That time of year has snuck up on all of us again. Here's a few tips of mine (based on the experience of seven holiday seasons) to help you all survive out there during the shopping madness!
1. Don't be a jerk. Be polite, kind, and patient. It's the busy season. Shops are crowded and the staff can be stressed. It is overwhelming when 10+ people are staring at you & waiting to be helped, with phones ringing off the hook. A friendly smile and "Good afternoon!" can help. Remember also, it can be hard to keep track of who was waiting to be helped next. Helping us out and being honest about who's been waiting the longest is always appreciated.
2. Have specifics. What are you looking for? If someone comes up to me and says they want to see every item we have $300 and under, it's just not possible to show them everything, as 90% of the items in my department are in that price range. I always recommend going to the website first and doing a little research of your own. Often you can sort by price, and get a clear picture of what's available. If you do see something of interest online, print it out or snap a pic with your phone. Sometimes in all the chaos products can get combined in your mind and you may come in convinced you saw something that doesn't exist. If you know that you're looking for a specific product like a bracelet, have a style in mind. Do you want something chunky, delicate, flexible, rigid, dressy, casual, everyday, silver, gold, platinum, modern, classic, unique? Is there a specific designer that the person you are shopping for likes? For example, look how much I have to work with if you say:
"I'm looking for a bracelet she can wear everyday, yet will also pass for dressy. She doesn't like gold. Nothing heavy because she does a lot of typing at her job. Her taste is modern and she has a few pieces by Frank Gehry already. I'm hoping to stay around the $500 price range. What can you suggest?"
"I'm looking for a bracelet $500 or less. What do you have?"
3. Don't wait until the last minute. Lack of planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on the part of the sales associate. Most sales associates are happy to assist, but if you come into a store looking for something very specific in the 11th hour and they are sold out, there's not much they can do, expect to offer up other gift ideas. Be open to suggestions. Most shops have a flexible return policy (worst case, it can be exchanged).
4. Holiday temps are temporary. Most stores hire extra associates to help during the holiday season. While this is great, and the individuals are usually very nice, sometimes they just don't have the needed product knowledge. If you anticipate that you may need someone that either has extensive product knowledge, or knows about previous products that may no longer be available (maybe you're trying to find something to match an item from a collection that you purchased 10 years ago) then it's probably best to ask for someone who's been there for a few years. It may take a little longer, but I promise you - it will be worth it. If you find someone helpful, ask for their card and find them again on your next visit.
5. Find your insider. Look for a sales person that you like and begin consistently shopping with them. They will keep track of your previous purchases, items that you were interested in last time, new product launches that may be of interest to you, and can remind you of important gifting occasions. If you have an insider who knows you and your loved ones, you can possibly skip the crowds but still get personalized service that you can't get online. (Just request that they ship your purchase to you if time permits). You may get benefits like free shipping (my favorite small way of saying thanks to my loyal customers), and invitations to exclusive events. For one of my favorite clients this year who has a long history with me, I put together a spread sheet of everyone she usually buys for, and what gifts we've done for them over the last few years. I also made a list of gifts ideas that I thought would be appropriate for specific individuals she needs to shop for. I have a great memory, and that combined with a fantastic CRM system can make holiday shopping most efficient for everyone.
6. Odd hours might lead to odd treatment. If you want great service don't go shopping at a time that you wouldn't want to be working. Just because Macy's opens at Midnight, and Old Navy is OPEN on Thanksgiving day (feels wrong to me) doesn't mean that you will find ideal service. Most employees have no choice about their schedule during the holiday season. The option of work on a holiday or get fired, doesn't set the best precedent for good service.
Add your own tips in the comments below.