It’s my educated guess that almost everyone loves a real bargain. I base that on a couple of obvious things from my life experiences. For one, I love a bargain and I’m pretty much like everyone else: I’d rather get something for less than everyone else paid for it. And if it’s really going to ring my bell then “free” would be the nirvana transaction that makes my day. Free is my favorite word, but you already know that.
Now that I’m retired, whenever I’m out shopping I usually mumble something about that guy “Clarence” because his name is on so many things in the store. Where is “he” anyway? Yeah, don’t tell me; it annoys my wife whenever I say that.
When it comes to the very best price, my head fills with dozens of answers and ways to find the best deals and the lowest prices. Having spent decades in the retail business only reaffirms what I already had learned as a kid: unless you’re stupid or lazy, you seek out a bargain and hate to pay full price for anything! I literally mean “anything”. It’s the question you ask yourself whenever you go out shopping, isn’t it? You know what I mean, the one that goes:
Where can I get the very best price on _______?
So, how do you find the retail clearance prices that you really love?
The Bargain Spot
You may not believe this, but I spent over a decade running a very specific area inside one of the large chain of department stores I worked for which was known as the “Bargain Spot”. Located on the main floor right in the center of the stores (over 2 dozen of them) was a complex of 6×3 tables filled with some of the super best clearance deals anyone ever wanted. It was staffed full-time with a cashier and sometimes it needed more than one person to handle the traffic because of the commotion it would regularly create.
It was only a part of my responsibility, but at times it seemed like my full-time job as these “bargain spots” could generate as much as 10% of any one store’s sales in any given day (thousands of dollars). And keep in mind the prices on these items were pretty low and that means the number of items sold was huge! The inventory on the tables had to be re-filled constantly and God help any store that left a table empty after an item or items sold out!
Main floor retail space is ultra-valuable and must be always hot and active. If it isn’t, say hello to those other retailers who are now part of the retail graveyards around the country.
What is a Bargain Anyway?
By definition, a bargain is something you buy that is at a great discount from what it normally sells at in a retail store. But wait, that’s really a trick answer and let me tell you why that is. Retailers set the “regular prices” on the items they sell in our economy, so the regular price can be a completely made up fantasy number meant to make you think that it’s worth way more than it really is. You think you can’t be tricked into believing that? Think again.
When you see an item that has a “regular price” tagged at $50 and then you see it marked down at a clearance price of just $15, what goes through your brain? Do you think, oh, that’s not really worth $50 and never was—or do you think wow! what a deal I will save a gazillion percent off the regular price and I just have to have it?
Most people see the dollar savings and percentage off and respond only to that part of the deal.
Here’s something that I know and even though it may seem really obvious you must repeat it to yourself over and over whenever you are out shopping: No matter what the price is, a bargain is never a bargain if it’s something that you will never use!
Think about it. How many “bargains” do you have that are sitting in a closet or drawer these days never seeing the light of day? I’m betting that you don’t care to admit that number and you are not alone.
But, Yes, There are True Bargains!
I may have painted you a picture here that says you won’t ever find a real bargain out there and that isn’t true. First, if you know that something is at a price lower than other places are selling it for, it can be called a deal or a bargain for sure. That means really knowing the prices, doing your homework before you shop, and not acting totally on impulse when you do. Smart bargain hunters know a bargain because they are prepared and have researched it. They are not just standing in a place where everyone is rummaging through a pile of “big discounts” and getting caught up in the frenzy!
Real bargains usually are a result of someone’s “mistake”. What I mean is that a store has offered something up for sale and it just didn’t sell well. They thought there was some demand and it sat on the shelf too long and it didn’t produce. Remember that main floor space used for bargains that I managed? Well, every square foot of retail space is very costly and valuable so “mistakes” have to be liquidated and that usually means fairly quickly, too. Sometimes, when you see some of the bargains out there, they are really bargains because they have to go.
I won’t bother you with the minute details of how a retail business works, but think about this fact. There are seasons to most businesses and to prepare for the next one means that the merchandise in the store now from the last season must be sold to make room for the new! That’s why you see clearance sales of winter merchandise in January and the arrival of spring merchandise way before anyone can actually wear or use it!
When you find those clearance deals, you may be the lucky dog who likes and can use the item and pay 20, 30, 50 or even 90% off the regular price. Believe it or not, sometimes an item can actually go down to $0 and be tossed in the compactor so as to free up retail floor space. It actually does happen although if it does too often then be prepared to visit the retail morgue and pay your respects to that company.
One additional tip I can give you to get the deal you can score the most on is this: think backwards.
You will see the very best deals on retail clearance when the season is winding down or over. Clothing is always on clearance after the height of the season so buying your bathing suit in April or May isn’t a great deal, but waiting until August or September will be. Buy your winter coat in January rather than October or November and you find the very vest price. Will you have the best choices for colors and size? Probably not, but you will find something you like. I know that from watching people shop for these deals for over 30 years!
Where Do I Recommend?
Here are some of my favorite places to get great clearance deals and why!
Kohl’s has such a huge area for clothing clearances and seems to always have prices that are ridiculously low just after the season ends like springtime for winter items and fall for summer items. I have purchased sweaters in April at 90% discount, but even better that the perecentage off is the actual $3 price I pay for it. Wool sweaters for $3? That’s a bargain. Kohl’s also has great loyalty rewards, coupons, and special discounts for their charge customers that can be tacked on to their clearance deals as well as special online pricing to save you even more!
2. Bed Bath & Beyond
I already have a thing for BB&B (as you probably know), but when it comes to the clearance I am in love. No trip to a store is complete without rummaging through their small yet great clearance areas and I almost always see something I need or want at a ridiculous price. Plus, I never go there without my pile of 20% off coupons that they send me almost every week or offer online. Yes, I do have to be restrained a little by my wife who says things like “How many bath towels do we really need?” Even at 90% off and a price of $2 each I just have to fight to resist!
3. Any of the “Lot” Stores
Big Lot, Odd Job, Odd Lot, Amazing Savings, it matters not the name of the ones local near you. They all have some amazing deals even in their so-called regular shopping areas, but when they mark it down, lookout bargain city! The last time I bought a new dress shirt in my size (Big and Tall), I got one there for less than $5! Normally, when I but a dress shirt I have to pay five times that price even when it’s on sale. You just have to know a deal when you see one!
4. Best Buy Online
Most any big ticket item will have big ticket markdowns and a place like Best Buy is a good example. No matter what kind of appliance or electronic thing you are seeking, check out their online markdowns and open box items and you will see the top deals around!
5. Flea Markets, Yard Sales, and Moving Sales
When it comes to the flea market, I can speak with authority. I made thousands selling at the flea markets so I know not everything is clearance and a bargain for you, but rather it can be a real business for some and you have to be a bit savvy. But, many people selling at flea markets are just trying to get rid of unwanted stuff and that’s where you can be a big winner.
It almost goes without saying, but I will, “one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure”. It’s really true especially at a yard sale or moving sale. I bought my golf clubs in 1989 from some folks that were moving and hadn’t used them in years and I still have them as of today. In great condition, I paid less than $30 for a complete set worth over $100! I don’t play often these days so someone may be in for a super deal when I have my next yard sale. I'll probably get way more than I invested in them and it will still be somebody else’s deal of a lifetime!
Honorable mention goes to Burlington coat stores and to T.J. Maxx—if you don’t mind shopping off the floors there. And to Macy’s because, well, they’re Macy’s!
Most of us like or even love “new” and “shiny” stuff and when it comes to the old bargain spot, we may shy away from it. But don’t do that.
I always make some time to look at retail clearance because you just never really know what you can find. If you have a specific need, you have to try, because you owe it to your wallet to do just that. If you need a big expensive item, then look for the open box items at a place like Best Buy where you can get something at half price just because its box was opened and re-taped shut by some over-enthusiastic customer or stockman. After all, where will that box wind up right after you start using whatever came inside of it? You’ll enjoy your new bathing suit much more next summer if you pay half for it this summer, won’t you?
Where do you find your best deals and do you have any tips you can share? Does it make you feel good to save on some needed item and find it at ridiculous savings like it does me? Or am I just weird? Ok, don’t answer that. I think I know that answer.