By Jamie Sotonoff and Kim Mikus, Daily Herald Staff, for Daily Herald
Your money supply is short.
Demand for your business is high.
And that combination means you should be able to save on most products this holiday shopping season.
Businesses are using every trick in the book to lure customers, including online offers, store coupons and an array of creative discounts.
The key is planning, says Chicago’s Brad Wilson, owner of BradsDeals.com.
“You have to plan where you’re going and what you want to get,” he said. “There’s probably a coupon for 90 percent of the stores, and I don’t think people realize how many there are and how easy they are to get.”
And sometimes, good planning will allow you to do better than just a discount – like free shipping.
Here are a few strategies for bagging bargains during the holiday season.
A sale at one place is sometimes the same as a sale at another, thanks to price-matching guarantees. Many competing businesses do this, but to reap the benefits, you must do your homework. Know the competitor’s price and be armed with a current sales flier or Web printout to argue your case. If you’re organized, you can enjoy sale prices from multiple stores in a single stop.
Beware of: The hassle vs. the savings. It’s not worth your time if you have to wait 15 minutes to save $1. “It’s important if you’re buying a $1,000 TV, and less important if you’re buying a book,” Wilson says. Also be aware that some stores might not match deeply discounted Black Friday prices, so check in advance.
If you enjoying shopping online, don’t buy anything until you first Google the store’s name and the words “promotional code.” Chances are, you’ll find an offer for free shipping or a percentage off a certain purchase amount. Try RetailMeNot.com and CouponCabin.com.
At ebates.com, you get a cash rebate on every online purchase – sometimes as high as 50 percent – from more than 1,000 retailers. Just shop like you normally do; no forms, no points. Then get your check in the mail (or a deposit in your PayPal account).
Beware of: Shipping charges. They’re the downside of online shopping, but be careful that you aren’t stuck with ridiculously high fees or aren’t required to pay for shipping on returns.
CLIP THOSE COUPONS
Cost-cutting in-store coupons arrive all the time – 20 percent off any two items at Stein Mart or an extra 25 percent off your Kohl’s purchase. These are great, but how often do you get to the store and, while pulling out your credit card, remember you have a coupon at home?
Organization is key. You can invest in a coupon file or simply stash current ones in a large envelope. Just remember to keep the file in your purse or car at all times.
And before you shop, it’s worth pulling up the store’s Web site to see if there are coupons available.
Beware of: Expiration dates and the fine print. Sometimes coupons can’t be used for sale items.
Are you willing to do what it takes to strike the best deal? Haggling can’t hurt. After all, the worst thing is that they’ll say “no.”
About 90 percent of shoppers who haggle will get a discounted price, according to “The Shop Cop” Jennifer Litwin of Chicago. Appliances, electronics, big-ticket items and floor models are sure bets. But seasonal items, such as women’s coats, are worth a try.
Beware of: Possible embarrassment. Only push the concept for so long and don’t cause a scene.
Discount stores, such as T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, are feasting on an overstock of cool-weather clothing and home goods at prices far below what you’d see elsewhere. The supply-chain system is backed up and off-price retailers are offering more merchandise than ever.
Beware of: Merchandise is not always organized. Shopping might take a little longer. And return policies are usually not as generous as they would be at a department store.
SHOPPING AT OFF HOURS
Stores like Kohl’s started extended holiday shopping hours in mid-November, allowing people to shop at midnight on a Wednesday if they want. The Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora will open at midnight on Thanksgiving and stay open until 10 p.m. Friday. Opening early and closing late is not unusual on “Black Friday,” and there will be incredible deals to be had, especially on “early bird” or “door buster” specials. On Friday, Nov. 28, the first 200 people to arrive at Woodfield mall in their pajamas (doors open at 6 a.m., next to Todai Seafood Buffet) will receive a $50 mall gift card and a complimentary Santa hat.
Beware of: Crowds! People who hit the stores early on Black Friday are hard-core shoppers. If they have to trample you to get to a sale item, they will. And frequently, supplies of the most tempting deals are limited.