Savvy shoppers know that when it comes to buying consumer electronics products, procrastinators typically get rewarded with lower prices the longer they wait. If you have the stomach for playing playing chicken with Super Bowl TV prices, not only are they lower than they were a week ago—there's still actually enough time to get a TV home in time for the big game.
We've been monitoring prices on some of our top picks this week, and the biggest price drops are on higher-priced step-up models with bigger screens and more features. That's not surprising, because retailers have a bit more wriggle room with higher-priced sets; with most basic TVs, prices have already been cut to the bone, so price drops are less significant.
For example, one of our top picks—the Panasonic TC-P65VT50 65-inch flagship plasma—was selling for $3,500 to $3,700 a week ago at most retailers we checked. But it's now available for $2,700 at Best Buy, $2,600 at Abe's of Maine, and even cheaper at a few lesser-known online retailers. That's enough of a savings to fund a smaller set for another room of your house. your bedroom or home office. But it seems like it's in limited supply, as it's out of stock at Amazon and all the Sears within driving distance to our office.
Another top flagship pick, Samsung's 60-inch PN60E8000 plasma, was $2,300 a week ago, but it's $1,900 at Amazon, Best Buy and Crutchfield, and even a bit cheaper at some other outlets, such as East Coast TVs. Again, that's a $400 savings in just a week.
But we've seen less price movement on our budget buys, including 60-inch sets from LG (the 60PM6700) and Samsung (PN60E550), which both continue to sell for about $1,250 to $1,300. Of course, that's not always the case. A 60-inch 1080p plasma we liked from LG is still selling for $900 at several retailers, but Fry's has it for $700. We've also seen prices move lower on several smaller (47- to 50-inch) sets from several major brands.
Shopping tips. At this time of the year, prices can be volatile, so you'll need to spend some time before you shop. For one, there's a lot of promotional activity around the Super Bowl, and if TVs aren't selling as well as retailers hoped, last-minute price cuts are the quickest, easiest way to spur sales. But it pays to check several retailers or to use a comparison-shopping site such as pricegrabber.com. Deals can vary widely from retailer to retailer, as one may be sitting on a lot of surplus stock but another has lean inventory. Care to guess where you'll get the best deal?
But also be aware that in the next several weeks, prices will likely drop even further, as manufacturers start to clear their inventory of 2012 sets to make way for this year's models, which start arriving at the end of February and early March. So if you don't have to get a TV for the Super Bowl, you'll likely get the same set cheaper in a few weeks. It's also true that some sets may no longer be available if you wait too long, since these sets are now out of production.
You may also be wondering whether there's enough time to buy a set and get it installed in time for the Super Bowl. For many online retailers, the answer is no. But if there is one that's promising Sunday delivery, make sure you get a guarantee on the time it will be delivered; if it arrives during the fourth quarter, it probably won't provide much satisfaction.
That is also true of local dealers promising to get you a TV in time for the game. We've seen fewer of these types of guarantees from local retailers this year, but if you buy a set with this expectation, make sure to get the guarantee in writing, and find out what recourse you have if the set is delivered too late. Also make sure you know who is responsible for setting up the TV (see below).
There are a few other options: With many large retailers, you can buy online and then pick up at a local store; if the TV is in inventory, you can sometimes get it within 45 minutes to an hour of purchasing it online. You can also simply shop at a local retailer and bring the set home yourself, provided it will fit in your vehicle and you have help carrying into your home.
If you're still thinking about getting a TV in time for the Super Bowl, here are a few last-minute buying tips:
- Look for last-minute deals from a local retailer. It's no good if an online retailer slashes its prices the day before the game. Instead, check local retailers that are close enough that you can get the set home and set up in time for the game if they can't promise delivery.
- Make sure you have all the extras you'll need. That includes a high-def cable box, HDMI cables, and any audio cables you'll need if you're not using HDMI for audio signals. It's incredibly disappointing to have a great new HDTV but watch the Super Bowl in standard def because you forgot you needed to upgrade your old cable or satellite box. And don't pay a lot for an HDMI cable—you really don't need to spend more than $10 unless you have a very long run, despite what a retailer may tell you. Sometimes the less-expensive cables will be out of site, so you'll have to ask, If none are available, consider making a trip to a mass merchant that sells them cheaper. Even better, you already bought a few online a week ago.
- Be clear about what level of delivery and installation is included. I once had a 300-pound rear-projection TV dumped on my curb when I expected it to be set up in my living room. If installation is included (or purchased separately), find out exactly what that means, how many of your devices will be connected, and whether it includes programming a remote to control multiple devices. Also, make sure that the TV will be delivered early enough that the installation can be completed before the start of the game.
- Get a 30-day price-match guarantee. Given what we've said about prices likely dropping a few weeks from now, see if the retailer will offer one with the purchase of your set. For many retailers this is standard practice, but sometimes they withdraw this offer during promotional or final sales, so ask if your TV is covered and if there are any exemptions. Also, find out whether the guarantee covers other retailers' price drops or only that store's, and what proof is required for you to get a refund.
- Get a free extended warranty. Retailers will try to sell you one, but don't go for it. Instead, buy the TV from a retailer such as Costco, or with a credit card that will automatically double the warranty. Extended warranties are generally more a profit opportunity for a retailer than they are a benefit to consumers.
- Ask for a cash discount. Retailers have to pay a fee for credit-card purchases, so they may be willing to cut a small amount (2 to 4 percent) from a cash purchase. It doesn't hurt to ask.
- Pay off any free-financing offers on time. These can be great deals, but only if you pay them off before the allotted time expires. If not, you're liable to pay the interest on the full price of the TV, not just the outstanding balance.
—James K. Willcox