s, enter your Kohl’s Cash in the app immediately and set calendar reminders of when it is active and when it expires. Hold onto the paper Kohl’s Cash as some locations will accept it after it has expired. But if it’s only stored in the app, it will usually vanish after the expiration date.

6. Know the Price Match Policies at the Stores Where You Shop

“One lesser-known way shoppers can save more this year is through price match guarantees,” said Stephen Jacobs, chief innovation officer for Proximity Mills.

Stores like Target, Best Buy and Costco will price match their own products, and Target will also price match Amazon goods. “Since prices vary widely throughout this time of year, shopping with brands who offer price matching is a great way to make sure you get the lowest price possible,” Jacobs told GOBankingRates in an email interview.

If the store won’t price match, said Melanie Musson — finance expert with Clearsurance.com — then you can return the item and purchase it again at the sale price. “Most retailers will accept returns within 30 days if you have the receipt,” she said.

Chris Stevenson, CEO of VirtualRealityRental Las Vegas, agreed on the wisdom of saving receipts. “It can be an essential part of your strategy when you’re trying to get your holiday shopping done before Black Friday. No matter how good we are at hunting for deals, there’s always a chance that a better one will come along. This is why saving receipts is so important,” he said.

7. Use Apps to Find the Best Deals

Money-saving apps like Honey, CapitalOne Shopping, Brickseek, and SuperShop all help customers find the best deals online.

“I encourage consumers to spend and save in a structured way,” said Duggal of SuperShop. “Make a list of the items you will need in the next month or for the holidays. Identify the websites and stores where you can comparison shop, then track prices and deals. Buy when you feel things are at the lowest price. If you plan your purchases ahead, you can jump on a lightning deal on sites like SuperShop, and make a guilt-free purchase,” she said.

8. Tap Into Profession-related Discounts

Sites like Zappos offer 10% off to military members, students, and teachers, said Breanne Millette, founder & CEO of jewelry brand BISOULOVELY. “If you can stack your profession discount on top of a holiday sale, you may be able to stumble on some really handsome savings.”

9. Ask About Senior Discounts

Likewise, stores like Kohl’s, JOANN, Savers, and Ross Dress for Less offer senior discounts of 10% to 20%. The definition of a senior varies across retailers. You don’t have to be ready to collect Social Security to qualify for these discounts, so make sure to ask. Some discounts are available for shoppers who are as young as age 50.

Not a senior? Use your AARP card anyway.

You don’t have to be a senior to qualify for an AARP membership. You can use your card for discounts at chain restaurants to fuel up on good food and also at many online and brick and mortar retailers.

10. Make a Budget and Stick to It

Whether you’ve been scoping out holiday deals since the kids went back to school or you’re waiting until Black Friday to snag the savings, being a savvy shopper means staying within your holiday budget.

“It requires discipline, but a list should point you in the right direction and allows you to keep track of spending,” said Nathan Astle, financial therapist for Beyond Finance. “Think gifts, entertainment, travel, and expenses. Be generous, but do not stray from the list.”

Should You Buy Holiday Gifts Early or Wait Until Later?

Stevenson said, “Any sort of tech toy should be ordered or purchased in-store early. These kinds of items are incredibly popular during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so if you wait until after then to buy a tech item for the holidays, it might be out of stock.”

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As tempting as it might be to get all your shopping done early, make sure to enter the season with a strategy, said Astle. “I’d encourage shoppers to look into what sales are coming up, particularly on large items like electronics or appliances, but be cautious. A common trap is to buy everything at once instead of staggering out purchases, which can increase stress levels and push you into debt.”

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About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of GeekTravelGuide.net, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.
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