I’ve been working in retail for the past the past 11 years so I have plenty of experience when it comes to the utter madness that is the holiday shopping season. Year after year I’ve witnessed everything from fights between customers to lost children to lost or stolen purchases. Many of these holiday shopping mishaps are easily preventable if only shoppers were more prepared before heading out into the fray. The following are my top 10 holiday shopping tips for an easier and more successful holiday shopping season.
1. Make A List & Check It Twice– Before going shopping, make a list of all the stores you plan to hit, who you are shopping for in each store, and the items you are looking to purchase for each person. There are even cute printable holiday lists available online. List a few options for each person because merchandise sells out quickly at this time of year and you don’t want to be coming up with a plan B while you’re standing in the store. Doing so often leads to a rash purchase that you most likely won’t be happy with later on.
2. Pre-Shop– With the internet at our finger tips, this is easier than ever. After you’ve made your list of stores and items in tip #1, look up the items online to make sure they are what you really want to buy. Review the price, product description, color and size options, etc. so that when you get to the store, you’re not surprised by anything and you can just grab the item off the shelf. Also, many websites allow you to check the availability of the item in store. Do this as close as possible to when you plan to go out shopping to make sure the store has what you want. If the item you want to purchase is something you want to “test out” in person, check it out in the store prior to major shopping days like Black Friday. It will be much easier to try the product and also to get help from an associate on a less busy day.
3. Read the Fine Print!– I simply cannot stress this enough. Coupons, sales and promotions have a million and one exclusions and stipulations. Read over everything carefully. If you’re not clear on something, ask a store employee BEFORE you get in line to pay. Don’t waste your time waiting in line if you may have to re-think your purchases due to confusion about a sale or coupon. Not only does it waste your time, but you’re going to be holding up the line for all of the people waiting behind you. Don’t be that person. I assure that you will be instantly hated for holding up the show.
4. Only Bring the Necessities– This is especially important for the ladies. Leave your giant designer handbag at home. It will only get in your way, or worse, end up lost or stolen. Bring a small purse (cross body bags are best since they are hands free) and only carry your wallet, keys and anything else you just can’t do without. Leave your coat, scarf, gloves etc. in the car. You’ll survive the weather on your way into the store. Keeping these items with you will just give you more to carry when you start working up a sweat from all that shopping. Lastly, leave your kids at home! Not only will they want everything in sight, but they will be a distraction to you when you need to remain focused. Also, it’s just flat out not a safe situation for kids to be in. Stores are crowded and loud and it is way too easy for kids to wonder off and get lost. Babies in strollers are a bad idea as well. It’ll be like trying to maneuver a back hoe in a china shop. Good luck with that.
5. Stay Organized– Take that list you prepared and all of your coupons and frequent shopper cards and organize them by store name in a coupon organizer. You can pick one up at any office supply store for a few bucks. It will be worth every penny, I promise you. It will keep you from fumbling around in each store looking for your stuff and will help speed up your check out process. Eliminating the non-essential items I referred to in tip #4 will also help you stay organized.
6. Leave Yourself Plenty of Time– Everything about holiday shopping takes longer than shopping at any other time of the year. You have to wait for a parking space, wait for someone to be available to help you in the store, wait in the check-out line. Wait, wait, wait. Get over it now before you even leave your house. Don’t try to cram a shopping trip into your schedule. It will only make you rush and that’s when you’ll make shopping mistakes and bad purchases. Not to mention you will almost certainly be late for wherever you need to be after you’re done shopping. Save shopping until after you’re finished your other activities for the day. Also, be aware of store hours so you’re not caught off guard at closing time. And when a store is about to close, don’t linger. The workers have been there all day and are trying to close up and go home. It’s incredibly rude to keep them from doing that. Their time is just as valuable as yours and it’s not their fault that you haven’t finished your shopping on time.
7. Be Aware of Return Policies– This is very important, especially when you’re buying an item as a gift. Always ask what the return policy is. Sometimes holiday related items cannot be returned after Christmas or you will only be refunded the sale amount since many holiday related items go on sale after Christmas. Other items will not be taken back without a receipt. Be aware that the return policy printed at the bottom of store receipts may be different than the store’s holiday return policy. Whenever possible, get gift receipts for your gift items. And no matter how small or insignificant a purchase seems, ALWAYS save the receipt. You never know when you might need it.
8. Prevent Theft & Lost Items– This is especially important when shopping at malls where you can accumulate many shopping bags before leaving to go home. Avoid putting your bags down anywhere, whether it’s while looking at an item in a store or while sitting on a bench. Thieves wait for these moments to move in a take your bags. They’re good at what they do and it only takes them a split second to rob you. Once your hands are full, take your purchases to your car. Only place items in your trunk where they cannot be seen by people looking into your car. Keep the receipts for your purchases on you and not in the bags. If your car does happen to be broken into, you will be able to provide the police with a list of the items that were stolen and their value. Make sure to always lock your car up. Also, prevent identity theft by writing “See ID” on all of your credit cards instead of signing them. This way, if you lose your card, it will not be able to be used by anyone else. In addition, keep your ID handy to show cashiers with your credit card.
9. Adjust Your Attitude– I hate to sound mean, but you are not more important, special or deserving than anybody else who is shopping at this time of year. You don’t have the right to be rude to other shoppers or store employees. You don’t have the right to bull doze other people to make your life easier. You don’t have the right to demand that store employees break store policy just to make you happy. This is a crazy time of year for everyone and we all need to be more respectful of those around us. We’re all in the same boat. Too much to do and not enough time to do it. We all need to get on the same page and work together. I believe in paying it forward. It only takes one person to lead by example for others to get on board and follow suit.
10. Relax!– Listen people, it’s the holiday season. It’s supposed to be a fun and joyous time of year with family and friends gathered around making memories together. Shopping is supposed to be fun too. We’ve let the madness of holiday shopping and our ever growing desire for gifts turn our holidays into a time of stress and craziness. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go shopping or buy any gifts. What I’m saying is that we should relax, remain calm, and not place so much emphasis on it. I think if we approached holiday shopping in this manner, there wouldn’t be so many angry, frazzled and disgruntled shoppers out there. If little Susie doesn’t get the hot new doll on the market that pees its pants, is it really going to ruin her Christmas? I don’t think so.
I hope you find these holiday shopping tips helpful and that they improve your overall shopping experience. I wish you luck in all of your holiday shopping endeavors and hope that your holidays are filled with more than just gifts.