Fourth of July Bang For The Buck (On Consumers)

He who hesitates is lost. Really? When it comes to smart shopping, sometimes those who hesitate, or exercise a bit of patient waiting, find measurable savings among consumer products and services. And one of the best times for which to wait is the Fourth of July.

If you're in business, you no doubt appreciate this opportunity for effective pricing. If you're a consumer, hopefully you understand how seasonal sales can stretch your discretionary income.

Savvy consumers know the importance of waiting until July to take advantage of mid-year sales. Business models want to drive earnings as the second half of the year begins. Retailers are anxious to move merchandise off the shelves and off the floor to make room for specific target consumers represented, for instance, by either the back-to-school shopping period for families or the traditional interest in fall shopping by older Americans, who tend to venture out in greater numbers when the weather starts to cool. Understanding market segments helps retailers direct their seasonal sales strategies.

To consumers: Think like a retailer. Knowing who you are - age, sex, family structure, household income - and what you're looking for should be a tip on when and for whom to wait for lower prices.

To retailers: Think like a consumer. Know specifically who you are trying to reach and what you want them to do. Be aware of lifestyles as the summer wears on. Understand what consumer-spending habits are and be aware of month-to-month trends.

With the Fourth of July falling on Wednesday of this week, it is an ideal time for retailers and service providers to offer weeklong sales that bookend the Wednesday holiday, as well as offer bonus items for those who choose to stay open on the Fourth.

Recent research uncovered some good consumer buys that focus on the Fourth of July as an incentive period for a seasonal sale. Here are four:

1. Patriotic buying is an obvious choice for consumers prior to the Fourth of July. The most notable products that are discounted are food and beverage items. In fact, annual surveys by the National Retail Federation indicate that roughly 65 percent of individuals or families will host or attend a holiday cookout party on the Fourth. Consequently, food retailers take advantage of bundling strategies to move large quantities of supermarket items off the shelves during this period. (Don't forget to stock the freezer for later.) Patriot-themed clothing, too, is a big seller, along with flags, banners and, of course, fireworks.

2. Electronics move during the summer months due to more leisure time being taken or perceived to be available. Add to that the fact that new models of smartphones, games, book readers, televisions, computers and the like continue to be unveiled on almost a weekly basis, and retailers want to move increased inventory, thus upping midyear revenue.

3. New cars take up room on auto dealers' lots. And new models are on the way. That's why July is an ideal time for dealers to cut prices to lure buyers. It is also wise to note that gas prices have moderated during the past 30 days, easing the energy-cost burden on consumers. Affordability aided by discounts, rebates and improved gas mileage work together to increase traffic on the lot. With the right promotion, these won't be just tire kickers.

4. Back-to-school and Christmas in July sales would seem to be out of place this time of year. But think about it: There are bargains to be had for fall and winter school clothing, as well as holiday paraphernalia of good quality at low prices. Smart retailers get the jump on competitors by recognizing innovative ways to drive sales and save customers money, thus positioning their businesses as consumer-friendly enterprises.

With the economy still sluggish, coupling consumer needs and retailer creativity can create more bang for the buck in both consumer savings and business profits.

(Craig Douglass is an advertising agency owner and partner with Zoe and Ernie Oakleaf in InFocus LLC, a Little Rock-based focus group research company.)