Smart Spending: Last-minute shopping strategies

NEW YORK - NEW YORK (AP) — Good news for procrastinators: Even if blowout after-Christmas sales are a thing of the past, stores are still ramping up their competition for this year's holiday dollars because they know that about 40 percent of holiday purchases are made in the last 10 days before Christmas.

So shopping at the last minute is still possible — and can even be good for your wallet — as long as you know how to take advantage of new deals, technology and incentives.

Here are some strategies.

— TOYS NOW, CLOTHING LATER: Start by figuring out what you are likely to find the best deals for at the last minute and what you should try to buy earlier.

As Christmas approaches, toys will start getting more expensive. They're probably going to be at their cheapest this weekend, says Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of Look for discounts of 50 percent to 90 percent as Target, Walmart and do battle over prices. But note that Walmart's 50 percent off deal on some toys and electronics ends Sunday.

For clothing, on the other hand, it's worth waiting until Christmas is even closer and some major retailers such as Marcy's and Victoria's Secret start clearing out merchandise.

— PROBABLY NO ELECTRONICS: Except for televisions, one category where last-minute shoppers aren't likely to find any deals on popular items is electronics. Price cuts on top sellers like Apple Inc.'s iPad or other companies' new tablet computers or on e-book readers like the Kindle from or the Nook from Barnes & Noble Inc. are extremely unlikely at this point.

"Don't wait until the last minute hoping that Apple will drop its price," deGrandpre says. "It's possible but unlikely. You're better off getting them while they're in stock."

— USE THOSE APPS: Remember there are now numerous ways to comparison shop even while you're inside a store. Whether you want to see how much something costs at another shop in the same mall, elsewhere in town or online, there's an app for that.

No longer must even a last-minute shopper sacrifice getting a deal for getting her hands on a decent present — as long as she has a smart phone. Mobile applications that will help you find coupons and let you check for better deals online or compare prices from one store to the next include RedLaser, ShopSavvy and ShopKick.

— ORDER ONLINE, PICK UP IN STORE: With a little extra leg work, you can still get things that are too hard to track down in person and that shippers wouldn't bring before Christmas. Many stores — including Walmart, Nordstrom, Sears and many others — now offer same-day in-store pickup on online orders.

Best Buy said Tuesday that 40 percent of its online orders are being picked up in stores.

— SHIP THIS WEEK: If you must send gifts, do it by Friday, when many free shipping offers expire. Most merchants are offering the promotion on at least some purchases this year. Still more may offer free shipping just on Friday.

Check for details.

— SHOP EXTENDED HOURS: Not only are some stores still planning Christmas Eve discounts, it can be much quieter to shop at off hours, like very early Sunday morning or very late on a weeknight.

More stores than ever have extended their hours this seasons. Toys R Us, for example, plans to keep its stores open 88 hours straight, from 6 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21, until 10 p.m. Christmas Eve. Macy's Inc. has increased the number of stores pulling all-nighters next week to 14 from last year's 12. Sears is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and Kmart from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m.

The deals Sears plans for Dec. 24 include 50 percent to 60 percent off coats, fleece and sweaters and $20 off a digital camera; Kmart will offer slippers for $3.99 and men's boots for $14.99. Walmart stores will offer $50 gift cards with the purchase of Apple products like an iPhone 3GS 8GB or an 8GB iPod touch in a sale that runs from Saturday through Christmas Day.

— THE LAST RESORT: Convenience stores have always been great for in-a-pinch shopping. Now, they're getting savvy about what to offer that's timely.

7-Eleven, open all day on Christmas, is expanding its wine offerings and adding handheld games and more stuffed animals to its assortment of gift cards, videogames, DVDs and CDs.

At CVS, from Sunday through Christmas Day, there will be buy-two-get-one-free deals on bath and body gift sets and a 7-inch LCD TV and DVD player combo for $89.99 ($10 off).


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