Before you head into the final stretch before the holiday rush, when stores lose all subtlety in the ways they push gift-buying, you may wonder whether to pass up November bargains in the hope that some prices will keep falling.
Last year, most customers who waited until the final days before Dec. 25 found empty shelves instead of bargains because stores had sold most of their stock, and so didn't have to cut prices to clear out holiday merchandise.
This year, most stores are heading into the holidays with only a little more inventory, so again few are desperate. But many are discounting holiday goods earlier than last year because shoppers remain cautious.
Generally, "retailers are going out with their best prices of the season around the Thanksgiving week," said John Long, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates.
Tips for timing your purchases
Hot toys: If you want the season's hottest toys, buy between now and Black Friday. Many retailers, including Toys "R" Us and Wal-Mart, have already discounted some of them. Wal-Mart has cut prices on WowWee's Paper Jamz Guitar and Mattel's Loopz electronic memory game. Prices can even rise on the hottest toys by mid December as supplies dwindle, analysts say.
Flat-panel TVs: Particularly for lower-priced models, the time to act is now through Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, analysts say. Wal-Mart discounted a 26-inch Vizio LED HDTV from $298 to $198 last weekend, for example. Don't hold your breath for discounts on the latest and greatest. For 3-D and TVs that connect to the Internet, shoppers will have to wait until after Christmas for discounts, said Craig Johnson, president of retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners.
Computers: Laptop computers are cheapest around Black Friday. Look for deals offered online by manufacturers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, recommends Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of dealnews.com.
Clothing: Many stores may cut prices on clothing items like sweaters and jackets up to 50 percent this weekend and next, said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst for market research firm NPD. He said stores aren't expected to cut prices any further for Black Friday, but may deepen discounts after Dec. 26.