February is a bleak, desolate month by just about any measure -- let alone retail.
We aren't saying there aren't several reasons to shop during February. Super Bowl Sunday, Presidents' Day and Valentine's Day come to mind. However, just about anyone who has to work in retail during this month can tell you that everything gets awfully quiet outside of those days and the occasional french toast ingredient run just before some nasty weather rolls in.
Snow, rain, cold and post-holiday doldrums make February a dead spot on the retail calendar. The holiday returns are gone and the early spring home and garden shopping of March hasn't kicked in yet. Even Valentine's Day, which market research firm IBIS World notes is a $19.5 billion retail holiday second only to the winter holidays in December, doesn't do anyone any favors by falling on a Tuesday this year. Also, unlike the last couple of years, the Presidents' Day doesn't share a weekend with Valentine's Day -- it's a full six days later.
But that's the kind of luck February has. After the recession took effect in 2008 and made 2009's 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 $302.8 billion in sales were lower than that of every other month on the calendar. The only other month that's comparable is January, which performed worse than February from 2009 through 2015, but February has its own history of futility.
February retail sales cratered at $243.8 billion in 2009 before taking two years two reach pre-recession levels. Last year's February sales were the highest on record but still fell shy of March's $306 billion total. After the holidays, the post-holiday sales and even Valentine's Day, America puts away its wallet until an early spring uptick. In fact, February sales last year lagged $6 billion to $8 billion behind summer totals and a whopping $12 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 1.37 million vehicles that the National Automotive Dealers Association says were sold throughout the U.S. were up 9% from the year before, but still ranked among the lowest sales months on the calendar. 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 2018s, and the overwhelming majority of their remaining vehicles are 2017s. If you're looking for a deal on a 2016, prepare for minimal selection.
Valentine's Day gifts:Two months' salary? Don't be the uncreative buffoon who proposes on the most obvious day on the planet over a plate of banquet-hall chicken that replaced the regular menu at your suddenly packed restaurant of choice.
The first two weeks of February are a mad dash for any Valentine's related item you could imagine, but it's also a time when retaillers are dropping coupons for 20% to 30% off the gift of your choice. DealNews notes that even jewelry and flowers get deals of roughly 20% off around this time of year. Meanwhile, sites including Szul, Ashford, Kay Jewelers, BlueNile, and Kohl's will cut up to 90% off select items. Flowers and gift baskets also see 20% to 50% off from sites like 1-800-Flowers, 1-800-Baskets, FTD, Groupon and Proflowers.
Presidents' Day sales:
In many cases, they're still happening. DealNews notes that, in years past, Presidents' Days sales have started as early as February 5 and lasted through February 22.
The big sale items on these days are mattresses, which have been sold for as much as 60% off at Sears, and up to 50% off with an extra 40% off at U.S. Mattress. However, winter apparel generally gets a huge discount as well. Winter gear generally sells for 50% to 60% off, with already-discounted clearance items also getting that deal. Calvin Klein Outlet, Barneys Warehouse, H&M and Nautica are among the stores cutting winter stock, but department stores like Walmart, Sears, Target, Best Buy, Pottery Barn, and Macy's cut anywhere from 20% to 70% off both apparel and home goods. With apparel, furniture and home goods getting discounts of 85% or more, this may be your last shot at a big sale until Memorial Day.
Intuit and Turbo Tax didn't plunk down a whole lot of money on Super Bowl Sunday for just this reason.
Typically, software from TaxSlayer, H&R Block and elsewhere will go for 30% to 50% off this month. TurboTax already dropped prices in January, but won't be shy about cutting them in February as well. Just keep in mind, as DealNews warns, that those deals only get worse as the tax filing deadline nears.
If you didn't buy one in November, you missed out on the biggest deals available.
However, the deals being offered now are likely the best you'll see until this November. With the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month making super-flat, super-bright OLED sets the new standard-bearer, 4K is shifting to the middle of the road while the standard 1080p that much of the country owns now is selling at bargain prices. Just last year 40-inch to 55-inch sets were already selling for $240 to $300 for off-brand models. Now, expect the bigger brands' leftovers to move for about that much.
Welcome to the off season, when there are fewer tourists to gouge and fewer locals who'll come out of their hibernation without huge incentives.
Granted, the discounts are particularly deep earlier in the month. But when you see tickets for August Wilson's Jitney or Waitress going for less than $60 through March when tourists were paying nearly double that for them during the holiday season, it helps warm a local's heart enough to brave the snow and go to the theater.
Smartphones weren't immune to CES upgrades, either, but there's a catch.
If you know the model you want, check the release date of the newest version before plunging into a purchase. If you don't mind not being a first adopter, the carriers will have no problem cutting you a break on the older generations of phones. No, Apple, typically isn't part of this roundup, but a whole lot of the more popular Android models are.