Navigating Through Holiday Shopping

Lesson number: 

It's that time of the year when all big retailers are salivating over holiday business. Every day, my local newspaper has SALE flyer's enclosed, and the Sunday edition weighs over ten pounds because it is so heavily stuffed. Lot's of money is spent by retailers on advertising and in this lesson we'll discuss tips on how to navigate your way through holiday shopping.

For starters, let's not forget that with the exception of the few really hot items like the video consoles you can't get or items that everyone "MUST HAVE RIGHT NOW" for some reason - it's a very competitive landscape out there in the retail jungle. There are plenty of outlets to buy just about anything you want and no store has an exclusive on anything! The days of being an exclusive distributor of a product have all but faded away. So the question is: how does one navigate their way through the barrage of sales flyers and offers, in the most efficient and sensible way? My rule of thumb is to IMMEDIATELY TRASH any flyer that is full of mail-in-rebates. You would think that national retail chains would have a higher opinion of their customer's intelligence, than to try and fool them with this stale tactic? The rebate artists actually expect us to pay full price for an item; be charged full sales tax on that "sale" item; then wait 8-12 weeks for a rebate that we may never see and hope that we forget about. If you happen to buy an item as a gift, it's even more ridiculous to buy it with a rebate attached! What are you going to do, give the recipient of the gift the receipts and rebate forms and tell them to cut out the bar-code and mail it in? I think not! In fact I cannot see any scenario that would force me to purchase an item with rebates attached, unless I needed something so bad that my life depended on it. Yet some retailers have a rebate attached to every item in their sales flyer. Why? I guess because their strategy is working for them. Plenty of people are using plastic and just don't care. My suggestion for the savvy shopper who would rather see that rebate money in their checking account rather than the retailers is to throw those flyers directly into the trash and don't waste your time with that retailer.

Now that you have removed a substantial portion of the flyers from the newspaper, you can concentrate your valuable time on the serious contenders for your business. For this discussion, let talk about electronic or tech purchases such as TV's, cameras, computers or the like. We'll choose this category because it makes up a substantial percentage of holiday purchasing. It's a competitive field and the items are widely carried throughout the retail landscape both in retail stores and online. If you see an item that catches your fancy for yourself or as a gift, cut it out for further research. Don't be compulsive and just go out and buy something you know little about. Organize your cut-outs and sale prices and invest some valuable time online doing a little pre-purchase research. By doing so, you may find that the item you were about to purchase has a bad track record for quality or service. It's wonderful to learn about this before the purchase. Or perhaps you will find that the retailer sells the item on-line at a lower price than the sales flyer you just received. This is also wonderful, since I have learned first-hand that most retailers will match their on-line prices in their store without blinking an eye. If you are talking Plasma TV, or laptop computer, you may save a hundred bucks or more instantly. Now that's what I call SMART instant savings! The internet is the best shopping tool in the world. You can learn all about products and can save time; gasoline; future aggravation from poor decisions; and MONEY off of your purchase price.

My rule of thumb before I make any electronic purchase or any purchase for that matter is to check and see if Costco carries it. My experience has proven Costco to have a stellar track record for having the best prices; the best service; the best warranties; the best return policy; and the best attitude; Period! When you buy from Costco, the phrase buyer's remorse is erased from your vocabulary. There are no long lines for purchases or returns; and they sell high quality items at great prices. They have lots of stuff online, that they don't carry in their stores and their online service is just as good! If you ever make an online purchase that you are not satisfied with, you can return it to any store and get instant credit. In most cases they even credit you back for any shipping and handling costs. All with a smile from the return clerk!

In my opinion, there are only a handful of retailers that are worthy of my business. In time you get to know exactly who they are. Thus, lots of flyers that I receive go straight to the trash pile, rebate infested or not. Part of the purchasing process is to enjoy the process itself. I want to feel good about spending my hard earned money. I try to avoid any stores that are a hassle to do business with. If they are snobby or have nasty attitudes at the time of purchase they don't even get my consideration at any price. None of us need to be treated with a herd mentality. The experience of making a large purchase should be different than renewing a driver's license. We have to put up with the service level of DMV. In the world of retail, we have more choices and should support the stores that do a fine job. In the long run, we will benefit from our wise choices.

Enjoy your holiday shopping. As the lyrics of the song we know and love suggests "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!"