Five First-Quarter Shopping Deals

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- It doesn't take a particularly savvy shopper to get a deal on holiday wrapping paper or bicycles, air conditioners, boats and motorcycles in cold-weather regions at this time of year. Real deals, however, require some digging.

Following the seasonal cycle is just shoppers' common sense. Winter coats and suits will cost less as clothing retailers bring in their lightweight spring stock, sporting goods and outdoor products such as bikes, tents, outdoor grills and hiking gear are a steal in areas with snow warnings and travel costs are trimmed as holiday-weary travelers and half-empty tourist destinations spur a slate of off-season deals.

It's the hardened shoppers making the most out of this time of year. They're the ones who know bed linens have gone on sale this time each year since Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker invented the white sale. They're the same ones who resist the video game sales push during the holiday season but hit the "buy" button in January and Februaryn when coveted games get an extra life in the sales bin.

A fuzzy retail sales picture for December could mean a dramatic shift in deals for the first quarter, but subtle shifts in inventory fill the first pages of the calendar with reliable savings. TheStreet searched for some of the best deals of the season and found five products on which prices thaw during the cold months:

If you postponed buying furniture until the family cleared out and your cushions absorbed their last drops of egg nog, it was worth the wait. According to the American Home Furnishings Alliance, furniture prices usually fall 10% to 50% in late January and early February as stores rotate their stock. Consumers get another crack at these savings when the same thing happens six months later, but that new couch comes in much handier during winter hibernation than amid summer vacations.

There's a reason people hit the gym and run through snowpiles for the first few months of each year, and resolutions are just a part of it. Grocery buyers still bloated from all of that holiday stuffing drove overall food sales down for the first two months of last year, according to the Consumer Price Index, and sent "food at home" grocery purchases plummeting between 0.7% and 2% in each month of the first quarter.

This is why grocery interest groups such as the Canned Food Alliance promote deep discounts during Canned Food Month in February and the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association takes similar measures to rotate stock during Frozen Food Month in March.

While it's just wonderful that the Consumer Electronics Show introduced the market to more Internet-connected consoles, Toshiba's glasses-free 3D television and Vizio's 21:9 aspect ratio televisions for film junkies, it also means televisions without these functions just got taken down a notch.

Much like appliance and "white goods" makers who'll use the next couple of months to clear washer, dryer and refrigerator inventory to make space for new arrivals, television retailers want to create shelf space for new sets that usually arrive in the spring. This means shoving off their stock of 720p HDTV sets or "dumb" 1080p models with no Internet function for a fraction of their original price. It also means yet another batch of cathode ray tube sets hitting the curb as flat-screen prices collapse.

Those same electronics shows that just turned your television into the modern equivalent of a cyclorama also try to convince consumers that their perfectly acceptable devices are museum exhibits.

Consumers not impressed by Kodak's ( EK) new PlayFull and PlaySport Zx5 pocket camcorders should wait for a deal on the still handy Zi8.

Verizon ( VZ) and AT&T ( T) users not sold on "4G" and the devices that go with it should clean up on 3G smartphones and nearly ostracized "feature" devices.

Feel that the Samsung SH100 digital camera's built-in Wi-Fi and Samsung Galaxy smartphone connectivity is a bit much? The company still sells a 12.1-megapixel TL205 for half the newcomer's price.

Auto sales just rose 16% in December, and companies such as Ford ( F), GM ( GM) and Nissan ( NSANY) are optimistic about 2011 auto sales despite rising gas prices.

It's a marked improvement from when J.D. Power cut its sales forecast for the year from 13.2 million vehicles to 12.9 million vehicles in October, and it also bodes well for winter buyers -- who'll be in the showroom during what Consumer Reports calls the auto industry's slowest season. January buyers may still find some deals on leftover 2010 models, but February buyers are usually rewarded for their patience with overwrought President's Day incentives and rebates.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.

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