The holiday season has been strong for retail sales overall -- strong enough for the National Retail Federation to increase its growth projection from 2.8% to 3.8% recently.
Still, despite the overall success, some chains have found lumps of coal in their stockings this year. But with the holiday season winding down, what's bad for retailers may be good for shoppers in the coming weeks.
Their Loss, Your Gain
Swing by the websites of retailers like Best Buy (BBY), Kohl's (KSS), J.C. Penney (JCP), and Gap (GPS) and you can't help but be blinded by the sale signs plastered everywhere.
These struggling retailers are much more likely to hand you a deal than those who are experiencing strong sales this season. For example, Best Buy is giving away a $50 gift card with the purchase of an Apple (AAPL) iPad and Smart Cover or a Microsoft (MSFT) Xbox 360. Buy the iPad at an Apple store, on the other hand, and maybe you'll get a free high five from an Apple Genius.
How should you play the holiday madness? Try these four strategies to nab great deals from desperate retailers.
1. Grab Your Coat and Car Keys.
Online shopping has in recent years been the place to find better deals compared with traditional stores. Black Friday online sales were up 26% this year.
But what's been a boon for the likes of Amazon.com (AMZN) has left bricks-and-mortar retailers out in the cold. Many have excess inventory they need to clear from their shelves before the holidays are over. It's a role reversal, with the real steals on the sales floors instead of online. So grab your car keys and get these discounts while they're hot.
2. Concentrate on No-Name Commodity Items.
Unlike most years, there was no Tickle Me Elmo, Furbie, or Wii console heading up the hot toy list this year. And without these "must haves" it's a lot harder to get customers to queue up for the regular lineup of toys, electronics, and clothes.
Stores are pulling out all the stops to create excitement. And that means last-minute shoppers can find real deals.
For example, Toys R Us has announced it would stay open 112 straight hours, from Tuesday through 10 p.m. Christmas Eve with tons of great deals and will even extend shipping deadlines for online shopping.
A warm start to the winter has kept outerwear from flying off shelves, and retailers from Gap to Saks are offering deals to get inventory off their hands.
Electronics like digital cameras and televisions are also deeply discounted if you shop at struggling retailers like Best Buy.
3. Try Your Hand at Haggling.
We're used to seeking deals with coupons and on clearance racks, but this year might be the right time to haggle for the right sale, especially in the categories mentioned above.
Just yesterday, I got 20% off a pair of Oakley ski goggles by ho-humming over the cost for a few minutes. When sales reps see a big purchase like this is hanging in the balance over what might be a few dollars, they'll usually pull out all of the stops to make it happen. (And if you've ever shopped for Oakleys, you know they don't hit the sale rack often.)
4. Hit Up the Mom-and-Pop Stores.
Bricks-and-mortar retailers are more likely to haggle, because they need to turn inventory over during the holiday season. But sometimes there's a lot of red tape involved for a sales associate at a big chain to give you a deal.
Not so at smaller shops, where the rules are easier to bend. These stores know that if they're stuck with product after this coming weekend, it's likely to go at fire-sale prices, so take advantage. Get chummy with salespeople. They're much more likely to cut you a break if you've built a bit of a relationship and maybe have a few things in common.
Finally, for the procrastinators out there (including me) there's plenty of hope for holiday deals. Everything I've outlined above gets even better as the holidays approach and even after they pass. And if you can wait until the holidays are over, you are going to find even better deals from desperate retailers.
Motley Fool contributor Travis Hoium does not have a position in any company mentioned. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Gap, Microsoft, and Best Buy. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Amazon.com, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended writing covered calls in Best Buy creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft and Apple.