#1 Make a list, check it twice
There’s a reason Santa makes one each year. A list will help make sure you stay on track when things become chaotic. Plus, putting your list together in advance will make sure you don’t overlook any gift recipients, and that your gifts will be more thoughtful.
#2 Research the products
It’s easy to become enamored of a product based on price—but a big-screen TV that stops working after six weeks is no bargain at any price. Do your homework on big-ticket items for holiday shopping as you would any other time of year. And make sure to get consumer and critic reviews in advance. Many stores you’ll be shopping in have a built-in customer review interface.
#3 Research the places
Know your stores before go-time. Once you’ve outlined the products, match them up with the stores at which you will purchase them. If you’re deliberating among stores, go with the one you know better so that you can navigate it less stressfully. This way, you can get in, get out and head to the next store without deliberating midspree.
#4 Plot a course
Make a list of your top buys by store and plot a course based on store opening hours, peak deal times and your priorities. You even can make calls to the stores on your list to find out when the crowds peaked last year to help in your schedule and arrival times. Remember, some stores will receive only a handful of the items on their “hottest deal” list. But if you miss something, don’t become desperate: In most cases, new shipments are arriving at stores daily leading up to Christmas Day. Some retailers are even debuting “guaranteed” doorbusters and other promotions. And if you’re after deals on less popular items, there’s no need to be first in line.
#5 Be thoughtful
Gift cards are becoming the currency of choice, especially among the tweens and teens on your list. Your first instinct might be to get an all-in-one cash card from Visa or MasterCard, or a card to a big-box store where your recipient can purchase almost anything his heart desires in innumerable categories. Instead, go the extra mile and pick up cards to specialty retailers so that they can get something special with your card. Be aware that some gift cards have expiration dates and use/non-use fees.
#6 Deals upon deals
Just because a store is offering an amazing deal doesn’t mean that you can’t get a lower price. Bring coupons with you or preload apps (see our recommendations on page 50) and consider paying with your store credit card for additional discounts, or use a credit card that offers cash-back bonuses or airline miles. Just remember to charge responsibly! Remember that most stores have price match guarantees.
#7 Limit impulse buying
Just because something is a deal, doesn’t mean it needs to wind up in your cart. Good deals don’t always equate to good buys. But it’s possible you’ll discover something along the way that is just perfect for someone on your list. Don’t waste time deliberating in-store; take both items with you to the register. Chances are you’ll have plenty of time to consider your purchases while you wait in line.
#8 To wait or not to wait?
That’s a big question on the minds of shoppers as we head into the hotbed of holiday shopping. The frenetic frenzy surrounding the day after Thanksgiving often makes shoppers anxious that they might miss out on securing prized products—let alone getting the best deals—if they don’t make the middle of the night trek to superstores. But bargain hunters beware: There simply are some deals that will get better with age. Good things come to those who wait: You’ll find better deals closer to Christmas on toys and games, jewelry and travel- related items. Likewise, manufacturers of electronics and cameras will clear out inventory with deep discounts to make way for the new models closer to the end of the year.
#9 Apples and oranges
Some stores claim to have “exclusive” products, especially in the electronics arena, that aren’t available at their competitors—but don’t judge a book by its cover. When researching which products you plan to purchase, don’t simply compare by product name or even manufacturer product numbers alone. Often, two nearly identical products will be named differently to thwart your price comparison efforts, also eliminating the ability to take advantage of price match guarantees. The moral of this story is to make sure to do your homework and include similar products (and their prices) in your shopping list.
#10 Be courteous and polite
It’s the cardinal rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated, including other shoppers and employees.