Personal finance

‘It’s just an arms race.’ How to make the most of Amazon’s next ‘Prime Day’ sale and Target’s ‘Deal Days’

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Holiday shoppers are getting a head start on the season, and a few big-name retailers are paving the way.

Amazon recently announced a two-day “Prime Early Access Sale” kicking off on Oct. 11, and Target is running its own “Deal Days” starting Oct. 6.

“It’s just an arms race,” said Jeffrey Galak, an associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon and expert in consumer behavior.

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With sales starting earlier, retailers are hoping to lure shoppers with promotions well ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as consumers become increasingly concerned about higher prices.

“For consumers getting a head start on the holidays, it can be really advantageous,” Galak said. “If you are planning on buying something and you get it for a discount, that’s a win.”

On the flip side, “If you buy something just because it’s on sale that can cause you to overspend rather than save money.”

What to expect from Amazon’s October sales event

To make the most of the “Prime Early Access Sale,” expect to find the best discounts on Amazon devices, such as the Kindle, Echo and Fire TV streamer, and its private-label clothing, according to Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst at DealNews.com.

“It’s just Prime Day 2.0,” she said.

This time, though, Amazon is likely to feature more gift suggestions — with deals on well-known brands, such as Hasbro, iRobot and KitchenAid — rather than household goods.

“They will try to hit all of the big holiday gifts: home decor, apparel, name brand accessories and toys, toys, toys,” said Casey Runyan, managing editor at online discount marketplace Brad’s Deals.

“The summer Prime Day was very toothpaste; that’s not the same as buying that great kitchen appliance or hot toy,” Runyan added. (CNBC’s Select has a full roundup of best early Amazon Prime Day deals to shop now.)

Markdowns on laptops and other electronics may not be as worthwhile, Ramhold cautioned. “We could see lower prices when Black Friday rolls around and a lot more retailers are participating.”

In order to take advantage of Prime Day deals, you must be an Amazon Prime member. 

You can sign up for a month-to-month membership or a 30-day free trial.

Deal hunters should be wary of the monthly promotion, however, Ramhold advised, since it won’t extend to Black Friday.

“By hosting this prime day event in October, Amazon has affectively assured that people will have to pay if they want to shop in November.”

The annual membership also comes with a catch since the retail giant raised the price to $139 from $119 earlier this year.

What to expect from Target’s big sale

At Target, expect to find seasonal items discounted heavily, along with Target brands such as Good & Gather, Brightroom and Room Essentials.

Shoppers also have the benefit of the retailer’s price-match guarantee, which means any purchases made between Oct. 6 and Dec. 24 will qualify for a price adjustment if the Target price drops any lower before Christmas Eve.

“Overall, this is a huge incentive to shop Target’s Deal Days because it removes the worry about items dropping in price later on — say, during Black Friday,” Ramhold said.

Of course, you don’t have to be a member to participate, and you can still take advantage of free shipping by ordering online and choosing drive-up pickup so that you can get your items on the same day.

“There’s a good chance that many of the offers we see around Deal Days will return for Black Friday; however, if you see something during Deal Days and it fits into your budget, you should grab it while you can,” Ramhold said.

“Waiting on these items could mean you risk missing out altogether.”

How to get the best deals on holiday gifts

To maximize your holiday savings, start price tracking now. 

Ramhold recommends creating a wish list and then using a price-tracking browser extension such as Camelcamelcamel or Keepa to keep an eye on price changes and get price-drop alerts for the items you want.

“Once you have an idea of what they’re charging now, you’ll be able to tell much easier whether something is a really good deal.”

That may also depend heavily on the type of item, Runyan added. “Deals vary a lot depending on the category,” she said. “For electronics, 10% off is good; with apparel and accessories, the margins are much greater, so there’s more room to discount.”

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