Consumers making a play for a new TV in advance of the Super Bowl will need to be as savvy as a quarterback.
Commercials and newspaper ads touting big screens for the big game began even before the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers earned their way into the Feb. 3 matchup in New Orleans. The week before the Super Bowl is the third most popular for TV buying - behind Black Friday week and the week following Black Friday.
Yes, there are bargains to be had, but TV buying is a different game than during the annual Black Friday deal deluge. Some models may actually be priced higher than they were weeks or months ago.
"The ads are so prevalent and eye-catching it seems that everything is on sale. What was really surprising was that there are more products that actually increase in price" leading up to the Super Bowl, says Andrew Mahon, vice president of marketing for buying assistance site ShopAdvisor.
Using ShopAdvisor.com's price watchlist functions, Mahon tracked 18 popular TVs from a variety of manufacturers, sizes 32 inches to 65 inches. The prices on five sets have dropped since December, but seven went up, he says.
Users can set price alerts on various models using the ShopAdvisor website or smartphone apps. "If you just want a big TV and you are not particular about the model, then you are going to get a good deal. If you are particular about the model then you need to watch it on almost a daily basis," Mahon says. "Some of the low-priced items will be aggressively discounted to get you into the store. And then that $1,800 model might sustain its high price or maybe even be bumped up a little."
Consumers have been opting for bigger screens. In past years during the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, nearly 60% of TV spending was on big screens, 46 inches or larger, according to The NPD Group.
Overall, TV sales for 2012 were down 7% to $16.2 billion compared with 2011. But consumers bought 82% more TVs larger than 55 inches (about 1.6 million sets). They spent $2.6 billion on TVs that size, 66% more than in 2011, says NPD.
In general, shoppers can expect to spend about $160 less for sets over 55 inches, says NPD analyst Ben Arnold. Last year, the average price for such sets was $1,557, he says. During the pre-Super Bowl buying period, he says, "We could see average pricing of $1,400, which is 10% lower than it was last year. We are on a trajectory toward those bigger screens becoming more affordable."
This season, the TV sweet spot appears to be 55 inches, based on retail activity from BuyVia, another shopping app. That size set was the most popular one searched for on the BuyVia.com site or scanned with the smartphone app, says company CEO and founder Norman Fong. "We're in the heat of the yearly love affair between our TVs and the Super Bowl," he says.
Target is among the retailers gearing up. On Sunday it drops prices on several HDTVs as well as other home theater equipment. Promotions include a 60-inch Vizio reduced by $400 to $899 (sale starts Friday) and a 70-inch Sharp set reduced at selected stores (and online) $500 to $1,999.
Best Buy is catering to big-screen shoppers with a 55-inch Insignia TV reduced to $549.99 from $799 and a $400 price cut on a 70-inch Vizio model ($1,599.99). "These door-buster Black Friday-like deals will appeal to people who are getting stuff set up for the Super Bowl and the awards shows," says Best Buy's Jeff Haydock. "With each passing year, it seems larger TVs become more appealing to people."
Mike Snider, @MikeSnider, USA TODAY