Buyers are looking for bargains, but inflation is making deals difficult

Heading into the busiest shopping season of the year, consumers looking for great deals — and some much-needed convenience over rising costs on nearly everything — may be disappointed.

While retailers are announcing sales of 30%, 50% and 70% off on everything from TVs to gadgets, many items will still be more expensive than last year due to inflation, and finding a real bargain can be difficult.

From September to October, shoppers paid about 18% more for furniture and appliances than a year earlier, according to a recent big data analysis by data analytics firm DataWeave, which tracks the prices of hundreds of thousands of products at nearly three dozen retailers, including Amazon. and Target. They paid about 2% more for toys.

Things looked a bit better for consumers shopping for clothing—they paid about 5% less than last fall, according to DataWeave. At the same time, the prices of shoes remained stable.

“It’s just a weird time for anyone to figure out what the right price is and what the real price is,” said Nikki Baird, vice president of strategy at Aptos, a retail technology firm. “Consumers are really bad at discount math, and retailers are fully aware of it and are doing everything they can to take advantage of it.”

William Wang, 24, a middle school math teacher, says he feels the price increase more on everyday items — like a quesadilla, which now costs $8 at his local deli — than on the once-a-year gifts.

“I feel like everything is more expensive,” said the Brooklyn, New York, resident. “But I mostly follow it with small things like food.”

The government’s latest retail sales report shows that retail sales rose last month, even when adjusted for inflation. This highlights a certain resilience among shoppers heading into the season-opening Black Friday weekend.

But cracks are forming.

Major retailers’ third-quarter earnings show that shoppers aren’t willing to pay full price and are waiting for deals. Kohl’s, Target and Macy’s all mentioned Americans have also slowed their spending over the past few weeks.

It’s a dramatic shift from last year’s holiday season, when shoppers started stocking up on holiday items before October, fearing they might not be able to get what they need amid pandemic-induced gridlock in the supply chain. They were also flush with cash from government stimulus money. Retailers were having a hard time bringing in the product, so there was no need to discount.

Michael Liersch, head of advisory and planning at Wells Fargo, said things this holiday shopping season are more likely to “look on sale or look on sale or look like great deals,” but between inflation and “shrinkage” — producer price when you quietly reduce the size of the packaging without lowering it – this is often not the case.

This trend was evident in a recent review of various items by DataWeave. For example, a Cuisinart two-speed blender that retails for $59.99 but is 25% off was selling for $44.99 at grocery chain Fred Meyer. But it was still more expensive than last year’s blender, which was available for $39.99 after a 20% discount from the $49.99 list price.

Shoppers at Kohl’s paid more for Nunn Bush Baker Street men’s shoes this past fall than when the discounts were actually bigger and the list price was lower. The shoes were on sale for $79.99 after about 16% off their suggested retail price of $95; last year, the shoes retailed for $59.99 after a 29% discount from the $85 list price.

Kevin Brasler, executive editor of Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer organization, noted that researchers spent 33 weeks tracking sales prices at 25 major retailers beginning Feb. 9. They found that most stores’ sale prices, even those promoting big savings, were fake discounts, with retailers offering the same “sale price” for more than half. In fact, the “regular price” or “list” price listed at many retailers is rarely what shoppers pay, Brasler said.

Still, inflation-stricken shoppers like Yoki Hanley are willing to take a chance and bargain. So far, she doesn’t feel like she’s getting good deals on her eight grandchildren and plans to hold off on buying until the last week before Christmas.

“Everything went up, so my little nest egg was gone a lot sooner than I expected,” the St. Croix resident said. “I will wait until the last minute. They will get it, but it will be too late.”