Danette Fettig of Edina doesn't waste time wondering when to find the best deals for Christmas. She's convinced she knows.

"Before-Christmas sales don't hold a candle to after-Christmas sales," she said.

So she and her husband write out coupons for items they think the other might like, wrap them up and open them on Dec. 25. They wait to shop until the new year.

It sounds like a smart strategy -- if you're willing to forgo the traditional gift exchange. But those of us who want to give presents instead of coupons may be wondering if the best deals of the season are behind us or still to come. That's why we asked three retail analysts to handicap the holidays for us.

Brian Hoyt, e-commerce expert and head of communications at RetailMeNot.com; Dave Brennan, University of St. Thomas professor and co-director of the school's Institute for Retailing Excellence; and Burt Flickinger, president of Strategic Resource Group, a retail consultancy agency in New York, offer their advice on when to get the best deals of the season.

Q Should we buy now or later?

Hoyt: Now. After 2009, retailers learned to manage their inventories closely, so don't expect to see lots of overstocked merchandise on sale. Discounts won't get better closer to Christmas. We won't have the bargain basement discounts we had in 2008 and 2009.

Brennan: If it's a unique, non-substitutable item, buy it now, but you could wait on books and electronics. Some e-readers like the Kindle Fire or Nook Color are hot now, but there are so many other models available.

Flickinger: Later. Shoppers are shopping for deals and not much else. Retailers are starting to push the panic button.

Q Can we find deals as good as Black Friday? If so, on what items?

Hoyt: Books, movies, music and jewelry.

Sales in those categories were slower than expected on Black Friday weekend.

Brennan: Look for stores such as Target and Toys 'R' Us offering buy-one-get-one discounts and free gift cards with purchase.

Flickinger: Flat-screen TV prices are lower than earlier in the year, and are likely to drop further in January, but don't expect them to be as low as Black Friday. Cotton apparel should be a good deal closer to Christmas because the price of cotton went down.

Q Are certain retailers more likely to offer deals?

Brennan: Kohl's, JC Penney and Herberger's. You're seeing even more sales and markdowns at Kohl's. Penney's is going through growing pains as it repositions itself from moderate to more upscale. Herberger's is still trying to find its place between Kohl's and Macy's.

Flickinger: Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic, Victoria's Secret, Ann Taylor and Talbots. For electronics, Office Depot, Office Max and Staples.

Q Is there a Zhu Zhu Pet of 2011, the hot, buy-now item?

Brennan: There is no hot toy for 2011. If stores run out of a popular item such as a tablet or e-reader, shop online for them. Sellouts usually start mid-December.

Hoyt: The Lego Creator Kit and the Lalaloopsy Loves Me Doll are still strong from 2010.

Flickinger: The Apple iPhone 4S is the season's one must-have item. After that it's the Barnes & Noble Nook Color.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or jewoldt@startribune.com. If you spot a deal, share it at www.startribune.com/dealspotter.