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Shopping madness at Yorkdale mall. (Charla Jones/Charla Jones/Globe and Mail)
Shopping madness at Yorkdale mall. (Charla Jones/Charla Jones/Globe and Mail)

Haven't started shopping yet? You may be too late Add to ...

If you're looking to score the best deals on your Christmas shopping, or if you want to get your hands on the season’s hottest gift items, you may be too late. According to shopping experts, when it comes to ticking the names off your list while maximizing your budget, starting early pays off. If there are any Kobo readers, second-generation iPads or Moxie dolls on your wish list, the time to shop is now.

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Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandwashed and Buyology, says the best time to buy has already passed. “The reality is that the peak season of high prices is basically happening at the end of November,” says Mr. Lindstrom. “Then you should just stay away from retail if you want to save money.”

A quick perusal of flyers is evidence enough that retailers are offering some of the season’s best promotions far in advance of Christmas. Canadian retailers, large and small, were promoting their own weekend-long versions of Black Friday sales during the U.S Thanksgiving long weekend. At Sears, the price of a Sharp LED television was slashed by $400, down from $1,599.99. Gold hoop earrings were also deeply discounted at $29.99 down from $129.99. Online, retailers in both the United States and Canada wooed shoppers with Cyber Monday sales.

Colleen Cole, owner of HumanFerret, an online marketing service in Toronto, says the November sales are a motivator to start shopping early. “As you get closer to Christmas, with the exception of extremely seasonal items like Christmas-branded items, the sales aren’t as good,” she says.

Ms. Cole, who finished her Christmas shopping in July one year, says sales aren’t the only reason to hit the stores early. “I’ve noticed that retailers seem to be stocking less [of each item]” she says. “So if there are particular things you really want to get for Christmas for somebody and you wait until the last minute, sometimes you can’t find it.”

Experts recommend shopping for clothing early in the season, when stores are well stocked with a variety of sizes and styles. It’s also better to buy the season’s hottest gadgets as early as possible. According to the National Retail Federation, almost 40 per cent of U.S shoppers purchased electronic products during the Black Friday weekend. While some retailers may offer last-minute promotions on tech items right before Christmas, the risk of retailers selling out of those items is much higher.

Though the huge crowds who descend upon the malls in the week before Christmas seem to prove otherwise, early shoppers may actually be the majority. The NRF says that close to 40 per cent of consumers in the United States start their Christmas shopping before Halloween, and another 40 per cent start in November.

Sandra Phillips, a Montreal-based shopping expert who dishes out advice at smartshoppermontreal.com, takes the slow and steady approach to holiday shopping. “I do mine all year long,” says Ms. Phillips, adding that it’s a great way to keep your budget in check. “Your spending doesn’t come out in one chunk, you can meter it out over the course of the year.”

Shopping months before the big day may require some finesse, however. According to retail experts, shopping early is futile unless you employ certain tactics.

“You have to make a list,” says Cathie Mostowyk, president of shoestringshopping.com. “Otherwise it doesn’t matter how early you start, you’re going to buy all the wrong things and spend too much money.”

A budget is also a must. “Keep track of how much you’re spending,” she says. “Know what your budget is so that you can take advantage of sales ahead of time.”

Some Christmas shoppers start early not necessarily to save money, but to conjure up the holiday spirit. Kate Spencer, a Toronto student who started shopping on Nov. 1, says that shopping early helps her enjoy the season. “I start thinking about it early. It’s not that I even have a drive to need to get it done, it just sort of happens.”

It’s a feeling Mr. Lindstrom understands. “You want to have that Christmas rush,” he says. “I think all of us are desperately looking for that Christmas feel and we never really find it, so we try to buy it.”

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