Get with the times: Holiday gift shopping in the 21st century.
I used to be like every other shopper in my younger years and would shop last minute for Christmas gifts, expecting to get great deals, but I was usually disappointed when the items I was specifically looking for were sold out or not on sale at all. Last minute shopping also takes a huge chunk out of one’s wallet all at once.
In my older, wiser years – long before shopping was an everyday thing online, I started picking up the gifts I wanted as I found them during my everyday shopping if they were on sale. Spreading the purchases throughout the year eased the Christmas financial burden substantially. As it got closer to Christmas, I’d purchase at regular price to avoid the inevitable sell-out.
This worked great then, but holiday gift shopping in the 21st century is much easier and cheaper since we’ve been able to shop online. As of today, I’ve already bought several Christmas gifts at great prices by searching thoroughly online.
I usually start looking in August or September, but I have been known to buy items at great prices, or that special find, any time of the year.
Just don’t be like me and forget the earlier purchases only to find them again buried deep in your closet or storage room after Christmas.
One thing to remember though is to always keep shipping, currency exchange rates, customs and duty fees in mind as they can sometimes even double the price when it arrives at your door.
Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind.
- Shop on sites that offer completely free shipping, or grant free shipping if minimum currency values in purchases are reached. Be careful here though, because if you’re shopping on a site in another country offering free shipping, that is usually not valid for international customers. Check shipping rates.
- Be careful with shipping times as the holidays approach. Shipping times are relatively accurate. As a matter of fact, I find most things arrive a lot sooner than the estimated delivery date, but delays can occur. Give the shipment a few extra days surrounding the holidays.
- Shop at home first. The price may be more expensive than in another country, but in the long run it’s usually cheaper.
- Check size guides carefully if purchasing clothing or accessories online. Those mega-sites (usually in China) offer fun products at great prices, but they’re notorious for their sizes to be considerably smaller than that size would be in North America.
- I love Amazon, but I’ve been unpleasantly surprised a few times to discover the advertised ‘free shipping’ is not valid if the product is offered by a third party site. Look closely as some of the prices and shipping rates of third party vendors can be outrageous! One time I purchased two small candy stocking stuffers for my kids that shouldn’t have been more than $10 total, but was billed over $63.
- Keeping in mind all of the pitfalls mentioned above, I highly recommend shopping using Paypal as they have an amazing buyer protection plan that has saved my bacon a few times. If there is misrepresentation of any kind, they will get you a refund. Also, link your bank account to Paypal and you don’t have to keep a balance online. They can automatically take the total from your bank account. (By the way, I am in no way sponsored by Paypal. I am a full-time internet user for my blogging, shopping and everything else, and I swear by their service.)
Shopping online is often an intimidating situation for some consumers, however. There are a few practices that can help you mix both traditional and modern shopping strategies with ease.
Carry your smart phone as you shop in stores.
The traditional shopping spree as the holidays approach can still be useful if there are still items on your list to be purchased.
Simply bring your smartphone with you. As you come across a desired item in the store, search for it online too.
Many online retailers will sell the same item for several dollars less than the storefronts. With that information, order the item at a lower cost and wait it out.
Don’t fall for instant gratification in the store if you can get the item at a better price after a few days of shipping time – unless it’s Christmas Eve, of course.
Shop Black Monday or Cyber Week.
You’ve heard of “Black Friday” when the local storefronts put on their greatest sales. Although these shopping options are still good choices, expand your horizons to “Black Monday.” This industry term refers to the major sales occurring only online.
Virtual shops slash their prices, offer free shipping and other perks. Look for reputable sellers who you’ve worked with before. They’ll normally have some sale options for loyal customers as you log in.
Explore delivery options.
Because deliveries are part of the online-shopping world, it makes sense that mail-order companies are booming on the virtual platform.
Consider a Christmas gift delivery of a loved one’s favorite food, such as popcorn, chocolate or other treats. These deliveries can be a one-time situation, or pay a nominal fee for a monthly subscription.
Loved ones can have their favorite food delivered once a month as the new year begins. These deliveries allow your gift to continue on as loved ones think of you with each shipment.
Although it may be difficult to do so, try to be present when your shipment arrives at home.
On the days leading up to the big holiday, criminals are aware of shipments arriving to empty homes. They might pick up the item before you can grab it yourself.
As an alternative to staying home, deliver the item to your place of employment. Someone will always be there during normal business hours.
Wrap it up before the big day.
One mistake I always make is to leave the wrapping until Christmas Eve, and then I’m invariable stressed trying to get everything done.
It always amazes me how much I manage to buy.
Don’t wait until the day before the holiday to wrap your presents. Ideally, wrap them as they arrive and put them away in a closet with a master list of what the item is and who it’s for. I use numbers marked discreetly on the parcels to identify them and then cover the number with tags or bows before placing them under the tree.
If there are any issues, such as lost items or damage, you’ll have a chance to rectify the situation by wrapping early. You might be able to exchange the item at a nearby store.
A worst-case scenario might include a return to the online outlet. This situation is rare, however, so be confident with your virtual-shopping habits. Most items arrive in sound and good condition.
Be aware that many items may look different on the computer screen compared to real life. Clothing colors are notorious for this kind of visual, bait-and-switch issue.
Verify the item that you’re looking at online with one in real life whenever possible. You won’t be surprised with your delivery at that point.
Smart shopping simply takes some initiative so that you can have the best prices on those coveted items.
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