Thousands are currently possessed by the madness of trying to select the Perfect Gift™, that one that will ensure that a special child will have the Perfect Holiday™, allowing the satisfaction of knowing that surely this holiday, unmarred by disappointment, will set them on the path to a well-adjusted lifetime of success.
At the least, they’re probably hoping to make it through a labyrinth of utter chaos to get what their kid wants and avoid any bitching.
Have no fear! Here’s a quick and dirty guide to doing holiday shopping at least semi-painlessly.
1. Give yourself time.
That one item your kid can’t live without? Every other child in their class wants it too. And of course, manufacturers and retailers are only trying to produce and carry what will sell.
Forecast after forecast will try to predict what kids will be interested in—and some will be horribly wrong. If you’ve ever fixed lunch for a toddler, you can probably relate. The whims of a child are the most changeable force in the universe.
(And contrary to popular belief, the back of the store is actually far smaller than the sales floor itself. There is not, in fact, a transdimensional transporter that holds an infinite amount of backstock for our disposal.)
2. Cut the staff some slack.
Whatever retailer you visit, whether in glorious person or in your pajamas online, you are facing an astronomical possibility that the employees you deal with have no idea what they are doing.
Stores will swell to double and even triple their usual size (no, there still won’t be enough registers open—but that’s basically a law of nature). At the same time, they are attempting to streamline staff training into the fewest hours possible.
That’s no excuse for outright incompetency, but chances are, the person on the other end is just trying to do a good job and may not have the skills to do it perfectly—through no fault of their own.
3. Know your policies.
Coupon, price adjustment, and return policies are all good places to start.
Price Match has also made a comeback, fueled by the tears of cashiers everywhere—but it’s sure to benefit customers that know how to use it. Target, JCPenney’s, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Sears, Kmart, Kohl’s, and Toys “R” Us are just a few of the retailers that match prices.
And if you have questions, ask! That’s what the staff is truly there for—to take care of you, the customer.
4. Update your loyalty information and check your spam folder.
The time to make sure that your information is up to date is upon you! Most of this can be checked and verified online, while you are hopefully all snug as a bug in a rug with your hot cocoa (or coffee or vodka--your choice really).
Most programs are paperless, so make sure your email address is updated. Most stores allow you to look up the loyalty program using a phone number—something that will save you the hassle of digging out the card itself, so it’s good to keep that current also. And if you still aren’t receiving promotions, don’t hesitate to call up the customer service line and ask what gives.
Move those promotional emails from your spam folder to your regular mail or a filtered section. You can always shift them back after the holidays are, and this is a quick way to get the pulse of what’s on sale, including daily specials that may only be promoted online.
5. Ask for a sales ad.
If you can find a customer service desk under the masses of living dead shoppers this season, don’t hesitate to ask for a sales ad. Even stores that don’t carry them the rest of the year might have some on hand.
6. Know what you are looking for.
“I am looking for that thing. It does this…thing with…a thing…that looks like a thing. And my kid saw it on TV.”
Hey, my kids watch TV too! So I feel you on how hard it can be to translate that brilliantly executed marketing effort into actual product in your hands—because chances are, your kid gave you a description pretty close to that one.
But in stores that range from tens to hundreds of thousands of square feet just for the salesfloor, it can be difficult to figure out which thing that looks like the thing and does the thing you are talking about.
7. Create a registry.
Most stores don’t offer a kid-centric registry—but baby or wedding registries work fine too. There’s no rule that says one can only have items that may potentially be spit up on, or that the other is for only fine china and crappy bedding sets, so take advantage.
The set up is quick and easy. The endgame: You get a list of exactly what your kid wanted, one you can update online, use for your shopping, and send to relatives that ask.
8. Know your options.
We are surrounded by vast amounts of technological possibilities. Of course we are using them to make as much money as quickly as possible. This is America.
Chances are, every store you shop at this season is practicing “multichannel,” which simply means they are trying to funnel your dollars into their store however possible.
Can’t find it in the store? Ask an associate if they can order it (sometimes with free shipping!) to be shipped to your home. Can’t make it to the store (just don’t want to?)? Order it online for in-store pick up.
9. Know the terms and conditions for store credit cards.
Store cards typically offer steeper discounts than any other promotion a store offers. They often have fewer exclusions, they may come with promotional financing for three, six or even twelve months, and you get the discount the moment you are approved.
However, these great benefits aren’t without costs that can add up to a lot of wine money. Most cards are going to charge an APR of upwards of 20%, which means interest can add up fast. If you plan to take advantage of the discounts, know how you’ll pay it off.
10. Day drinking is entirely understood, but not provided.
Unfortunately, most retailers currently fail to offer an alcoholic rest stop for dealing with the absolute chaos of this season. But we absolutely understand why you feel the need to collapse in front of the cheap wine. Cheers.