Holiday Shopping Tips

Tips for being a good consumer in this ultimate consumer season, from "cart abandonment" online to how you can get the better deal if you try haggling.

I am guessing that you share some of my despair that the Christmas shopping pitch started at Halloween this year. Even though we do understand the anxiety that drives retailers in the U.S., it is annoying to be forced to consider holiday shopping while unwrapping Halloween candy. And what ever happened to Thanksgiving? Turkey Day has always been my favorite holiday, partly out of encouraging the sense of gratitude that is essential to happiness, but also because commercialization has made the fewest inroads there.

All of us do enjoy giving gifts to those we care about. But as we get on in life, need is in time replaced by want, want is eventually superseded by possession satiation and now what do we do? That is a rhetorical question I will leave for you to discuss around the Christmas dinner table. For today, let's discuss some tips for being a good consumer in this ultimate consumer season.

Firstly, according to Richard George, author of Consumer Power, people only buy two things: good feelings or solutions to problems. He points out that if you do not understand this, and fail to prepare in advance, that you will end up wasting time, money and come away frustrated.

So we need a plan for our shopping to maximize the experience, if not actually enjoy it. Sellers have a plan and you need one too. The seller will try to understand your needs, wants and thinking, but they cannot do it all. And thanks to the ’net, it does not take much time to get the basics in mind before you venture out — if you elect to not just shop online.

While we’re at it, here's a tip for you online shoppers. It's called "cart abandonment." After adding an item into your shopping cart, but just before completing the purchase, close the site. If you go back to buy the item a day or two later, you may find that the seller may have inserted a discount to lure you to close the sale. Not all do it, but it is worth a try to save some unexpected money.

So we need to know what we are looking for, specifically or even generally. This is where most of us fail. For gift ideas, look at catalogs, take a drive-by through a department store scanning and if those don’t help, just ask your intended recipient: "what would you dream of having?”

If still in doubt, I have always found that buying something the other person would not buy for themselves, perhaps a small luxury item, works well. The other thing I have learned over the years, is to watch and listen to what catches the eye of your family members as you go through the year. Yep, plan in advance; make a list based upon these unconsciously dropped hints, or even buy early and put the item away. A bird in the hand takes a lot of pressure off last-minute rushing into crowded stores. For a recovered last-minute shopper like me, it can be very comforting to smugly know you are done shopping early and to watch everyone else frantically running around.

Also, I am an advocate for haggling, not just looking for sales. It can be fun and worth it, particularly for big ticket items.

Three points are important about haggling. The first is to just up and ask the owner/manager for a better deal. The second point is that you should never take these negotiations personally; it's only money after all. Lastly, it is usually the person who cares the least who wins in a negotiation. That should be you, the shopper. Your ultimate leverage is that you can always walk away, go somewhere else and leave the seller with no (coveted) sale.

See, if you plan a bit ahead, you can actually have a better holiday shopping season.