Editor's note: Clark Howard, the Atlanta-based host of a nationally syndicated radio show, will be host of a new television show designed to help viewers save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off during these tough economic times. "Clark Howard" debuts on HLN January 3. The show will air Saturdays and Sundays at 6 a.m., noon and 4 p.m.
Clark Howard says there are good bargains in store for those who wait until January to shop.
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Retailers have received the biggest lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings in memory.
Americans have been on a buyers' strike all fall and have not been interested in 50 percent off sales, doorbusters or any other promotions to get them to pry open their wallets. In a normal year when Christmas season sales are strong, retailers offer whatever they have left after the holiday, just the unloved stuff that didn't sell, at incredible markdowns.
This year is different.
You may get some bargains after Christmas, but if you want really rock-bottom prices, wait until January 5. Retailers are going to be stuck with massive amounts of goods and those will be reduced to fire sale prices. If you have money that you can afford to part with, get out there the first full week of the New Year. Everything from electronics to clothing to appliances to furniture will be a deal.
Be careful if you shop from December 26 through January 4. The bargains are mostly fake ones during those 10 days because patterns are completely disrupted by gift cards. Most people are off from work between Christmas and New Years, have the time to shop and have the gift cards burning a hole in their wallets.
Stores are able to "pretend" to offer bargains in the immediate after-Christmas period and people feel like they "have" to spend right away with store credit from returns and that gift card dough. As a result, the discounts are relatively small. However, follow my way and your wallet will really smile on you.
Wait to do returns until after the 5th and those long return lines are gone. Retailers usually give 14 or so days after Christmas to do returns so you are still OK on the deadline and you don't have to wait in lines, which I avoid like the plague.
Then think about it: You get the pick of all the merchandise that people returned that has been marked down and you get access to all the stuff that didn't sell that is on final clearance. But that's not all: I love January shopping because you have the stores virtually to yourself. My favorite time to go is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night when you will find more employees than customers in the stores.
I do have a special warning about all those gift cards.
A lot of retailers that have been selling gift cards this season are not going to make it. Expect a wave of retailer bankruptcies in January, February and March. Over and over again bankruptcy court judges have wiped out the value of gift cards. Don't let your's lie around in a drawer gathering dust after Christmas. Use them over the next month before they go bad.
Speaking of stores going bust, don't get fooled by "Going Out of Business" sales, known in the lingo of the trade as GOB's. They are as phony as a $3 bill. When any chain store goes broke, they hire a specialist company known as a liquidator.
The liquidator is the one who puts those big going out of business sale banners on the stores and pays those guys to stand on street corners holding signs that say 40 percent, 50 percent, even 60 percent off. But the deals are usually fake. Many liquidators will sell the store's merchandise at a discount, but usually not as good as prices on a regular sale.
The real money is made by the liquidator in many cases by bringing in what I call "fake" goods. They are not literally fake, just things that were never sold in the store in the first place. Those items are priced with high prices that are then "discounted" 50 percent or more to fool you into thinking you are getting a real deal.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Clark Howard.