Friday, November 23, 2012

How to be a decent person while also shopping during the holidays

I used to have nightmares about this
Christmas is just over a month away, and Festivus is exactly a month away, which means that the holiday season is upon us and no matter what you're celebrating, you're probably going to have to do some shopping between now and then. Personally, I cringe at the thought of holiday shopping. The lines are long, the stores are crowded, everyone's stressed, and it's exhausting. I didn't hate it until I was in school and worked at a video store, where basically everyone on Earth would stop in and buy holiday gifts. I saw the worst in people who are probably much smarter than they appeared to be. Here's some advice on how not to be an idiot when you're out shopping.

1. It might be too late to tell you this now, but: Start shopping early. Store employees will have more time to answer to you, the stores are less crowded than they are right before Christmas, and you might find what you're looking for more easily.

2. Shop when the stores are quieter, if you're able to. If you don't have a Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 work schedule, you can probably manage this. Weekend afternoons are usually busy, so shop in the mornings. Some malls and stores are overloaded with high school students on Friday afternoons. New books, movies, music, and videogames are released on Tuesdays, so avoid stores that sell them unless you're going to buy that day's new release.

3. Try not to walk into a store right before it closes. If you do, be as polite and efficient as you can. People have this terrible habit of walking into stores ten minutes before closing time on December 23rd or 24th and wandering around aimlessly as if they've got nothing but time.

4. Waiting in line to pay for something can be annoying, I know. But remember that the other customers are going through exactly the same thing as you are. Don't waste time once you get to the cash. Have your purchases ready to hand off to the cashier for scanning, have your wallet securely in your hand, and keep your shopping bags within reach. And don't complain.

5. Watch your kids. If you can't, then leave them at home.

6. Watch your stuff. Make sure your purse doesn't knock anything over. Throw out your empty coffee cups and gum wrappers (and gum) instead of leaving them just anywhere. Try not to spill whatever drink you're holding. Some people used to be embarrassed to ask me to throw out their empty drink cups; I would thank them for being polite enough to ask instead of just leaving them all over the place.

7. If you pick something up then decide that you're not going to buy it, leave it someplace sensible, like a service counter or the dressing rooms, or give it back to a salesperson. They'll be able to put it away in its right place, so that if someone is looking for it, they'll be able to find it.

8. Don't be afraid to politely ask for help. That's why stores have salespeople - they're here to help, as long as they know that you need help. But they're not superheroes. If you're trying to get someone's attention but they're busy on the phone or with another customer, just wait your turn.

9. Be nice to salespeople. They work long hours, and then they have to go out and do their own holiday shopping. (And if they're students, they have to study for finals during their breaks and after they leave work.) Don't complain to them about how stressed you are and don't make a scene, because that'll just make things worse. If you're overwhelmed by all the shopping, take a break, sit down, maybe buy a cup of coffee, and remember that someone who works in a store doesn't have the luxury of stopping whenever they want. Remember to say hi, excuse me, please, and thank you. Most importantly, don't yell at them.

10. Be as specific as you can about the gift you're looking for. "I'm looking for something for my mom" is helpful, but still pretty vague. "I'm looking for something for my mom. She's 85 and she loves Chuck Norris" will get you exactly the gift you're looking for. (And it did! True story.) Tell the salesperson everything you already have in mind: your budget, how old the person is that you're shopping for, what they like, what they don't like, what size they wear, etc.

11. Ask about the store's return and exchange policy. If you forget, it's probably printed on your receipt. Which you have to keep, but you knew that, right? Keep your receipts. For the love of Sandy Claws, KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS.

12. Don't return anything on Boxing Day.

13. Do not make any comments about Christmas music or whatever music is playing in the store.

14. Some stores wrap your gifts for you. Some don't. Get over it.

15. Smile. You're buying gifts for people you love, to show them how much you love them. Don't forget that.

16. If you're upset that what you're looking for is sold out, or if you think it's too expensive, you have two options: You can politely speak to a manager to see if there's anything that can be done (usually, there isn't, but you never know.) Or you can shop elsewhere. Not an option: making a scene.

17. If you're not sure of exactly what to buy someone, there's nothing wrong with giving them cash or a gift card.

18. Don't be offended or intimidated by security guards or theft prevention measures unless you're trying to steal something. If you happen to see something suspicious, please tell a security guard or a store employee. Shoplifting attempts happen often, maybe more often during the holidays than the rest of the year.

19. If you can't stand the thought of a crowded mall, you have alternatives, like online shopping, small local stores, and craft fairs.

20. When it's all done, celebrate. High-five a stranger, buy yourself something, have a cocktail or break out into a song-and-dance routine... Whatever suits your fancy.

That's it. Twenty simple lessons, and if 20 is still too big a number for you, just remember this: You're smart. Don't act stupid.


  1. "5. Watch your kids. If you can't, then leave them at home."


  2. Lisa: So many retail headaches could have been prevented if people had just followed #5. (Which was originally written as a looooong paragraph until I realized that two sentences said it all.)


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