Attention Holiday Shoppers :

gift buying tips for each shopping style

Text by Brandi Walsh   Illustrations by Miguel Alcocer

Holiday gift lists may include toys for all ages, but anyone armed with a gift list knows that shopping this time of year is not child’s play. A shopping strategy is essential to surviving the season.

Shopping strategies can be classified in to four basic groups: The Big Deal, The Tech Savvy Shopper, The Locavore and The Procrastinator. Some prepare all year long, watching for sales and training like professional athletes for a shopping season that is capped off by the big game, Black Friday. Others shop from afar and go online to avoid the hassle of waiting in register lines and use the latest technology to snag money saving deals.

Locavores hunt and gather homegrown goods, shopping mostly specialty boutiques and mom-and-pop shops around the neighborhood. Last is the Procrastinator, those haggard and harried souls who shop in a panic and find themselves wrapping into the late night hours on Christmas Eve. Whether you prefer to haggle or go hi-tech for the holidays, shop local or shop late, there is a shopping strategy for you.

The Big Deal Shopper

It is the thrill of the hunt, the savoir-faire of the sale that drives this shopper. Being frugal is no longer a status to be ashamed of, but rather a badge of honor to be lauded. These are the people who will camp outside shopping malls in the pitch dark of Black Friday while Thanksgiving leftovers are still warm on the table. They likely have been shopping all year long for gifts and can be categorized as “done shopping by December 1 but still looking for deals” all the way up until Christmas Eve.

For these shoppers daily deal incentives are hot as ever, and big brands know it. Sites like Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com will be offering everything under the sun at deep discounts, in limited quantities and only for a short time to feed the buying frenzy. Consumers of this persuasion keep their eyes peeled for savings and actively participate in loyalty promotions with their gift list in mind. Watch for in-store rewards in the form of rebates, coupons with your receipts and opportunities to use your smart phone for savings. Many businesses will be offering specialized incentives to shoppers who ‘Check-In’ on social media sites like Facebook.

Keep an eye on the Internet. A post-2016 holiday recap by Google reports that 76 percent of consumers researched online prior to making a purchase during the holiday season. Prices change rapidly from November through Christmas. Spending a little time online to compare deals before shopping has proven to pay off.  Sites like pricegrabber.com, pricespider.com, bing.com and nextag.com compare the prices at multiple major retailers. Search sites such as couponcabin.com, couponmountain.com and retailmenot.com for coupons that can bring down the price even more. Many sites like Macys.com, Saks.com and Nordstrom.com allow shoppers to see if a particular item including size, color, etc. is available and in stock at a store nearby. If you get there and it’s gone, most department stores and larger companies will offer free shipping to your home as compensation for your time and trip to the brick and mortar.

One last tip specific to savings on toy shopping: Daniel de Grandpre, Editor-in-Chief at dealnews.com says, “Wal-Mart, Amazon, Toys“R”Us and Target kind of go to war on prices between December 7 and 20. That’s when discounts can reach 60 to 70 percent.”

The Tech Savvy Shopper 

Tech savvy shoppers have taken a large part of the market share, and retailers are responding accordingly. Free shipping and returns when purchasing online is a big draw for consumers, as well as post-purchase emails offering 20-percent and more on customers’ next online order. Cyber Monday is still the big show for online buying, and the Monday following Thanksgiving boasts the best deals for consumers in the know. In 2016, sites like cybermonday.com, dealio.com and even abcnews.com listed popular sales with coupon codes for web surfers seeking big savings.

Plastic is so last season. Tech shoppers are going from desktop to mobile devices when shopping online, paying with one click Paypal and Apple Pay accounts and using web-enabled price comparison tools to get the best deal. Moving even more cash free is the prospect that 2012 may mark the time when paying with your phone is the way to go. Trendwatching writes,“While 2017 is not going to be the year that consumers en masse will forego (sic) coins and notes and just swipe their smartphones, it is going to be the year that major players like Google and MasterCard will actively roll out their cashless initiatives around the world.” The tech sector is forecasting that major retailers are developing apps similar to the one used by Starbucks that lets customers pay for purchases with their phones.

One final tech-shopping trend: Take advantage of QR codes. Remember when cell phones were the size of a brick and most of the population still used payphones? QR codes are kind of like that.  If you haven’t used them yet chances are good that you will in the foreseeable future.  Keep an eye out for these square digital barcodes on everything from bananas to bus stops. Currently most smart phones require an app that serves as a QR code reader; however, it is reasonable to assume that next generation smart phones will come with this handy utility preinstalled. With a flick of your finger, most mobile devices can read QR codes and direct users to a web page with production information, purchase incentives and even where to get the best deal for your dollar.

The Locavore

Locavores are much like the gatherers of prehistoric times. They search for quality over quantity, make conscious, deliberate purchases and shop for the perfect gift that can’t be found in a big box store. Shop local week is a relatively new trend that picked up popularity about six years ago with support from the Small Business Saturday campaign started by American Express. According to smallbusinesssaturday.com, “Small Business Saturday® sits between Black Friday and Cyber Monday and is dedicated to driving sales to small businesses on one of the busiest holiday shopping weekends of the year.”

Unlike major chains and department stores, small independent shops tend to carry a curated selection of merchandise and provide more attentive customer service. Just when the Big Deal shoppers are crossing the finish line and dragging themselves back to bed, the Locavore is enjoying a complimentary mimosa and muffin at their favorite local boutique. True, shoppers probably won’t find a big screen TV or the latest computer gadgets. Instead, Locavores are shopping for unique items that won’t be showcased in a big-box store. Items like designer jewelry and home décor, artisanal products such as locally produced olives oils and wines and handmade art and crafts such as pottery or blown glass. “It’s a more humane approach to holiday shopping,” says Beth Lewand, small business owner and American Express small business supporter. “It will remind people of this experience of walking around a neighborhood and finding new places.”

Boutique shopping and shopping local doesn’t necessarily mean spending more; however, it does mean making more use of your dollar. A study done by the American Independence Business Alliance shows 45 dollars of every 100 dollars spent at small, local businesses stays in the local economy. National chains only keep about 13 dollars local for of every 100 dollars spent.

The Procrastinator 

You know who you are. With literally hours before the big day you find yourself faced with the reality of outrageous overnight shipping charges, crowded stores and crabby salespeople … and you swore you wouldn’t do this to yourself again this year.

You’ve waited this long, a few more hours won’t kill you. In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Sara Rogers, personal shopper for the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, advises you wait until December 24: “By Christmas Eve, even most procrastinators have finished their shopping so stores are less hectic”.  If you run into long lines, look for alternate registers. Oftentimes jewelry counters, men’s, and home departments are less busy.”

If your gifts can be purchased somewhere other than a department store, by all means avoid the mall. Stores like Whole Foods Market and AJ’s  offer the opportunity for fine food and wine gifts, as well as luxury bath and body products. Shop smaller local boutiques, including home décor shops, booksellers and museum gift stores for unique gifts. Lines are often shorter, the staff more attentive and they typically gift-wrap.

Make it and fake it. Sometimes the best gifts are made with love, at the eleventh hour, with a glue gun. Print family photos that you’ve been saving and fill an album for that someone special you almost forgot. Bake a batch of cookies and wrap them up with a store-bought gourmet hot cocoa kit. Put a polish on that gold necklace you don’t really wear anymore and tell your niece, “I really wanted you to have this.” Gift cards may seem chintzy, but they are better than drug store dregs. Make the most of gift cards and dress them up with accessories. Give a card for coffee in a mug, or tuck a card for a home store into a bundle of nicely wrapped towels.

If you decide to brave the masses, the most important tip is to make a plan. Start with a list of recipients and realistic gifts, that hot new toy for your nephew is probably gone by now; it’s a good idea to have a plan B. Next, don’t stress on the gifts that can wait. You may not see your hairdresser, babysitter, certain relatives or coworkers again until after the New Year. Gifts for them can wait until your time-sensitive shopping is done. : :