Here Are 21 Things You Need to Know About the Holiday Shopping Season

Author: Daniel B. Kline | October 16, 2019

A family goes shopping during the holidays.

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How many days until Christmas?

Christmas creep has brought the holiday shopping season into early November. Retailers have barely put away their Halloween merchandise before they fill the shelves with Christmas gifts (and maybe part of a shelf devoted to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa).

Gift giving in December has become an American tradition regardless of the specific holiday you celebrate. As a consumer, that can lead to all sorts of problems, so you should enter the season knowing as much as possible.

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Walmart shoppers on Black Friday in the parking lot with their purchases.

Source: Walmart

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1. You no longer need to wait for Black Friday

The Friday after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, used to kick off the holiday season. Now, some retailers open on the holiday itself while many others start their sales as early as Nov. 1.

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A large red sign reading Sale.

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2. Not every deal is a good deal

Just because a retailer tells you it has good prices does not mean that it does. Some stores use list prices that nobody ever pays in order to show big deals in terms of percentage off. Be wary and do your homework.

ALSO READ: 5 Tips For Getting a Real Black Friday Deal

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Christmas decorations shaped like hearts and snowflakes hanging in store

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3. It's going to be big

Holiday season sales (November and December) are expected to rise between 3.8% and 4.2% this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That's about double the 2.1% they increased in 2018, putting the 2019 total between between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion. Those numbers exclude automobile dealers, gas stations, and restaurants.

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Crowds of people walking through a mall

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4. It keeps getting bigger

Holiday season shopping sales have increased every year for the past decade. The last drop was in 2008 where they fell by 4.7%, according to the NRF.

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Shoppers moving throughout a two-story mall

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5. Prices can change

Retailers have largely already made their inventory decisions for the 2019 holiday season. They may start the season with one pricing strategy and change it based on how well things sell.

If an item is hot, you won't see deals. When some merchandise does not sell as well, prices may be slashed.

ALSO READ: Does Black Friday Even Matter Anymore?

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Word debt on chalkboard being erased.

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6. Many Americans take on debt

The average American took on $1,230 in debt during the 2018 holiday shopping season, according to a Motley Fool article. That's a $176 increase over the previous year and 68% of that debt is put on credit cards.

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A shopping bag has the words Black Fiday printed on it.

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7. You can still get deals by shopping on Black Friday or Thanksgiving

You no longer have to shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday to get a deal. There are, however, still some doorbusters and limited stock deals that can be found on those days. If you want a big ticket item and it's going to be sold at a really good price, it might be worth getting up early or leaving Thanksgiving dinner to go wait in line.

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Sales associate and customer look at TVs.

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8. Not all models are created equally

When buying electronics, look carefully at the model number or technical specifications. Retailers sometimes sell very similar models with the best prices being on a stripped down version of the product with inferior specs.

ALSO READ: Are Cable Companies Rendering Roku and Other Streamers Obsolete?

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A shopper makes an online purchase with a credit card.

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9. Sales are digital too

Cyber Monday is not the only time you can save money shopping online. Major retailers generally have sales on their websites alongside the ones in their stores. Selections and deals may be different so check both.

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Smiling man holding We're Hiring sign.

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10. There's a lot of seasonal hiring

Many major retailers and pretty much every shipping company has seasonal openings. In many cases, it's possible to turn these into steady jobs and that may be even more true this year given that the overall labor market has been very worker friendly.

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A Target store is filled with workers and employees.

Source: Target

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11. It may pay extra to take on a side hustle

Some retailers sweeten their seasonal job offer by throwing in a discount. If you do a lot of shopping someplace that's hiring, it might be smart to consider working there for a few months.

ALSO READ: 4 Reasons to Take on a Seasonal Job

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A woman holding a coffee and looking at her smartphone while walking.

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12. Purchases via smartphone are rising

People made more purchases on their phones on Black Friday than they did on desktops, according to AdWeek. That number will almost certainly increase in 2019.

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The extrerior of a J.C. Penney store

Source: J.C. Penney

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13. Be wary of struggling retailers

This holiday season may be make it or break for struggling retailers including J.C. Penney. Be very wary about buying gift cards or items that you may need to return to any chain that has struggled.

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A travel airplane in a cappuccino on top of a map,tickets, and passport book.

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14. Travel gets pricey

Don't forget to budget travel into your holiday costs. Hotel rooms and airfare generally cost more -- sometimes a lot more -- than during other times of the year.

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People toasting wine glasses over a big meal.

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15. Food costs go up too

Planning a big holiday feast? Some items -- like roasts, hams, and shellfish -- will almost certainly cost you more than they normally do. Plan your shopping and don't overlook warehouse clubs -- they can be a great deal when you need a lot of something -- and consider that it's the company, not the food, so you don't need lobster or prime rib to have a good party.

ALSO READ: What the Average Thanksgiving Dinner Will Cost This Year -- and What We Can Learn From It

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One person handing a gift card to another person.

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16. Be careful with gift cards

Retailers love selling gift cards because consumers may forget about them or spend more than the value of the card. If you get gift cards, make sure you use them and have a plan for spending so you don't exceed your budget.

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The colorful interior of a teen fashion retailer

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17. Waiting is risky

The days of having to buy last-minute gifts on Christmas Eve at a convenience store are gone. Most retailers stay open until Christmas itself, but waiting is a risky strategy.

If the season has not gone well then waiting may bring better deals. That's less likely than late shoppers facing limited selection and prices that are no better (or maybe worse) than they would have paid when shopping earlier.

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A large crowd of shoppers inside a Target store on Black Friday,

Source: Target

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18. Buy hot items quickly

The hottest items of the holiday season tend to disappear quickly. Retailers may get new stock in, but once something becomes scarce it becomes even harder to get your hands on it. If you know you want something, buy it and set it aside so you don't have to search for it as the holidays approach.

ALSO READ: Is Black Friday a Scam?

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smiling woman wearing apron standing outside coffee shop with her arms folded

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19. Small businesses may offer big deals

Small retailers and restaurants offer deals and specials during the holiday shopping season as well. Sometimes these are the best places to get unique merchandise or to find a special experience that will surprise someone on your shopping list.

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A Walmart employee helping a customer.

Source: Walmart

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20. You can BOPIS

Many major retailers offer buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS). This allows consumers to reserve and pay for an item, then pick it up at their convenience.

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Christmas stockings are hanging.

Source: Getty Images

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21. There will be holidays again in 2020

Halloween candy is really cheap on Nov. 1. Christmas decorations and other seasonal items go on sale as soon as the holiday has passed. It's not a bad idea to stock up on items you need or know you will use in the week after Christmas.

ALSO READ: These 15 Retailers Need a Merry Christmas

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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