1. Go online
This is a foolproof way to avoid the crush of Boxing Day and still get the goods. You’ll even get a head start: Internet sales typically begin earlier than in-store ones — Futureshop.ca and Bestbuy.ca’s much-anticipated price cuts will commence at 5 p.m. on December 24 this year. To better your chances of getting what you want, open an online account with the store before the sale begins. “Fill in your billing information in advance so you can add items to your cart and check out right away,” says Derek Szeto, president of Redflagdeals.com, a bargain-shopping site. He also suggests bookmarking websites you’re interested in so you don’t waste time on the big day. Books, DVDs and small electronics (cameras, iPods) are easy online buys, since you don’t need to try anything on. Given the cost of shipping, larger items are usually best purchased in-store. If you’re on the Canadian site of an American chain, like Sears, you might try surfing over to the U.S. one, too, and doing a price comparison — sometimes it’s worth going for the lower price offered to U.S. customers, even after you factor in shipping costs and duty.
2. Pass on door-crashers
While these specially priced early-bird specials can be hard to get your hands on (electronics are most popular), our insiders told us that retailers will offer similar prices on big-ticket items all Boxing Day long. “There will be some limited-quantity deals in each department, but most of the hot items are expected to last for the full day,” says Danielle Jang of Best Buy Canada. So if the laptop you’re eyeing sells out in the first hour, there will be many more with comparable prices that will be restocked throughout the day. Some retailers, such as Canadian Tire and Ikea, show the in-store availability of products on their websites, so you don’t have to rush out if there are only a few of whatever you fancy. Still can’t resist a door-crasher? Weigh the money you’ll save against what you’ll spend in gas and time — not to mention the aggravation. (And dress warmly for the lineups.)
3. Stock up on seasonal stuff
It might not be as glam as shopping for half-off handbags, but Boxing Day’s the time to pick up discounted holiday wrapping paper, boxed cards, decorations and lights, says Tammy Smitham of Shoppers Drug Mart. “Everything related to the holidays, including gift sets, toys, picture frames and candy, will be up to 50 percent off that day,” she says. It’s also a good time to add to your wardrobe; warm clothes (hello, cashmere) are often much cheaper. Last year the Bay offered up to 50 percent off winter wear; Winners sold women’s down and wool coats for under $80. Just don’t forget that Boxing Day isn’t the only big sale of the year. If you’re patient enough to wait a few more weeks for linens and towels, the best white sales actually happen in January. And if you’re in the market for a new flat-panel TV, you could nab one at a Boxing Day–like price in February, just before the Super Bowl.
4. Do your research
Flyers and coupons are often leaked to deal-watching websites, like Smartcanucks.ca and Bargainmoose.ca, in the weeks leading up to Boxing Day, so they’ll help you locate the best sales way in advance. To avoid extra legwork, note whether an advertised low price is an early-bird special, applies only with a mail-in rebate or is available exclusively in-store or online. Familiarize yourself with retailers’ returns and price-matching policies. (Some stores exclude Boxing Day items from price matching.) Finally, read up on big purchases; this isn’t the day to browse. If you wait until you’re standing in Future Shop to figure out the difference between resolutions of 720 and 1080 pixels, or to decide between the 32-inch HDTV and the 50-inch plasma, you’re more likely to overspend on a TV that’s too fancy and doesn’t fit in your living room.
5. Be a savvy shopper
Retailers are counting on you to get caught up in all the Boxing Day hype. The best way to keep your cool and not spend all of 2010 paying off credit-card debt is to scrutinize every item in your shopping cart before you get in line to check out. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this, or am I just buying it because it’s half off?” (The pillow-top mattress marked down 70 percent is probably worth it. The Blu-ray player that’s no more watchable than the DVD player you already own probably isn’t.) Beware of products that require maintenance, refills or additional costs after purchase. And don’t forget to check out the less obvious aisles for bargains. Last year, the Real Canadian Superstore sold reduced-price diapers and hair-care products, Zellers peddled half-off kitchenware and bathroom accessories, and Canadian Tire dropped its prices on tools.