What's it going to be, America: deal or no deal?
With the economy in freefall, consumers have been holding their breath -- and their cash -- as they delay major purchases while waiting for the economic turbulence to pass.
When buyers won't buy, sellers can't sell. Credit dries up, businesses shut down and joblessness grows, stalling the engine that drives our economy.
"We are going to see, over the next six months, a fundamental shift in the American retail landscape," says Paco Underhill, retail anthropologist and author of "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping."
"Almost every major chain would be so much healthier if they shed underperforming properties. We are over-stored."
While the downturn is devastating for retailers, it offers several silver linings for shoppers -- fire sale prices, desperate retailers and historically low interest rates -- that have them wondering if they should hold off on purchases.
Should you buy today or wait for greater savings tomorrow? Or in the parlance of a popular TV game show, is it going to be "deal or no deal?"
Fast changesThe question is not just whether you'll get a better deal by waiting six months; it's also whether the retailer will still be around by then.
"We're in the worst consumer spending slump in decades, and there's a lot of debt by retailers," says Tom Kelly, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
"I think we'll see a lot of bankruptcy filings, and even difficulty getting enough capital to even reorganize under bankruptcy. If the economy continues to slow down and unemployment keeps going up, this will obviously injure consumer spending."
Right now, a buyer's market rages in almost every retail sector. Buyers gain clout when supply exceeds demand. How long this will last is anyone's guess.
Once your neighbors decide to spend instead of save, demand will rise, taking away some of your leverage.
But before you rush out and buy, remember that prices could just as easily drop next week. New features could be added, "bundled," to sweeten the deal. More attractive financing terms could appear at any time.
We surveyed some experts in a few big-ticket sectors for their advice on whether to buy now or hold out for even greater savings.
Deal or no deal?
Should you wait before buying the following the following five items? Experts weigh in with their opinions.
Airfares: Deal or no deal? No Deal. Tom Parsons, publisher of the Bestfares.com travel site, hasn't seen this much airfare turbulence since post-9/11.
The one-two punch of skyrocketing fuel prices last summer followed by the crash of the economy last fall left the airline industry in a tailspin, much to the financial good fortune of air travelers.
Airlines initially cut routes in anticipation that higher fuel charges would put ticket prices beyond the reach of the lunch-toters. But once the economy tanked, all air travel, including business class, dropped off sharply.
"The airline industry right now is bargain basement," Parsons says. "I don't see the fares going up. If anything, you have a fair shot for the fare to come down."