During past holiday shopping seasons, consumers tended to stock up on cheap point-and-shoot devices that sold for less than $100. This year will be different, experts say.
"The camera market has really become a very specialized device market, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that consumers are using smartphones to capture and share pictures and aren't really printing [photos] anymore," says IDC research analyst Chris Chute. "Cameras as a stand-alone device have sort of fallen by the wayside in that aspect…. [Sales are] declining about 15 percent year over year."
What will be hot, according to Chute, are more-expensive interchangeable-lens digital cameras, such as the Canon EOS M, which will debut in October. Other probable beneficiaries of the predicted trend include Sony NEX cameras, Nikon 1 models, the Panasonic GF line, the Olympus PEN line, and the Samsung NX line.
Though these devices resemble point-and-shoot cameras in their compactness, their capabilities put them closer to the professional category. As a result, they're far more expensive than point-and-shoots; the Canon EOS M, for example, will cost about $800.
"As for digital SLRs, these are perennial holiday favorites, ever since Canon introduced the first sub-$1000 model close to 10 years ago. These days, users are often buying their second or third DSLR, and often upgrade to more-expensive models," Chute says, adding that the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 will be particularly popular with buyers.
To ease the sticker shock, he says, vendors are likely to dangle generous rebates that reward buyers for choosing packages offering, for instance, a $200 rebate to customers who buy two lenses.
The best camera deals are usually online, if you know what you want and don't need to feel the camera in your hand before buying it.
"The more expensive the camera, the more research goes into it, and the more forums become important where there are impartial reviews and user comments," Chute says. "Then, from there on in, usually it's a question of buying through Amazon."
Repercussions from Windows 8
Microsoft's new OS will cause a major upheaval in the entire tech scene when it appears at the end of October. For one thing, you can expect incredible deals on Windows 7 PCs, if you can still find them.
"Inventory levels are so tightly controlled these days that there's probably not going to be too much overhang; and whatever overhang there is, Microsoft is going to give you a very low-cost if not free upgrade path to Windows 8," Koenig says.
In addition, consumers are likely to be inundated with Windows 8 promotions.
"This is a big deal for Microsoft, certainly with the Metro interface and what they're trying to do with their play in tablets," Koenig says. "Microsoft just had their first quarterly loss since the '80s, [which] underscores what's going on there, and the stakes are high. Microsoft needs to make Windows 8 successful; they really can't afford another misstep like they've had with some of their other operating systems in the past."
You might imagine that the Windows Phone operating system is dead in the water, but such thinking underestimates the connection that people may make between the Metro interface on their desktop or tablet, and the one they can get on their smartphone.
"They're going to start promoting [Windows Phones] to connect the two in consumer's minds," Koenig says. "And it would probably happen from the phone side; so if you get a Windows Phone, you can also get a Windows 8 tablet, just as an example. This makes sense because carriers like AT&T are starting to offer more shared data plans across devices."
Bundles and Layaway
The safest bet of the coming season: You'll see bundles everywhere.
Koenig says that layaway is making a comeback, and that you're likely to see better deals this year than ever before. But the trick of this marketing model is to get you to walk away with more in your cart that you anticipated.
"This holiday we'll probably see more of these uber-bundles [such as, if you buy] a 55-inch TV, you get a 40-inch TV of the same brand and type for free," Koenig says.
Also look for total family computing bundles that offer a smartphone, a computer, and a tablet for one price.
The Endless Black Friday
If you plan to get up before dawn on the day after Thanksgiving to brave the throngs of aggressive shoppers competing for the best deals, you may have to forgo sleeping altogether. Every year, the stores seem to open earlier.
"It used to be that they opened at 6 a.m. on Friday, and then it was 4 a.m., and then it was midnight madness. If you go earlier than midnight, you're into Thursday, so we're expecting to see some of that," Koenig says.
Koenig also notes the Pavlovian effect that Black Friday has on some people: Because they associate the date with red-hot deals, they tend to view retailers' Black Friday offerings as terrific bargains even when they're not. Sellers of every stripe have noticed and are responding by stretching their window for "Black Friday specials" to encompass first the whole Thanksgiving weekend, then a full week around it, and in some instances even the entire month of November.