9 tips to make the most of store closing and liquidation sales

Here's how to get the best deals as major national retailers host closing sales.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many stores have announced complete or partial closures of locations, leading to liquidation and going-out-of-business sales.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many stores have announced complete or partial closures of locations, leading to liquidation and going-out-of-business sales.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

Many major national retail chains were already suffering before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. So when the country had to shut down, their financial struggles were sent into overdrive. That's one reason why it might feel like so many stores near you are holding liquidation or going-out-of-business sales.

These types of events can be a way to finally buy that item you've been wanting for months but thought was too expensive. What's more, many of these sales are now online, even though they've traditionally been brick-and-mortar only, according to Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot.

For example, Pier 1, which announced in May that it was closing all 540 of its stores, held part of its sale online. And Macy's, which has seen a 35% decrease in sales compared to last year, has a dedicated clearance and closeout section on its site.

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But shopping at these extreme sales come with their own risks, Skirboll told TMRW.

"It's good news for the consumer ... but buyer beware," she said. "Be careful and cautious."

Here are some tips from Skirboll and Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst for DealNews.com, to make the most of closing and liquidation sales.

1. Be patient — but decisive.

Skirboll stressed that the first round of discounts usually aren't the best deal. So wait a week or two and check the price again. She added that it usually takes a while for big stores to completely sell out of a product.

That said, if you're looking for a specific product in a certain color or size, Ramhold recommends buying it earlier in the sale.

"Get the modest discount because if you risk waiting, odds are it's going to be gone." she told TMRW.

2. Read the fine print.

Especially if you're shopping online and can't see the item beforehand, you want to know what recourse you have if it's in poor condition when it arrives. Skirboll advised finding out the answers to these questions ahead of time:

  • Is the item final sale?
  • If you find damage or a defect, can you return or exchange it? Is there something you'd want to exchange it for?
  • If you have to send it back, will the shipping cost be covered?
  • If the product breaks while under warranty but after the store has closed, what can you do, if anything?

If you're at the store in person, ask to take the product out of the packaging and inspect it. If you're shopping online, Skirboll suggested picking up the phone to get answers to these questions.

3. Listen to the reviews.

Doing your research is crucial when you may not be able to return your purchase. Remember also to check reviews on other stores' websites, Ramhold said.

4. Don't assume you're getting the best deal.

Terms like "liquidation" and slogans like "Everything must go!" are designed to make consumers feel like they're saving 90%, but "that's not always the case," Skirboll said. So, spend a couple of minutes comparing prices online. One practice she recommended is "stacking your savings."

"If you get a coupon code, take advantage of a sale and apply a cash-back offer, you can sometimes get a much better deal than you would at a closeout or clearance," she explained.

5. Use your gift cards ASAP.

If you have a gift card to a store that's struggling or currently hosting a major sale, don't wait for discounts to get steeper before using it. Many stores stop accepting gift cards the longer the sale lasts, Ramhold said.

She also recommended holding off on buying gift cards to national chains that are financially struggling until later in the year. That way, "you can see how things are shaping up and if they're starting to bounce back," Ramhold added.

6. Take advantage of sales on higher-end items.

A major opportunity at store closings is that they need to sell everything, including higher-end items, which are discounted much less frequently, according to Skirboll.

7. Be OK with donating what you buy.

Ramhold stressed this tip for clothing purchased online that's final sale. Do your research beforehand, but there's never a guarantee the item will fit exactly how you want.

8. When shopping in person, start at the back of the store.

Customers often focus on what's closest to the entrance and skip the back. Skirboll said this strategy will help you get better deals on good-quality items because they've been picked through less.

9. Set up a Google alert.

If you're looking for a specific item or if your favorite retailer is struggling, set up a Google alert, which will notify you when a new page with a certain term pops up online.

Remember that not all liquidation and closing sales are the same. Often, they might affect multiple stores in your area, so if you're comfortable doing so, check out multiple locations.