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September 14, 2021

Summer isn’t officially over, yet some Americans already have the holidays on their minds. In fact, 27% of holiday shoppers plan to begin buying gifts before the end of September, according to a survey by CreditCards.com. That includes 13% who started or planned to start in August. The poll was conducted by YouGov Plc. Aug. 18-20 and surveyed 2,410 adults, of whom 1,810 qualified as holiday shoppers.

“Some people are hyper-organized. Others may still be worried that stuff will sell out or take a lot of time to be delivered,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “Some people are always in this bargain-hunting mode.”

Deals are typically found around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but last year the Covid pandemic pushed more shoppers online. As a result, retailers started slashing prices in the beginning of November — or earlier. Now as the second pandemic holiday season approaches, the delta variant has created uncertainty about what stores will be open on Black Friday and at what capacity, said Kate Ellsworth, executive editor of commerce content at Reviewed.

There are also concerns about being able to get products due to supply chain issues. The last thing any parent wants is to miss out on that must-have toy. Here’s how to figure out the right move for your wallet — and your wish list.

When shopping early makes sense

If you start early, you may find some deals and will be able to compare prices with no pressure. Just stick to your list. “One of the risks of starting early is maybe overbuying,” Rossman said. The big reason to get a jump on your gift-buying is concerns over inventory, since Covid has disrupted the supply chain.

If there is something you really want, you may be taking a gamble by waiting for a discount, Ellsworth said. If you value the specific product over getting a bargain, the ideal time to act is September and October.

That goes especially for toys — not only will there be supply chain issues but there may be massive demand. Some Lego advent calendars are already selling out, Ellsworth noted. Other hot items include Squishmallows and a plush toy of the Morris character from the Marvel movie “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.” “Keep an eye on what toys you want to buy and buy them ASAP,” Ellsworth said.

If you wait until Black Friday deals for appliances, don’t count on getting them for the holidays. Your better bet for holiday availability is to look for sales now, she advised. Meanwhile, furniture has had immense shipping delays, so that isn’t even in the running for an end-of-year delivery.

Video game consoles will also be impossible to find this season, Ellsworth said. When the PlayStation 5 or XBox are released, they sell out in minutes. “Do not wait for any sale. They will not go on sale,” she advised. “They will drop. Buy them immediately.”

The best bet is to follow Twitter accounts that keep track of expected restocks. The new Nintendo Switch is coming out Oct. 8 and will also sell out quickly, she said.

Another thing to take into account is shipping rates if you are shopping online. The U.S. Post Office already announced it is temporarily hiking rates starting Oct. 3. FedEx and UPS are expected to follow suit, Ellsworth said.

When it comes to apparel, such as sweaters, boots, and holiday clothing, you are better off waiting until November, Jeffries retail analyst Janine Stichter said. That’s because right now retailers aren’t fully stocked thanks to delivery delays. “Everything is backlogged,” she said.

However, make your move once stores are stocked, which Stichter expects in November. While retailers typically tend to replenish merchandise during the holiday season, that will be unlikely this year. “If you don’t buy it and it sells out, it won’t become available again,” Stichter said.

The best time for deals

If sales are what you are after, you’re better waiting for early November, Ellsworth said. “The month of November will be open season for deal hunters,” she said. Take advantage of buying a product online and then picking it up at the store. Online prices are usually better, and you’ll save on shipping fees, she pointed out. Also, keep an eye on deal-posting websites for intel on when sales will happen. Signing up for retailers’ newsletters can also give you an edge, she said.

However, Stichter said she doesn’t expect monthlong sales for apparel. Black Friday will likely be the sweet spot, with products unlikely to be sold out yet and some level of discounting, she said. “This year retailers just don’t have that much product,” she said. “There is not as much incentive to get people to buy earlier.”