3 Things You Need to Know Before You Start Your Holiday Shopping this Year

black friday shopping thanksgiving
Shoppers line up at a department store on Thanksgiving Day.
Rex Shutterstock

As consumers and retailers gear up for what they hope will be the most wonderful time of the year, a lot is at stake for both sides.

To recover from a lackluster 2015 holiday performance, retailers are pulling out all of the stops, and this time around, the ball is arguably in the consumer’s court.

So, if you’re planning to make the holiday shopping rounds during the next few weeks, here are three things you need to know now.

No Need to Pay for Shipping

There may be a few exceptions to the rule, but no consumer should expect to pay for shipping on most of their online footwear and apparel purchases this year.

For starters, all of the major department stores and even some brands are revving up their online and brick-and-mortar synergies by offering buy online, pickup in store (or BOPIS) and buy online, return in store (or BORIS). Perhaps there are certain items that you prefer to buy in store — i.e., things that you need to try on or items that you might want to touch and feel. Going the BOPIS route for merchandise that doesn’t require the touch-and-feel element can still help you to eliminate a good chunk of your shopping list.

And if you are one of the lucky few who can avoid physical stores altogether this holiday season, free shipping is becoming par for the course online, so you should shop around in advance to figure out the retailers that are doing it. There’s a good chance that your list of retailers that are still charging hefty shipping costs will be a short one.

Don’t Put All of Your Eggs in One Basket

The cat is out of the bag: Retailers are feeling desperate this holiday season, and they’re offering deep discounts in hopes of moving merchandise. That’s good news for consumers for two reasons: It means that a lot of items will be marked down substantially, and there is a good chance that the discounting will be spread out throughout the holiday season.

Translation: You don’t necessarily have to do the bulk of your shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

All accounts point to a several weeks of heavy discounting across retail and, as has been the trend for the past few years, the sales are starting earlier in the season and lingering on for some time after.

Understand the Difference Between Outlets & Regular Stores

Since most people don’t want to pay full price for footwear and apparel anymore, outlet stores are rising in importance, particularly as a holiday shopping destination.

If you’re willing to brave the traffic and potential parking woes, outlets might be a viable option for you this year for several reasons.

For a long time, some consumers steered clear of outlet shopping out of fear that the merchandise sold in this discount channel was defective or of lesser quality than that sold at standard stores. But research by Harvard Business School professor Donald Ngwe, published in peer-reviewed journal “Marketing Science,” suggests otherwise. While some items sold in outlet stores are likely to be “out of season,” since they are passed down from regular stores after a few months on the shelves, the rest of the products sold in these stores are items made specifically for outlets.

Although these “factory” items were thought of as “less desirable” than original products for years, Ngwe said there’s evidence that few consumers are actually able to distinguish between the two.