Perhaps the most underrated savings tool is simple patience. When a new consumer product hits the shelves — say, a DVD of a movie that came out recently or a new model of a laptop — it’s generally sold at the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP. After some time has passed, however, that price will start to drop. This happens either because the retailer decides to put it on sale or because the manufacturer itself decides to implement a price cut to boost sales.
So how long do you actually have to wait to start seeing the price decrease? For individual products, it will depend a lot on sales figures. The Nintendo 3DS, for instance, saw a price cut of $80 after just five months, a move prompted by sluggish sales. But it’s also possible to look at past trends to estimate average wait times for different classes of products.
To do so, we researched a number of price-tracking sites to find out just how much patience shoppers need to show to get the best price. Here’s how long you can expect to wait before that new product you have your eyes on will see its first significant drop in price.
When it comes to books, the main price drop comes when the book is released in the much-cheaper paperback format. E-books, meanwhile, tend to follow the lead of their print counterparts.
“The first price drop (for an e-book) is going to come when the paperback comes out,” says Christian Hupfeld, founder of eReaderIQ, a site that tracks price drops in the e-book market. Unfortunately, the paperback release timeline is hard to predict. “The timeline has been getting smaller, and it does have a huge variance,” he says.
That variance depends a lot on sales. While you used to have to wait about a year for the paperback to come out, these days the wait can be less than six months. It could be longer than a year if the book is still selling briskly in hardcover.
Take George R.R. Martin’s “A Dance With Dragons,” the latest in a best-selling fantasy series that has become even more popular since HBO adapted it into “Game of Thrones.” The book didn’t come out in paperback until more than 13 months after it was released in hardcover.
More and more consumers are downloading books directly onto their devices and the price is usually cheaper than buying it in hardcover or paperback, says Charles Rossie, director of merchant accounts for online comparison site PriceGrabber.com.
For example, author James Patterson’s book “Unlucky 13” was featured on Amazon a few months after it was released for $7.99 for the Kindle version, versus $14.40 for paperback and $28 for the hardcover version.
Based on data provided by CamelCamelCamel, a site that tracks prices on Amazon, video games tend to start falling in price within weeks of release and can be significantly less within a year. Take “Lego: Marvel Super Heroes” for instance, which was priced at $49.99 for the PlayStation 3 version at the end of 2013. By August 2014, it was priced at $19.99.
Why do new games fall in price so quickly? One possibility is pressure from the used-game market. Many people who buy a game on day one may be done playing it within a few weeks, and they’ll subsequently trade in the game to a used-game store such as GameStop, where it will be sold at discounts of $5 to $10. With gently used versions of the game available at a discount after just a few weeks, retailers have to drop prices to compete.
It’s never fun to see the new TV or stereo you just bought drop in price a week later. Thankfully, there are sites out there to help you avoid that feeling altogether.
Pricepinx allows users to sign up for alerts on specific products and notifies you when the price drops to within a specific range.
Or, users can search for specific products to see the price history. An LG high-definition TV with a list price of $549.99 is offered at a savings of 22 percent through Amazon.
On average, 30 percent of new television models see a price drop of at least 5 percent within just 10 days of release. Within 25 days of release, 50 percent of new television models see a drop in price, meaning that if you wait a month after that TV hits the shelves, there’s a better-than-average chance it will have dropped in price.
Rossie says deals can be found around seasonal events and holidays as well. For example, the end of March is the end of the fiscal year for Japanese manufacturers, so they’ll be eager to get rid of models that are technically a year old at that point, in order to make room for the new ones.
Just prior to the Super Bowl and in the two months leading up to Christmas are also good times to find deals, he adds.
The smartphone market sometimes feels like a story of Apple versus everyone else, so it’s no surprise the price-drop timeline is similarly divided.
The pricing of iPhones is fairly predictable at this point: The baseline model is $199 with a new two-year contract. It remains at that price until the next generation iPhone is released, usually about a year later, at which point the price drops by $100.
Then there’s Android. According to Rossie, new Android phones come out more often than Apple iPhones, which means prices will drop as quickly as a month after release.
The price of a Samsung Galaxy S Duos smartphone, for example, has dropped about 60 percent from its original price of $379.99, according to Pricepinx.
Wal-Mart is offering the Nokia Lumia prepaid phone for about half its original price of $99.88, as part of its rollback pricing.
Because price drops on certain phones happen fairly quickly, buyers are willing to wait, says Rossie. “Consumers are more savvy than ever and go online to check prices.”
Compared with phones and TVs, computers tend to take a bit longer to start seeing significant price drops — maybe two months or so, says Rossie, when they might drop by 5 percent to 10 percent.
Once again, Apple products are the outlier here. As with the iPhone, iPads will drop in price by $100 once the new generation comes out, which usually takes about a year. Usually a few retailers will pre-emptively drop the price a few weeks before the next generation is due to be announced — but by that time, it’s worth it to wait a few more weeks to see what features the new version will boast before you decide which to buy.
In general, though, it’s just as important to consider seasonal trends when it comes to computers and tablets. For deals, consider checking out prices right after new models have been announced and old models are priced to move, or just before back-to-school season and after Black Friday.
According to CamelCamelCamel, the first price change for a new DVD happens within two or three weeks, a time frame similar to video games. There’s just one big difference: That first price change is, on average, a slight increase. This indicates that a lot of retailers sell new DVDs at a discount on day one and then raise their prices after a period of time.
“It seems like there may be a lot of pricing competition between retailers when DVDs are first released,” says Ben Engebreth of CamelCamelCamel. “Perhaps this abates a bit after the release, allowing prices to rise modestly.”
Competition brought about by the likes of Netflix and iTunes can also make for some volatile pricing.
More movie-watchers are streaming directly to their iPads or computers, says Rossie, so consumers could start seeing competition drive down prices for streaming and for DVDs.
Clothes are very much a seasonal item, and seasonal pricing trends therefore apply.
Typically there’s a time frame of about three or four months from when an item first appears on the shelves to when it sees a truly significant price drop.
As with other categories, slow sales could prompt a retailer to accelerate the price-drop timeline, though with high-end clothing lines, the manufacturer may prevent retailers from doing so.
Toys also follow seasonal pricing trends, though to a lesser extent than clothes. When there’s a hot new toy, it’s obviously released with the holiday season in mind, and the first real price drop won’t come until after Christmas. Other than that, though, the timeline depends on the type of toy.
Educational toys, for example, will likely be demand-driven when it comes to price fluctuations. If the toy is tied to a movie release, prices will drop once the movie has had its run.