By Jacob Passy
When Americans aren’t busy firing up the grill for a backyard barbecue or hitting the road this Labor Day weekend, there’s a good chance they’ll be looking to shop the holiday sales. But if consumers aren’t careful, they could actually be missing out on savings.
While not as big as Black Friday, Independence Day or Memorial Day, retailers still use Labor Day weekend as an opportunity to move merchandise off the shelves in the lead-up to the holiday shopping season. The weekend is also a last-ditch opportunity for many shoppers looking to score back-to-school bargains.
As a result, there are some good deals to be had, but most sales don’t offer the best possible savings. “Labor Day is one of the weaker sales weekends of the year,” said Kristin Cook, managing editor for BensBargains.com . “Most retailers will save their really good stuff for Black Friday, which has turned into basically Black November.”
Here’s what to skip this year or, at least, approach with caution.
Avoid: Fall apparel and footwear
Though the prospect of prepping for layering season may be tempting, Labor Day is perhaps one of the worst times to buy fall clothing. For shoppers in desperate need of warmer clothing as autumn weather rolls in, the first two or three weeks of September are a better time to shop because retailers start heavily marking down “back to school” apparel, Cook said. Better yet, they can wait for clearance sales during Black Friday.
Labor Day is however a good time to buy summer clothing, including swimwear and shorts. Expect retailers also to stock the shelves with this year’s popular Halloween costumes to catch the eyes of trick-or-treaters, but avoid whipping out the wallet to buy one. The best time to buy costumes is right after Halloween.
Jewelers tend to restock in October, said Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at deals website RetailMeNot . Consequently, these stores will be disinclined to offer any significant deals in September with such low inventory.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday will be somewhat better, but the best time to shop for that diamond ring or necklace will be in the weeks following Valentine’s Day.
Deals on items like laptops, televisions and smartphones actually aren’t bad in early September. But those who can wait should. “Black Friday and Cyber Monday discounts prove to be much deeper so purchasing any electronics Labor Day weekend will make a larger dent in your wallet than needed,” Skirboll said.
Along similar lines, don’t expect deals on items from Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.26% . “Amazon puts most of their focus on Prime Day for the summer, so they don’t seem to do be doing any big Labor Day pushes,” Cook said.
Avoid: Toys and video games
Some stores will offer deals on video games and toys during Labor Day, but consumers are almost certainly better off waiting for Black Friday or even later, said Phil Dengler, co-founder of BestBlackFriday.com .
This is especially true for video game consoles. Not only will the discounts be better at the height of holiday shopping season for these items, but many retailers will offer them as bundles with games and gift cards, Dengler said.
Also see: 6 things NOT to buy on Cyber Monday
Avoid: Purchases through credit card shopping portals
As Black Friday creeps closer, credit-card companies will begin to ramp up the deals they offer through their deal portals, said Ashley Dull, credit strategist and editor in chief of CardRates.com . As a result, discounts offered now by credit cards won’t be as competitive.
Consumers should also approach Labor Day deals with caution if their credit card features rotating bonus categories. “Cards with rotating bonus categories will typically switch to popular holiday retailers during the fourth quarter, unlocking extra rewards,” Dull said.
What to approach with caution
Though Labor Day discounts will pale in comparison to the holiday shopping season, sales on certain items can be competitive.
Appliances: Sales on major appliances are typically better during other times of the year. For instance, in May retailers often put refrigerators on sale, because new models become available in June. But some retailers, including Macy’s /zigman2/quotes/201854387/composite M -2.28% and Best Buy /zigman2/quotes/205918291/composite BBY -1.14% , are offering up to 40% off some goods this weekend, which is in line with Black Friday pricing.
Gas grills: Labor Day is most famous for its sales on grills — and good deals are often available this weekend as prime grilling season comes to a close. Sales can range between 25% and 75% off, Dengler said. Consumers could save even more by waiting until October or November, although selection will be more limited then.
Summer items: With autumn only weeks away, stores are going to be deeply discounting inventory that’s geared toward summer, such as lawn mowers, air conditioners, patio furniture and swimming pools. These discounts will be available across many retailers including The Gap /zigman2/quotes/201996496/delayed DE:GAP -2.56% , Target /zigman2/quotes/207799045/composite TGT -0.53% , Walmart /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT -0.35% and The Home Depot /zigman2/quotes/208081807/composite HD +0.05% .
Mattresses: While many will say Memorial Day weekend is the best time to buy a mattress, Labor Day is a good alternative if you missed the sales in May. Major retailers including JCPenney /zigman2/quotes/204684963/composite JCP -1.02% and Wayfair /zigman2/quotes/201071690/composite W -0.85% will be offering discounts of up to 75% off on their mattress inventory this weekend, according to Dengler.
Cars: With new models rolling onto lots this time of year, car dealerships will be looking to sell their remaining inventory of 2018 models. In addition to lower prices, car buyers will find attractive financing offers this weekend and rebates, though they should still plan to negotiate a better price.
This story was updated on Aug. 30, 2019.