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The best time of day to find a deal

Paying the lowest prices is not just about watching seasonal retail trends. The time of day can make a difference too.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 1, 2012 2:59PM

This post comes from Matt Brownell at partner site MainStreet.

Finding the best deal on a product often comes down to timing. Seasonal retail trends mean that some products are simply less expensive depending on what time of the year you buy them -- electronics, for instance, tend to cost less in January and February when retailers look to clear out last year's models.

 

And sometimes it even matters what day of the month you buy something, with most experts recommending that you visit the car dealership at the end of the month to take advantage of salespeople trying to hit their quotas.

 

Believe it or not, prices can even fluctuate during the course of the day. While those fluctuations aren't as great as you might see from season to season, certain times of the day are indeed better for finding the best deals.

 

"I go (to stores) during the least busy time of the day, because I want to have a chance to ask for a deal," says Teri Gault of TheGroceryGame, who has previously shared her haggling tips with MainStreet. "I stay away from after-work times and weekends. Go in the mornings, though not first thing, because they might be grouchy. If they open at 9, I come in from 10 to 11."

 

If you don't mind haggling, coming in during these quiet periods will give you more of an opportunity to negotiate with salespeople or managers.

 

Gault says that the calculus changes a bit when it comes to getting deals on groceries. Here, the objective is to snag the slightly older (but still fresh) meat and baked goods that are priced to move, and that means getting there bright and early.

 

"Meat is the most expensive thing in the supermarket, so to get it cheaper, we want to get the ones they marked down that morning," she says, noting that beef and pork are required to be safe to eat for three to five days beyond the sell-by date. "In the bakery they're more sporadic, but usually in the morning they get around to (marking down older goods)." Post continues below.

She adds that the one exception to the early-bird-catches-the-worm rule is at farmer's markets, where vendors will price their goods to move at the end of the day so they won't have to haul it away.

 

Online deals follow their own rules

That covers bricks-and-mortar retail. Online deals are a little less time-sensitive (most daily deals, for instance, will run from midnight to midnight), but there are still some rules to follow.

 

"If it's online, we don't really see deals and sales coincide by time of day," says John Lal, the founder of BeFrugal. He does note one big exception, though: Flash sales tend to take place in the morning, such as the "Woot-Offs" you'll find at Woot. With that said, the "Lightning Deals" on Amazon tend to take place throughout the day, so you'll want to check back frequently.

 

Brad Wilson of BradsDeals says that deal hunters who don't mind staying up a bit late should aim for 12:01 a.m.

 

"The big-box stores have a routine of starting new sales at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, (and) most one-day-only sales, deals and coupons start then," he says. While those will often run at least 24 hours, supplies are sometimes limited and could run out before the timer does.

 

Of course, that assumes that the online retailer is actually based in the same time zone as you, which isn't always the case. If, for instance, you're on the East Coast and a deal site based in California starts its deals at midnight, you won't actually see it go up until 3 a.m. EST. In that case, you'll probably want to just wake up early to see what the site has to offer -- unless it's been bombarded by deal-hunting night owls, it will probably be waiting for you when you wake up.

 

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