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Buy this -- but not that -- at Labor Day sales

MoneyWatch headlines
MoneyWatch headlines 01:07

The Labor Day weekend brings out sales and discounts at retailers, but it doesn’t mean every item will be a good buy.

Because of the holiday’s timing several weeks before the start of the holiday shopping season, some categories may offer better deals later in the year. At the same time, smart shoppers can pick up some excellent prices if they know where to look.

Customers are less satisfied this year with department stores as retailers have cut back on the types of discounts they had often offered in the post-recession years, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Some brick-and-mortar retailers have been investing in service and staff to fend off customer defections to online retailers.

That’s not too surprising, considering that retail sales are expected to rise 3.4 percent this year, while online sales will jump as much as 10 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.

As a rule of thumb, you’ll find the best deals on summer items that will soon need to be pushed out of stores to make room for fall and winter goods. Along those lines, fall and colder-weather items won’t offer deep savings until later this year.

Buy: Summer clothes. Because Labor Day marks the end of summer, retailers are already looking forward to fall and pushing their full-price autumn wardrobes. Check the sale racks at stores like Gap and Macy’s to find good bargains, as well as the “sale” sections of their websites. Deep discounts are expected at outdoors retailers such as L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer, as well, according to DealNews

Buy: Grills. With thoughts turning to colder weather, some retailers are offering discounts on grills even though it’s still warm across much of the country. Target is offering up to 20 percent off grills and grilling accessories, while Lowe’s is providing a $100 discount on Weber Genesis gas grills, as well as free delivery and assembly. Last year, Sears and Walmart also offered some good grill deals, according to DealNews.

Buy: Mattresses. Mattresses can set back consumers by thousands of dollars, so it makes sense to hunt for a bargain. Labor Day could provide some good deals, according to NerdWallet. Sleep Train is offering as much as $400 off some mattresses, as well as selling a queen-sized pillow-top mattress set for $399. Sleepy’s is cutting prices by half in its Labor Day sale, although the sale excludes some manufacturers.

Avoid: Fall clothing. Anything fall-related is unlikely to be discounted much this weekend, so it’s best to hold off on fall clothing. If you’re looking for warmer clothing, wait until November, when the fall lines will be heavily discounted to make way for winter styles.

Avoid: Apple devices. Apple is reportedly unveiling new phones this fall, which means older models may be discounted later in the year, NerdWallet noted. If you’re hankering for a new Apple laptop, it’s also best to wait since the company hasn’t updated its MacBook Air or MacBook Pros for more than a year. Apple is expected to roll out an all-new MacBook Pro this fall, according to MacRumors.

Avoid: Toys. The holiday season will offer better deals, so wait until the official kickoff with Black Friday sales. Many consumers like to start their holiday shopping early, but if you can delay the urge to shop until December, better deals will be available. 

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