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Shoppers are looking for deals, but the economy is making bargains elusive

NEW YORK — Consumers waiting for big deals — and some much-needed relief from the rising costs of just about everything — could be disappointed as they head into the busiest shopping season of the year.

While retailers are offering 30%, 50%, and 70% off everything from TVs to gadgets, many items will still cost more than they did last year due to inflation, and finding a real bargain can prove a challenge.

According to a recent big data analysis by analytics firm DataWeave, which tracks prices for hundreds of thousands of items at about three dozen retailers including Amazon, shoppers paid around 18% more for furniture and appliances in September through October than they did a year ago and Target. They paid about 2% more for toys.

Things were a little better for consumers who bought clothes — they paid almost 5% less compared to last fall, according to DataWeave. Meanwhile, shoe prices remained stable.

“It’s just a strange time for everyone to figure out what the right price is and what the true price is,” said Nikki Baird, vice president of strategy at Aptos, a retail technology company. “Consumers are really bad at the discount bill and retailers are fully aware of this and are doing everything they can to capitalize on it.”

William Wang, 24, who teaches high school math, says he’s more likely to notice price increases on everyday items — like his quesadilla, which now costs $8 at his local deli — than on gifts, which he’ll spend money on once a year.

“I feel like everything is more expensive,” said the Brooklyn, New York resident. “But I keep track of it mostly with little things like food.”

The government’s latest retail sales report shows that retail sales have increased over the last month even adjusted for inflation. That underscores some resilience among shoppers heading into Black Friday weekend, the start of the season.

But cracks form.

Third-quarter results from major retailers show shoppers are unwilling to pay full price and are waiting for deals. Kohl’s, Target and Macy’s, all well-known Americans, have also slowed their spending in recent weeks.

This is a dramatic change from last year’s holiday season, when shoppers started their holiday items as early as October, fearing they wouldn’t get what they needed amid pandemic-related supply chain blockages. They were also lavished with cash from government stimulus funds. Retailers struggled to introduce items so they didn’t have to discount as much.

Michael Liersch, head of advisory and planning at Wells Fargo, said that this holiday shopping season, it’s more likely that things will “appear discounted or feel discounted or seem like there’s big deals,” but that between inflation and ” Shrinkage inflation” – When manufacturers quietly shrink pack sizes without lowering prices, they often don’t.

This trend was evident in a recent DataWeave sample review of various articles. For example, a Cuisinart two-speed blender that was listed for $59.99 but was 25% off was available for $44.99 at grocery chain Fred Meyer. But it was still more expensive than last year’s blender, which retailed for $39.99 after a 20% discount to a lower list price of $49.99.

At Kohl’s last fall, shoppers paid more for Nunn Bush Baker Street men’s dress shoes than they did last year, when discounts were actually bigger and list prices lower. The shoes retailed at $79.99, down almost 16% from the suggested price of $95; last year the shoes retailed for $59.99 after a 29% discount to a lower list price of $85.

Kevin Brasler, editor-in-chief of Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer organization, found that their researchers spent 33 weeks starting Feb. 9 tracking selling prices at 25 major retailers. They found that the sale prices of most stores — even those advertising big savings — are fake discounts because retailers offer the same “sale price” more than half the time. In fact, at many retailers, the advertised “regular price” or “list price” is rarely, if ever, what shoppers pay, Brasler said.

Still, inflation-stricken buyers like Yoki Hanley are willing to take a chance and wait for a bargain. So far she doesn’t feel like she’s getting good deals for her eight grandchildren and plans to delay her purchase until the last week before Christmas.

“Everything went up, so my little nest egg disappeared a lot quicker than I expected,” the St. Croix resident said. “I’ll wait until the last minute. You’ll get it, but it’s late.”

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