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Good Sales Now, Bad Deals Later?

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Holiday deals and discounts may not be as spectacular as previous years, analysts say, because many are already shopping up a storm.

Consumers bought more stuff in October than economists expected, the latest in a steady stream of increases for core retail sales. Economists expected October’s retail sales data to be essentially flat after a strong reading in September, but the Commerce Department reported this morning that sales were up 0.5% from the previous month, led by a 3.7% jump in electronics and appliance store sales. Core retail sales have now been up every month since August 2010, “an unprecedented performance,” according to Ian Shepherdson, the chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

To be fair, part of the increase in electronics sales may be attributable to the release of the new iPhone 4S, Shepherdson says.

Still, the data is better news for the overall economy than it is for consumers looking to score deep discounts this holiday season as they have the past couple of years, experts say. “I think retailers are beginning to ask themselves, do we really need to slash prices this holiday season?” says Rafi Mohammed, a pricing strategist and the author of “The 1% Windfall.” Some retailers have already started to pass on slightly higher prices to consumers following an uptick in inflation earlier this year, and consumers are still buying, says Brian Sozzi, a retail analyst at Wall Street Strategies. “When the consumer has had to buy they’ve bought,” Sozzi says.

Depending on what’s on their shopping lists, some consumers may want to hit the stores now, says Dan de Grandpre, the CEO of DealNews.com. Retailers are moving deals up earlier in November, and many stores are offering their Black Friday prices now, de Grandpre says. “If retailers have aggressive promotions early in the season, a consumer would be foolish to wait until Black Friday,” he says. In particular, major appliances are on sale now, while low-end laptops and TVs will probably see their deepest discounts over Thanksgiving weekend, and Apple traditionally offers its only sale of the year on Black Friday, he says. People shopping at big-box stores for high-end laptops or feature-laden TVs should wait until after Thanksgiving, however, because those items tend to go on sale later in the season, he says.

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