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Why Do We Have Memorial Day Sales?

Plus, what to buy—other than mattresses—and what to wait on until the real deals arrive.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen May 25, 2017

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Somebody's Memorial Day plans

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I have always associated Memorial Day with spending time outdoors—heading to the beach, the lake, to Mexico, basically anywhere with, friends, a grill maybe, a refreshing body of water and a relaxed vibe to officially welcome in summer. 

I thought everyone was like me, but every year commercials remind me that there are millions of Americans who see Memorial Day as a prime shopping holiday, and that stores are ready to compete for their dollars with major sales. But how did Memorial Day become synonymous with mattress sales? 

For one thing, May marks a rise in consumer spending, according to Gallup, so retailers are eager to nab a larger share of that disposable income. And a three-day weekend in which the average office worker has the day off, but stores are open, is ideal for a major purchase like a mattress, furniture or appliance—something that requires some time in the store testing things out and maybe even a little comparison shopping. And mattresses above all other products have a major sale moment on Memorial Day because the majority of Americans who are going to move in a given year will do it between May and August. And now, of course, because it has become a tradition and we expect it. 

Consumer Reports says that May is the best time of the year to buy a mattress, a gas grill, a vacuum, products for upgrading the exterior of your home (roof, siding and decking materials; pressure washers; exterior paint and wood stain, etc.). It's also a great time of year to get lower prices on baby goods like strollers and high chairs. It's also a recommended time to buy a computer, although other strategic shopping resources suggest waiting until November's Black Friday sales for the best deals on electronics. 

Similarly, consumers can find discounts on patio furniture around Memorial Day, although if you can live without upgraded outdoor seating for most of the summer, the absolute best deals come later, around September. Same goes for summer purchases like bathing suits: the shopping season for these is just beginning, so shoppers who can be patient will get better deals starting around July—or even before, when the Victoria's Secret Semi-Annual Sale in late June sets off a domino effect across the industry.

Those who have held back from shopping the spring trends can officially jump in when it comes to the clothing sales this weekend. Almost every store will have some kind of discount (or at least free shipping if online) but look around and you can find some serious deals, with apparel and accessories marked down 40 percent or more at places like Nordstrom, Gap, Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters and Macy's. Also worth a look are the clearance racks at luxury department stores, where a decrease in foreign visitors has taken a toll on sales.

So why are we so eager to make Memorial Day a shopping event? As mattress retailer Eight notes, "it doesn't take much to turn a national holiday into a consumer holiday." Basically all it takes a sale.

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