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Monday, November 1, 2010

Holiday Shopping Help

Holiday Shopping Help
I've been working in retail at Best Buy since May 3rd, 2001, and other retail stores off-and-on for many other years, so I think I know a little about what I'm about to speak of. My mother is also notorious for being one of the most organized holiday shoppers I've ever met. She has about 99% of her holiday shopping done before Halloween! I've seen some people with a "game plan" who do well every year, and then there's the rest of us. So, if you're always finding yourself buying gifts at the last minute for people you've forgotten about, fighting traffic only to find yourself going back to a store you just left because you forgot something, then here's some help, hints, and tips...

1. Plan well before shopping. Think of it like grocery shopping, with Santa thrown in there! Make a list and check it twice! LOL, sorry, couldn't resist! :-)

A. One way is to go through any sort of lists you already have, such as your Address Book/Contacts on your computer, your actual address/phone numbers book, your cellphone or PDA, etc. Anything that will help you remember everyone to buy for. If you don't have a good word processor or spreadsheet such as Microsoft Office to help you create an organized shopping list, then I recommend to either use OpenOffice.org at http://www.openoffice.org or Google Docs at https://docs.google.com. Both are 100% free. Word processors are the easiest to use, but I find spreadsheets more useful since they can organize information and calculate numbers. However, if you prefer using pen and paper over using a computer to organize your holiday shopping list, try to use a pencil with an eraser instead to correct any mistakes you made. Also be sure to take a pencil with you while you're shopping to make last minute revisions and to check-off people and items you've bought. A very small notepad wouldn't be a bad idea, since it's easier to write on and can hold a lot of information.

B. Categorize people by their relationship to you. Here's an example:
  1. Siblings
  2. Half-Siblings
  3. Step-Siblings
  4. Kids
  5. Grandkids
  6. Parents
  7. Step-Parent
  8. In-Laws
  9. Grandparents
  10. Uncles on your father's side
  11. Aunts on your father's side
  12. Cousins on your father's side
  13. Uncles on your mother's side
  14. Aunts on your mother's side
  15. Cousins on your mother's side
  16. Close, immediate friends
  17. Not-so-close friends ;-)
...Or however you wish. Categorizing everyone helps you remember who all to buy for.

C. Time to brainstorm! List any immediate needs you may be aware of that each person may need. Clothing or gift cards to clothing stores is usually a good choice, however, remember to buy for them and NOT what you would buy for yourself! People have different tastes, even if you dislike theirs. My wife and I make donations to Goodwill and Salvation Army each year because of clothing that either we or our kids can't wear or choose not to wear!

D. List any hobbies or interests for each person. Try to be as specific as possible! The more thought you put into it, the more thoughtful the gift will be.

E. Now, really try to brainstorm on this one. List any other details for each person, especially anything consumable (eventually runs out after a while), such as a cologne, perfume, or lotions they like to wear, exotic coffees and teas, food products such as candy or nuts, etc.

F. Now for the tough part. Decide how much you want to spend on each person within your own budget! Don't forget to include the price of holiday greeting cards and envelopes! Also, if you have to ship any gifts to people, try to calculate how much it might cost:
G. And for the toughest part, try to pick a gift you'd like to buy that person within the limitations of what you've decided to spend on them. The Internet is great for doing "price-checks" for gifts. These huge lists of major retailers may help:
Going to major retailers' websites may also give you some gift ideas. Also visiting websites such as:
These websites may give you some gift ideas, as well, along with weekly sales ads. Remember that it's ok if you can't pick a gift for everyone before you leave the house! If all else fails, a gift card to their favorite local store or restaurant is a great idea! Also, looking for general, vague gift ideas and writing them down throughout the year helps you prepare far in advance.

2. This is optional, but may save you some stress. Choose two gifts, a "primary" gift and a "secondary" gift or an "alternative" gift, for each person. The reason for this is because of this time of year, it's very common for retailers to run out of stock on popular items, especially those on sale. Having a "backup plan" may eliminate unneeded stress and time.

3. "Odd and unusual" gifts have their pros and cons. The pros are that if it's a gift most people would never buy for someone, you usually don't have to worry about if they're in stock or not. But what could be a con is would they ever use or wear this "odd and unusual" gift? Have you ever seen them ever use or wear anything like it before? Choose wisely, or it could be a "re-gift", and they may just give it back to you next year! ;-)

4. This is also totally optional, but any research you do on any items such as reading reviews, and familiarize yourself with stores' return policies may come in handy, and all retailers are different! The more you know about what you're buying and the return policies of where you're buying it at, the better. Customer Service people are the best to ask about store policies, since they have to live and breathe them everyday. When in doubt, ask (if you can find someone TO ask)! Once again, the Internet may also be a good source of detailed information. Here's some websites that may help:
5. After you've planned who to buy for, what to spend, and what to buy, now it's time to plan-out your shopping day. Plan to buy from as few stores as possible to save time and gas, and don't forget to visit their website to make sure they sell the item you're looking for and have plenty of them in stock! Becoming familiar where specific items are located within a store saves a lot of time. Many retailers' websites will display if you can buy that item in the store or not, or better yet, simply buy the items online at least a few weeks in advance to save both time and gas! Map-out the locations of the stores you're going to, trying to shop at any stores on one side of town, and making either a clockwise or counter-clockwise loop around town. I used to work for a delivery/postal service many years ago, and learned well of how to do this. Here are some mapping websites you can use:
6. Try to go to bed early the night before your big shopping day and get plenty of sleep. Taking a Tylenol PM at least eight hours before you have to wake-up probably wouldn't hurt, either. ;-) Start getting ready as early as possible on that day! Many retailers may have extended holiday hours. Find out what time the stores open and close, along with filling-up your vehicle with plenty of gas, at least a day or two in advance, and try to plan to get at our first store several minutes early, if at all possible. Any items on sale may run out of stock before you get there, so remember the old saying, "the early bird catches the worm". Dress comfortably, drink plenty of caffeine, eat something semi-healthy and substantial, and use the bathroom BEFORE you leave the house! And don't forget your shopping list, a pencil, and some Extra Strength Tylenol! The fewer stops you have to make, the better!
I would consider a semi-healthy breakfast with some substance could be something like a few eggs lightly covered in cheddar cheese (or an omelet), whole wheat toast with butter/margarine and honey/jam/jelly, along with some low-sodium bacon or low-sodium ham. Why low-sodium products versus regular or turkey-based products? First of all, sodium (salt) is known to dehydrate you, thus making you thirsty and making more trips to the restroom. Secondly, turkey contains an amino acid that makes you sleepy, which is something else you DON'T need to also combat on the day of your holiday shopping! However, eating turkey for dinner the night before your big holiday shopping day is highly recommended! And since fish is considered "brain food", eating some for lunch the day before and the day of may also help. If you need some coffee with a kick to get you moving in the morning, then I also highly recommend reading my Power Mocha blog.

7. Now, it's time put your patience and manners to the test, for both your fellow man and for the poor people at the retail stores you're visiting! Remember, there are hundreds of you and only one of me!!! Those Extra Strength Tylenol you brought may come in handy (and please don't be greedy with them, either!), and listen to your favorite calming and soothing music in the car! LOL Like everyone else, everybody is also trying to shop for their friends and family, and this time of the year gets crazy stupid. Being kind goes a long way, everything from keeping your cool in traffic, letting people have that parking spot close to the store (who's reading this DON'T need the exercise anyways?!), finding an alternative gift in case someone just grabbed that last one that you wanted, to standing in long lines at the checkout lane. If you're trying to do most or all of your shopping in one day, plan on making an entire day out of it, just don't forget to bring some extra money for coffee, soda, water, food, and snacks. And take it from someone who's been in the business for a while, telling those poor retail people to have a nice day just made it a little better for them. We enjoy what little kindness we get from the 1% of holiday shoppers who show it.

8. As you're shopping, take notes of other gift ideas for other people, if you're unable to purchase the item that day. Don't forget to write down where the item was in the store, estimate how many they had in stock that day, and the price (both sales and regular prices) on your shopping list or in your notepad. Most sales prices start on Sundays and end on Saturdays, except for special sales such as "Black Friday" (the day after Thanksgiving). Also, most major retailers publish their weekly sales ads on their website, as well, and the links are usually located either at the top or the bottom of their web page. So, even if you don't receive their weekly sales ads in the mail, you can still view their "paperless" (electronic) version online.

If I think of any other ideas, I'll update this post. If anyone has any suggestions, please post them!


Julie.Hovis said...

Thank God my shopping is pretty much done. I started shopping about a month ago to avoid the hastle. Seth and myself have done all of our shopping online - only one exception. This year most places are offering FREE SHIPPING. If I can do all the work online at my own pace and have it to come to me I'm a happy camper. Keeps me from driving around using my gas, getting out in the cold, and wading through the crowd. Me and stress do not go well together, lol. :)

Mickey said...

Oh yeah, anytime you can do your holiday shopping online saves you tons of stress and time! However, before too long, it's going to get "down to the wire" for a lot of people, buying gifts at the last minute! Anyone reading this... DON'T DO THIS!!! LOL :-)

Anonymous said...

Very Helpful Article!
Religion Expert

Mickey said...

Thank you! I'm planning to update and revise it a little right after Halloween this year.