Don't Buy Into the Cruel Myth of the Presidents Day Sale

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Car dealers, home and garden shops, discount and department stores all want you to believe Presidents Day is a major retail holiday.

Don't you believe it.

For the most part, February is a retail no-man's land where January's post-holiday deals go to die and March's malaise hasn't quite sunk in yet. The notable exception is the lead-in to Valentine's Day, which market research firm IBIS World notes is a $21.6 billion retail holiday second only to the winter holidays in December. This year, though, Presidents Day itself falls just two days after V-Day. Do you actually think you're going to find discounts on items other than boxes of stale chocolate or packages of stale candy hearts that will outlive us all and continue spreading their messages to the Earth's next inhabitants?

No, you shouldn't. After the recession took effect in 2008 and made February sales stronger than those seen during that year's holiday season, February has ranked among the worst retail sales months of the year, according to Census Bureau data. Last year, its $427.5 billion in sales were lower than that of every month but January ($423.9 billion), as is typically the case.

Read More: 5 Absolute Worst Things You Can Buy This Valentine's Day Weekend

February retail sales cratered at $337 billion in 2009 before taking two years to reach pre-recession levels. Last year's February sales were the highest on record but still fell shy of March's $434 billion total. After the holidays, the post-holiday sales and Valentine's Day, America seems just fine with putting away its wallet until that end-of-March Easter uptick comes around. In fact, February sales last year lagged $13 billion to $17 billion behind summer totals and a whopping $20 billion behind the retail economy's Thanksgiving/Black Friday peak in November.

Also, contrary to what automakers want you to believe, the best buys aren't happening in February. Last February, the 1.2 million vehicles that the National Automotive Dealers Association says were sold throughout the U.S. were not only the second-lowest monthly total of the year (a 17.9% improvement from January 2014), but a 0.1% decrease from the February before. The snow, ice and other adverse conditions may make car dealers bored and keep customers away, but it doesn't put them in any more of a rush to get those cars off of the lot. The first of the new year's model vehicles don't start showing up until mid-spring to summer and really don't hit the lots in any great numbers until fall. Dealers aren't making room for the 2016s, and the overwhelming majority of their remaining vehicles are 2015s. If you're looking for a deal on a 2014, prepare to be underwhelmed by the selection.

There are some deals to be had, but they exist for a reason. It's boat show season, which means it's time to make room for the new models. If you're watching ice floes on your nearest river right now, boat buying may not be high on your agenda. But as the folks at Boatline explain, when new boats come, in old boats have to go and, as is the case with cars, that creates deals.

Read More: 5 Hottest Car Deals to Help Kick Off a Frigid Winter 2015

If you're just trying to bundle up and stay warm, it's the best time to do that as well. Spring apparel lines are just starting to drift into stores, putting much of the fleece and flannel on the clearance rack. Retail analysis site ShopItToMe told Time that the price of winter coats only collapses in February as stores struggle to get rid of their seasonal stock.

Finally, if you paid attention to the goings on at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, you realize that the smartphones that made their debuts there are just trickling into stores now. Time writer Mark DiVincenzo issued a standing order to buy mobile phones in February in his book Buy Shoes on Wednesday and Tweet at 4:00, and he hasn't been wrong. Carriers including Verizon  (VZ) , AT&T  (T) , Sprint  (S) and T-Mobile offer their 2-for-1 deals around this time of year, with some even offering to buy out your existing contract.

Finally, many of the arguments C-Net made two years ago about buying a new TV around this time of year still hold true. The new sets are coming in from the CES debut, which means the old ones have to go. It isn't the greatest retail deal ever: It's just a weak cyclical sales pattern that floats through each year. For better or worse, Presidents Day just happens to fall in the middle of it.

— By Jason Notte for MainStreet 

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

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