Updated: May 3, 2013 12:15PM
Today is Cyber Monday — the latest in a very short holiday shopping tradition that features online bargains and opportunities. But just as the Internet revolutionized holiday shopping, the concept of Cyber Monday is being replaced by InstantPricing.
In the competitive world of online retailing, there is no one “doorbuster” item that draws you into the online store to shop, and pick up other things at more profitable margins for retailers. Instead, prices change daily — and even throughout the day, as online retailers try to wring the most volume out of the holiday shopping season.
It’s a concept that’s familiar to people who shop for airline tickets. The airlines use algorithms to constantly change their fares, based on competition and the known propensity of shoppers to buy at certain times.
As a result, the same plane could be filled with passengers paying a wide range of prices to get to the same destination.
That’s exactly what’s happening to retailers. Tired of having people use their big-box stores as a research experiment to check out the latest televisions, computers, and other electronics, the retailers are fighting back by changing prices at the register as well as online.
Shopping for brand names at bargain prices has become a competitive sport. And if you’re wondering where to start, here are a few ideas:
Amazon.com now offers “Lightning Deals” that are posted throughout the day, have limited quantities, last a limited few hours, and offer discounts of as much as 50 percent off retail prices. The products offered range from electronics to exercise equipment, and include apparel, jewelry, and children’s toys. Tracking these fast-changing deals could force you to sit at your computer for hours — or you could sign up for their free deal newsletter.
WalMart.com now features a deal-laden home page — with prices and offerings constantly changing as the company assesses its business. You can find the hottest toys, electronics, video games, and even low-priced items for stocking stuffers — all shipped free to your home. You can create an online “wish list” to alleviate the problem of post-Christmas returns of unwanted or unneeded items.
Target.com has the same splashy home page featuring daily deals — and you’ll see yellow highlighted items marked as “temporary price cut” with discounts of 50 percent or more. There is absolutely nothing, it seems, that you can’t order at this website, have it delivered at no charge, and solve all your shopping hassles.
BestBuy.com, not to be outdone, is now featuring deals online and an email newsletter to let you know when they are posted — as well as the ubiquitous free shipping.
(Note to self: Buy stock in Fedex and UPS! And maybe the U.S. Postal system won’t need a bailout with all this holiday gift shipping.)
You’ll get lots of ideas, as well as deals, by visiting these retailers’ websites. But how do you easily make comparisons?
At DealNews.com you can see what a wide variety of retailers are posting as their best deals, including Amazon, Sears, Best Buy, Kohls and many others. Although they do accept advertising, their editorial guarantee is impressive, promising to not only deliver the best deals, but those from reliable retailers. “We verify that each deal is valid, the lowest total price we could find, and from a reputable retailer. Then and only then do we post it for you. We take getting a bargain seriously, and then share what we find with you.”
Time is money
All of these instant price changes limit profitability for retailers, but do give consumers a new kind of power. Walk into a store with a printout from their website or that of a competitor, and they are not going to let you walk away empty-handed. They’ll match the best deals.
But there is also the uncertainty factor. Right now the retailers are competing like crazy to get you to buy — but when Christmas Day draws closer, and you become more desperate to find the right gift, will they pull back on their deals? Or will they be anxious enough for sales volume to give you an even bigger price break if you wait till the last minute?
We won’t know that until the holiday shopping season is over — and the post-holiday deals emerge.
But just in case all this discussion of holiday shopping deals seems a bit crass to you (and well it should), here’s something you might not be aware of: Cyber Monday is going to be followed by “Giving Tuesday.” It’s a concept designed to help people remember the real spirit of the holidays.
At www.GivingTuesday.org you can find dozens of organizations that need your help, not just now but throughout the year. As the website puts it so eloquently: “It’s a simple idea. Find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to join in acts of giving. Tell everyone you can about what you are doing and why it matters. Join a national celebration of our great tradition of generosity.” Everyone who shops online should also visit this wonderful site.
When you’ve finished saving time and money with your online shopping deals, you’ll certainly have some of both left over to give back to your community or organizations around the world. That will be the best deal of all.
And that’s The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is the Chicago Sun-Times’ nationally syndicated financial columnist, and a registered investment adviser.