Holiday buying tips for him, her and the kidsWritten by Associated Press | | firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Tis the season for buying, giving and receiving. While many shoppers glow in the spirit of giving, they often are not as enthusiastic when they receive the bills in January and payment is due.
In retrospect, many gift givers wish they had been more prudent during the holidays.
To become more aware of spending and shopping behavior, it’s helpful to have a strategy for holiday buying, said Bill Sauer, professor emeritus of management for the Sigmund Weis School of Business at Susquehanna
University in Selinsgrove, Pa.
Sauer has researched consumers’ buying behavior and offers the following holiday shopping tips:
Make a list and decide what to spend
Create a comprehensive list of all the people that gifts will be purchased for during the holiday season. Include family, friends, teachers, co-workers, and tips or gifts for service providers like the mail carrier or babysitter.
Determine how much will be spent for each person on the gift list so the total amount can be determined. Calculating all gift spending early in the process helps avoid surprises after the holidays. If the total is more than anticipated, adjust spending to stay within the budget.
Select gift ideas
Before shopping, come up with a specific item for each person. Shoppers save time by not having to aimlessly search until an item catches their eye, and it avoids the temptation to purchase gifts suggested by aggressive sales associates.
Think of at least two alternative gifts in case the first choice can’t be found. ”Alternatives will prevent impulse purchases and keep you within a budget,” Sauer said.
Consider a gift card
Many credit card companies offer gift cards that can be used at any merchant accepting the credit card.
Gift cards take the guesswork out of purchasing items for the hard-to-buy-for person on the list while saving time shopping at crowded malls and retailers.
The TowerGroup, a research and consulting firm in Needham, Mass. reports that $45 billion was spent on gift cards in 2003. The number of people who gave gift cards for a holiday present was four times higher than the previous year.
”With gift cards, consumers will never have to worry if a gift is the correct style, size or color,” said Stephen Diamond, vice president, prepaid products, Visa USA, which offers the Visa Gift Card. ”Many prepaid gift cards can be purchased from financial institutions in specific amounts, allowing friends, family and colleagues that receive the card to buy what they want, where they want, when they want.”
Consider buying online
According to Joel Kline, professor of business administration at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., once a user has settled on a model or item, Web shopping sites can be used to find the best price.
”If you know what you want and where to find it online, the Internet is very convenient,” Kline said.
Online sources such as Shopping.MSN.com offer a comparison shopping service where a product or brand can be entered to receive a list of matching products so shoppers can compare prices and features without going to individual Web sites or store to store.
Buying online is big business. eMarketer, a New York City company specializing in online market projections and Internet statistics, predicts retail sales in the fourth quarter of 2004 will increase by more than 27 percent from 2003, reaching over $22 billion in sales.
”The medium itself is hitting a maturation point,” said Jeffery Grau, senior analyst with eMarketers. ”The experience is faster, more secure and more consumer-friendly.” Shop early and shop around
Shop early for pre-season sales and clearance specials. ”Many shoppers come to expect sales around the holidays, and brick and mortar stores frequently have sales that significantly lower the cost of items,” Kline said. ”But these sales are often slow to reach online shopping sites.”
It’s next to impossible to purchase all gifts at one location. Instead, shoppers should look around for specials on popular gifts at outlets, department stores and discount retailers. Consider visiting specialty stores if assistance is needed for a product that requires expert advice.
”Online shopping is also great for selection,” Kline said. ”If a product can be sold online, the chances are that an online store has it in stock and ready to ship. Specialty items that are hard to find, especially for people in rural areas, are perfect to purchase online.”
Due to shipping constraints, it’s impossible to shop online at the last minute. Many sites advertise delivery up to Christmas, but shoppers can expect higher shipping costs, Kline said.
Consider how to pay for gifts
Dr. Leanne Mischel, assistant professor of management at Susquehanna University, suggests shoppers exercise caution when using credit cards during the holidays.
If using credit cards, Mischel advises researching and signing up for a card with the lowest interest rate and transferring the balance to the new card since most cards have a reduced introduction rate. Cards should be paid off while the introductory rates are in place.
”You should consolidate credit cards and don’t just pay the minimum,” Mischel said. ”This will pay off in the long run” he said, because interest payments can add up.
Consider joining a credit union or Christmas club. ”It will be at your disposal in time for gift buying,” Sauer said.