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7 tips for organized and hassle-free holiday shopping

Consumer Reports News: November 21, 2011 02:38 PM

With holiday shopping comes the inevitable crowds, the frantic search for hot-ticket items, and long lines at checkout. We have tips for helping you survive the hectic holiday scene, starting with mapping your strategy for smart holiday shopping.

According to our new holiday poll, shoppers say they will spend 19 hours hunting for the right gifts this holiday season, up four hours from last year. Despite this bump in time spent shopping, American's still overwhelming dread the crowds and long lines, at 68 percent of survey respondents. The right plan of attack can help alleviate some of that shopping stress.

Tips for organizing your holiday shopping:

  1. Decide how much you'll spend, then add a bit more. Our holiday surveys have found that Americans typically spend more than they expect. In your spending estimate, include the holiday tips you plan to give to service providers such as a house cleaner or dog groomer, as well as gifts for party hosts.
  2. Downsize in style. If your budget is smaller than last year, or your recipient list has grown, you can look for high-quality, lower-priced alternatives to your usual standbys. For wine, check out Consumer Reports' Best Buys, most for $10 or less. (Ratings available to subscribers.) One zinfandel we found—Old Moon (2009)—costs just $6 and is sold at Trader Joe's. Three 2009 shirazes—Alice White, the Little Penguin, and Yellow Tail—retail for about $7. If you're uncomfortable giving inexpensive wine as a gift, serve it in a carafe at your holiday table.
  3. Check the Web first. The Web is a great tool for comparison shopping whether you buy online or prefer a local store. Our recent survey of electronics shoppers found that those who went to price-comparison websites were happier with the price they ended up paying whether they bought online or in a store. (Ratings available to subscribers.)
  4. Some retailer websites will tell you whether an item you want is in stock at a particular store. Many, including Best Buy and Sears, will let you purchase an item online and pick it up at a local store, saving you shipping fees. In our survey, consumers found shopping for electronics at a more satisfactory experience than shopping in a Walmart store. (Ratings available to subscribers.)
  5. Shop alone, and forgo the ordeal known as Black Friday. Attempting to snag a door-buster bargain on Black Friday can be an exercise in frustration, with little chance of a rain check for that missed deal.
  6. Night owls catch the worm as often as early birds during December, when many chain retailers extend their hours and sometimes offer "flash" in-store sales at odd hours. For example, last year 14 Macy's stores, mainly in the northeast, were open 83 consecutive hours, from 7 a.m. on Dec. 21 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 24, while other outlets stayed open until 2 a.m. Toys 'R Us stores had a similar promotion, opening at 6 a.m. on Dec. 21. Of course, the Internet is open around the clock.
  7. Allow about 10 percent of your total holiday budget for the cost of wrapping, packing, and postage. To save on the cost of wrapping, you can also use old maps, the funny pages, and even old scraps of fabric for inexpensive, novel gift wrap.

For more details about preparing for your holiday shopping you can read the full article, Hassle-free shopping: Tips to help you—and your finances—survive the holidays, first published in Consumer Reports Money Advisor. You can also check out more findings from our recent holiday poll Shoppers will spend 19 hours looking for holiday gifts.

Maggie Shader


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