5 Things to Buy Between Now and Christmas

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- If you're not finished with your holiday shopping, don't worry about it. Retailers are really pulling for the procrastinators this year.

We're in the waning days of the Christmas shopping season and retailers are running out of both times and Thanksgiving night, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are but memories. Online retail favorite Green Monday is upon us and the only retail holiday left on the calendar is Free Shipping Day on Dec. 18. Though a Google survey predicted that 44% of U.S. shoppers would wait until early December to start attacking their Christmas lists, the always-optimistic National Retail Federation says only 3.9% of Americans planned to still be shopping for Christmas presents by the last two weeks of December.

With the way this holiday season has unfolded so far, though, it wouldn't be too surprising to see shoppers still rushing around looking for deals. November was somewhat of a wash for retailers, with JCPenney (JCP) reporting a 10% uptick off of a terrible 2012, but Macy's (M), Target  (TGT), Nordstrom (JWN) and Kohl's (KSS) all somewhat worried about same-store sales despite Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping. Thomson Reuters estimated that November comparable sales at several chain stores would rise 2.7%. Of the 11 companies they track and have reported so far, same-store sales rose just 1.8% That's similar to the 1.6% same-store sales increase Thompson Reuters reported last year, which was much lower than the 3.3% analysts had predicted.

You know it's grim when the NRF estimates that spending during the holiday weekend fell 2.9%, to $57.4 billion. Even worse, they predict that consumers spent on average 4% less this year compared with last year. That's especially disheartening for retailers who were encouraged when the U.S. economy grew 3.6% in the third quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The 5.4% jump in retail sales from the same period in 2012 -- which outpaced the 4.2% growth from a year ago -- was also. And it's not like retailers have a lot of time to turn that around. Of the $42.3 billion in online sales last holiday season, less than $6 million was spent in the days following Free Shipping Day. The $4.3 billion made during Christmas week, though, was a bigger haul than stores made on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Free Shipping Day combined.

We consulted with the folks at consumer site Lifehacker and found the best buys retailers are offering this late in the season. While stores usually don't get into a really charitable mood until the after-Christmas sales, discounts on the following five items help goose the numbers a bit:

Champagne

This is easily the most counterintuitive entry in this list.

The standard line of thinking is that everyone of drinking age wants to get their hands on some bubbly for the holidays or New Year's and that producers of champagne and sparkling wine should get to name their price. After all, U.S. sparkling wine consumption has jumped from 13.4 million cases at the height of the recession in 2008 to 17.7 million cases last year, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute wine industry group.

The demand is there, so why drop the price? Because wineries and champagne houses want their label in your champagne bucket when you make your champagne punch or count down to midnight. In fact, the folks at the Office of Champagne USA -- which represents the trade association of growers in France's Champagne region and really doesn't like it when you call just any bottle of fizzy nonsense by that name -- notes that fierce competition among France's Champagne houses makes the price of their bubbly lower during the holidays than they are at any other time of year.

Decidedly non-Champagne U.S. competition only gives Champagne producers more motivation. Consumption of U.S. sparkling wine has jumped by 1.9 million barrels since 2007 to 8.9 million barrels. While the foreign competition lags behind at 7.7 million barrels, its production has grown by nearly 2.1 million barrels over that same span. The good stuff here and abroad is still more costly, but a nice French vintage isn't as cost-prohibitive around this time of year as you may expect.

Golf clubs

Sorry, cold-weather states, but this has nothing to do with the drop in temperature and flakes you're seeing.

It has everything to do with the end of golf season here in North America and the claims manufacturers made earlier in the year striking flat against the realities exposed on the links. Basically, this year's models have been put through the paces and even the ones that lived up to the hype are about to be eclipsed by next year's models promising better performance.

Whatever.

We're not golf luddites, and we have a respect for just how much innovation can change the game, but that doesn't happen from one year to the next. It tends to take a bit more time, which means that saving a whole lot of money on this year's closeouts won't put you at a disadvantage when your partner shows up with a brand-new heavy hitter in the bag next season. If you buy a great club and have it properly fitted to a weight and flexibility that suits you, that club should be a regular in your bag for a good, long time.

Pools

This one's a bit more obvious, but requires a basic understanding of geography.

If you're in a fairly wintry location, your local pool guy is suffering around this time of year. Nobody's calling and the costs of maintaining a business and paying bills don't go away with the warm weather.

That puts such folks in a dealing mood, even if they know they're going to have to rip through a few feet of rock-solid soil to get paid. On the buyer's end, there's a distinct advantage to picking up a remaining fiberglass pool shell in the winter than waiting until the next year, when the price of materials tends to increase as manufacturers roll out new supply.

Besides, getting that pool in early will not only give the landscaping around it some time to recover from the trauma you just put it through, but could turn into a nice little tax write-off for 2013 if you end up paying interest on the financing.

Televisions

Think the pre-Black Friday sales in October are the best time to get a television? How about February, when last year's models make room for the 2014 newcomers from the Consumer Electronics Show?

This year, you're wrong on both fronts. Part of the reason Wal-Mart touted a $98, 38-inch third-party flatscreen TV among its Black Friday offerings is because nobody's buying.

According to market research firm NPD Group's technology arm, DisplaySearch, LCD panel shipments are down 12% year over year. While they're predicting relatively flat flatscreen TV performance -- with a modest gain of 2% looking likely -- they've also noted that the main motivation for purchases is picking up an even bigger TV than consumers already own.

That's not motivating buyers, as popular LCD TVs saw a 5.7% year-over-year decline to 14.1 million units last quarter after a similar drop three months before, according to market research firm IHS. Meanwhile, manufacturers saw sales of LCD panels themselves drop 58.8 million units during the second quarter to 58 million in the third -- the first time that number has fallen in the history of the product.

Even if you didn't get that $98 set, retailers and manufacturers are still in the mood to deal -- at least until some of their unwanted surplus goes away.

Tools

We gave you similar advice on Black Friday, but guess what? Those tools are still on sale and those pushy, sale-starved mouthbreathers who wasted their Thanksgiving night trying to get a deal on a reciprocating saw they'll never use are out of your way.

Wal-Mart (WMT), Sears (SHLD), Home Depot (HD) and Lowe's (LOW) all included tools in their Black Friday circulars, but haven't been in much of a hurry to jack up their prices. Those $15 starter hex wrench kits and $500 discounts on candy-painted washer-dryer combos are still available, while saws, drills, sanders, planers and cabinet sets go for half price. You just don't have to work your way around a daylong hassle.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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