By KATHRYN CANAVAN, Gannett Specialty Publications
Haven’t begun your hunt for holiday presents? No reason to cry or pout. Tips from shopping experts can help you get your Christmas or Kwanzaa on.
Here’s a field guide to getting in and out of the mall with something decent without dinging your budget:
Research online before you hit the mall. Without ever leaving your armchair, you can nail deals on retailers’ web sites. Some sites offer helpful features too. J. C. Penney’s site, JCP.com, has a “know before you go” feature that allows shoppers to pump in their zip codes and learn how many of a certain item are left at their local store.
Treat shopping as a reconnaissance mission. Don’t give yourself time to get caught up in the holiday trappings unless you have unlimited cash. Bring a list; get what you need, and then get out.
“The holiday season can be make-or-break for the retailers, but it can be make-or-break for you, too,” says Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
Stick to your list. Don’t feel like the Grinch if you make a list and whittle it twice because the average shopper will spend $688 on all his gifts combined this year, according to the National Retail Federation, Besides, 42 percent of consumers still have at least one unopened holiday gift from last year in the back of their closet, according to Visa’s 2010 gift-giving survey.
Come prepared. If you are searching for specific advertised items, take the complete ad with you so you can show the salesperson the exact item and price. Or use apps that send coupons and ads directly to your mobile phone.
Start a new holiday tradition – haggling. About 74 percent of consumers have negotiated prices everywhere from department stores to discount stores, and they’re successful about three-quarters of the time, says C. Britt Beemer of America’s Research Group.
Consider teaming up with others to give one big present. This year’s best bet is the TV. They’re selling for less than comparable models did last year, Beemer says, and 40-to-42-inch flat screens have dropped to mass-market prices of $499 or under.
Get practical. One of the most prevalent gifts this year will be the $20 gift card to a restaurant or grocery store, Beemer predicts. He says gift-givers and recipients are seeking practical gifts.
Be flexible. Retailers are working with leaner inventories this year, so there is no guarantee that your first-choice gifts will still be on the shelves, says Kathy Grannis of the National Retail Foundation. The silver lining: there will be sales aplenty, she says.
Luxe necessities: Hitha Prabhakar, retail analyst with The Style File Group, says sure bets for gift-givers are what she calls “the new necessities” – smart phones, iPads, high-end yoga pants, premium jeans and other staples that giftees would eventually buy for themselves.
Gift card? Tchotchke? Gift card is the correct answer. Gift cards are a quick and easy choice for the relative you don’t know very well, says Joel Waldfogel, the University of Minnesota economics prof who wrote Scroogenomics. One thing his studies showed: “When I buy for me, I get the right stuff. When you buy for me, you typically get the wrong stuff, stuff I don’t really want.” His RX: Give a gift card so your recipient can buy something that really thrills him or buy a charity gift card.
For the person who has everything: Buy him a charity gift card for as little as $10 plus a nominal processing fee at Tis Best.org or CharityNavigator.org. Your friend will feel like Mr. Moneybags and get the joy of choosing from hundreds of charities in need of help, people in need will get a boost, and you’ll get a sweet tax deduction.