The best time to buy toys? Wait until December, experts say
You haven't even carved the Halloween pumpkin, but the marketing machine for holiday toys is up and running.
Wal-Mart and Toys R Us both released their hot-toy lists about a month ago. Have you seen the prices on some of these? The LeapPad Ultra from LeapFrog starts at $149. Zoomer the interactive dog is $79, Furby Boom sells for $59 and Big Hugs Elmo is $49.
Retailers do this every year to get people to shop early.
"They try to create a sense of urgency that these toys are hot and may not be available later on, so grab them now," said Mark LoCastro, public relations manager at DealNews.com.
Don't buy into the hype.
The editors at DealNews just ran the numbers for the past year and found that it pays to wait. The best prices were not on Black Friday or Cyber Monday but during the first two weeks of December. (Of course, because Hanukkah starts on Thanksgiving this year, some shoppers won't be able to wait that long.)
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DealNews analyzed the price histories of the items on the 2012 Toys R Us "Fabulous 15 List" and found that nearly all that were discounted on Black Friday were reduced again in the first half of December.
For example, the price of the LEGO Ninjago Epic Dragon Battle set and of the Lalaloopsy Silly Hair Doll went down another 27 percent, while the Furby doll was discounted an additional 26 percent.
The watch-and-wait method also worked for toys not on the hot list. Prices on some were slashed by as much as 37 percent in December.
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"The bottom line: If you bypass Black Friday and shop the two weeks before Christmas, you will save the most amount of money on toys," LoCastro told me.
Keep in mind that this technique does not work for every toy. Last year, Toys R Us bumped up the price of its LeapFrog LeapPad2 Explorer in November and again in December. And all bets are off if there's a runaway "must-have" toy (think Tickle Me Elmo from years ago).
That thought is echoed by Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumerworld.org, who spends a lot of time tracking holiday prices and policies. Dworsky told me he finds a lot of great deals on Black Friday.
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"It's almost impossible to snag the absolute lowest price because prices are not totally predicable," he said. "If you shop a store that has a good price-matching guarantee or you use a credit card that has a price guarantee feature, you're protected if the price drops after Black Friday."
Savvy shoppers who want to save money stay aware of prices during the entire holiday shopping season—even after they've purchased an item. You can set up price alerts to help you do this at sites such as: DealNews, Price Spider, Price Grabber, Deal Alerter, Price!pinx, Price Drop Alert, Digital Folio, Online Price Alert and WishPot.
"Keep watching the ads," Dworsky advised. "If you bought something and you see that the price went down, just go back to the store and ask for a partial refund. Most stores will do this if you go back within a certain number of days and have a receipt."