The Secret Science Of Sales—Here’s How To Get Everything For Less

In an economy where every dollar matters, the art of saving is a skill worth mastering. The secret science of sales isn't about hunting for random discounts – it's about understanding the intricate world of seasonal retail markdowns.

By Carmen Schober3 min read
Pexels/Pelageia Zelenina

Retailers operate on predictable cycles that coincide with seasons, holidays, and inventory turnover. By understanding these cycles, you can plan your purchases to coincide with the best deals. Here’s how it works, plus a super easy way to implement strategic shopping into your everyday life.

Timing Matters Most

By aligning your shopping habits with the retail calendar, you can take advantage of seasonal sales, inventory clearances, and special promotions. Here’s an in-depth look at the optimal times to shop throughout the year:

Winter Season: Late November Through Early February

Pre and post-Christmas sales in January are legendary. Retailers slash prices on holiday goods, winter apparel, and end-of-season items to clear out inventory.

Why: November is renowned for its massive sales events, starting with Black Friday and continuing through Cyber Monday. Retailers offer significant discounts to kick off the holiday shopping season. After the holiday rush and the peak winter season, retailers need to clear out their winter inventory in January and February to make room for new spring collections.

What to Buy: Electronics, home appliances, toys, and holiday gifts.

What to Buy: Winter clothing, such as coats, boots, and sweaters, as well as holiday decorations and gift sets.

Other Holidays: Don't forget President’s Day in February. Look for big savings on home appliances and winter clearance items, including winter clothing.

Spring Season: April and May

Look for sales around Easter and early spring clearances, as stores prepare for summer merchandise.

Why: As the weather warms up, retailers start to introduce their summer lines, leading to discounts on early spring items and outdoor gear.

What to Buy: Early spring apparel, gardening supplies, and outdoor furniture.

Other Holidays: Memorial Day in May often features discounts on mattresses, home appliances, and spring clothing.

Summer Season: June and July

June and July are prime time for mid-year sales. Look for discounts on summer clothing, outdoor furniture, and Fourth of July promotions.

Why: Mid-year brings a push to sell remaining spring inventory and attract shoppers with early summer discounts.

What to Buy: Spring clothing, swimwear, and outdoor equipment like grills and patio sets.

Fall Season: August through October

As the back-to-school season winds down, you'll find sales of school supplies, office essentials, and early autumn apparel. October brings discounts on summer leftovers and early holiday promotions.

Why: The back-to-school season drives major sales on school supplies and clothing, while retailers also need to clear out summer inventory to prepare for fall.

What to Buy: School supplies, children’s clothing, summer apparel, and outdoor gear.

Other Holidays: Labor Day in September is a great time for deals on outdoor furniture, grills, and summer clothing.

End-of-Month and Quarter Sales

Aside from the seasonal patterns, retailers also frequently mark down items at the end of the month or quarter to meet sales targets.

That means you can typically find additional discounts in March (the end of quarter one), June (the end of quarter two), September (the end of quarter three), and December (the end of quarter four). Keep an eye out for special promotions or clearance sales during these periods.

Key Markdown Days

Lastly, retailers often follow specific schedules for markdowns based on consumers' buying habits. For many stores, the schedule looks something like this:

Mondays: Markdown electronics and gadgets, baby and kids' clothing, and stationery

Tuesdays: Markdown home goods, women's clothing, pet items, and food items

Wednesdays: Markdown men's clothing, health items, beauty products, diapers, and outdoor items

Thursdays: Markdown housewares, luggage, toys, shoes, sporting goods, lingerie, and decor

Fridays: Markdown on cars, hardware, cosmetics, and jewelry

Knowing these days can help you plan when to visit stores or check online for the best deals. The schedule tends to vary by location, so if you want to be an expert-level shopper, the best strategy is to research your go-to stores and see if you can pick up on any patterns.

The Perfect System: How To Start Shopping Smarter

To start shopping smarter, start by having a checklist of what you need and want, along with a budget for what you're willing to spend. It's usually not wise to buy things just because they’re a good deal; shopping with purpose will help you save money more effectively in the long run.

When you come across an item on your checklist that you love but find it a bit too expensive, take a picture or screenshot and email it to yourself. Include the brand name and item details in the email body, and use a subject line like "Shopping Checklist – Check Sales." You can continue replying to that email with additional items, creating a consolidated guide for your wish list that stays at the top of your inbox. Then, when you have some free time (another benefit of this system is that there's no fake urgency as you research and shop at your own pace), refer back to this guide to determine the best times to purchase each item based on seasonal markdowns.

For example, if you've been eyeing some new summer shorts from your favorite brand but don't want to pay full price, you can wait until August or September.

Bonus Tip: When it comes to clothes shopping, knowing your color season and body shape can also help you make better clothing choices and avoid buyer's remorse. By being organized and deliberate, you can navigate sales with confidence and maximize your savings.

More Tips for Extra Savings

Price Matching and Adjustments

Many retailers offer price matching or adjustments if the price of an item drops shortly after purchase. Just keep your receipts and check the store’s policy,

Price Matching: Some stores will match the lower price of a competitor. Always check before making a purchase.

Price Adjustments: If an item you bought goes on sale within a specified period, often 14 days, the store might refund the difference.

Utilizing Social Media and Newsletters

Follow your favorite brands and stores on social media and sign up for their newsletters. Companies often announce exclusive sales, special promotions, and even offer subscriber-only discounts through these channels.

Leveraging Technology

Apps and websites can be powerful tools in your quest for savings:

Honey: A browser extension that automatically finds and applies coupon codes at checkout.

Rakuten: Offers cashback on purchases from a wide range of retailers.

CamelCamelCamel: Tracks price history on Amazon and alerts you to price drops.

RetailMeNot: Provides coupons and discount codes for numerous online and brick-and-mortar stores.

Happy Shopping

The secret science of sales is not so secret once you understand the rhythms of retail. By shopping strategically, using technology, and staying informed, you can save significantly. Remember, patience and planning are your friends for getting what you love for less. Happy shopping!

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