Retail Therapy: When to shop for what, a guide

The Fresno BeeAugust 24, 2013 

Every year Consumer Reports releases its list of the best time to buy things, month by month.

The list tells you when you can get good deals on laptop computers (April) — or discounts on lawn mowers (October). You can see the full list on the Consumer Reports website at this short-link I created:

Often the timing is pretty obvious, such as lawn equipment and outdoor furniture on sale as part of end-of-summer sales. Big-box stores are discounting those items right now as they clear out floor space for other seasonal stuff, say, Halloween decorations.

Just last weekend, Sears was advertising a Craftsman mower for $80 off and Target is selling much of its patio furniture for 50% off, with even more chairs and tables on sale on its website.

For the most part, big chains make decisions about when to put stuff on sale at the corporate or national level. And that's one of the cool parts of living in a place like Fresno. Even though the rest of the country is preparing for cooler temps, if you buy a discounted patio set right now you've got at least two solid months to enjoy it.

Consumer Reports uses databases that track price changes year after year. The organization also says that August is a good time to buy air conditioners, backpacks, dehumidifiers and snow blowers (not that any of us on the Valley floor need those).

Sometimes the explanations for what's on sale are a little more vague. Some products release new models at a certain time of year, such as car makers do, meaning the old models will be marked down, says Mandy Walker, Consumer Reports senior projects editor. That may be why digital cameras are typically on sale in March.

And sometimes it's just tradition, such as the January white sales on bedding. That was started by John Wanamaker, who is credited with creating one of the first department stores. He launched a white sale in 1878 and the tradition stuck.

And in some instances, nobody really seems to know: "Sometimes we're not sure. It just seems to be true year after year," Walker says.

Of course, there's a downside to all these sales. Sometimes you just can't find an air conditioner or a fan at a big-box hardware store if you're looking for it in August or September. It's 102 out, but big retailers have already dropped most of their summer merchandise.

That explains why last year, at about this time, my editor went to Costco looking for sunblock and couldn't find any. They'd already shifted out of their summer stuff.

That's where local retailers come in. They often carry the items the big-box stores don't.

Fresno Ag, at First Street and Gettysburg Avenue, fills a gap by carrying air conditioners, grills and other items year 'round.

"We stock fireplace accessories in the dead of summer," says store manager Kevin Seubert.

Air conditioner purchases actually ramp up at Fresno Ag as the weather gets colder. That's because customers, including contractors building apartments, can't find them anyplace else.

Grills are sold all year long at Fresno Ag.

"Our sales just go crazy during the colder part of the year because people are buying them as gifts," he says.


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6431, or @BethanyClough on Twitter.

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