From high prices and high interest rates, here’s how to get your badges and be the best holiday shopper
This year, the opposite happened. To avoid a repeat of last year’s supply issues, retailers are placing holiday orders early and in bulk. But that effort ran into historically high inflation — raising prices for food, gas and other household essentials and forcing consumers to pull back on discretionary spending, including electronics, clothing, household items and furniture. Now, many of the country’s largest retailers are left with excess inventory as well even more pressure to clear the shelves.
That’s where you come in, dear consumer. These misfortunes are your advantages. Auctions earlier this year, and stores are discounting a variety of merchandise. However, be warned that there may be some unexpected areas: return fees and high shipping costs.
But rest assured, we’re here to help you find the best deals, make the right decisions for the world and manage your stress. Here’s how to earn your badges and become a better holiday shopper:
Although economic uncertainty can have a depressing effect, many consumers view gift giving as a necessity. There are ways to make it work and shop smart.
- Make a budget, know what you want to buy and where. This will help you avoid impulse purchases.
- Track prices so you can spot a good deal when it happens. Look at the big retailers: Target, Walmart, Amazon, Kohl’s and Gap have all warned this year that they have excess inventory and are offering brutal markdowns to get rid of it.
- Use online tools. Google is your friend here. When you search for a specific product, a feature should appear on the right that shows how much the item costs at various retailers. Websites like CamelCamelCamel and Keepa are useful when tracking prices on Amazon, and provide insight into an item’s price history. Plus, it’s easy to compare prices and use coupon browser extensions (more on these below), which automatically fill in discount codes as you shop.
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Between picking up gifts, groceries and holiday decorations, efficiency and productivity are essential to getting out of harm’s way while shopping. The easiest way to protect this badge is to take advantage of the “omnichannel” shopping options — to take a place nearby, and buy online and pick it up in store — which is intended to make the process seamless regardless of where you shop (in store, or by phone. , app or desktop). This saves time and money – no more getting in and out of the car, browsing the aisles or making impromptu purchases.
Most of the nation’s largest retailers offer these services, as do many local stores hoping to stay competitive. Most major retailers do not charge for curbside pickup as long as customers meet a minimum order amount, usually at least $30. Sam’s Club has a $4 fee for customers without a premium membership, Sam’s Club Plus.
If you’re making a few bucks on purchases and unlocking special discounts you have to give up some privacy, consider signing up for a benefits or cashback service. Companies like Rakuten, Ibotta, CouponCabin and BeFrugal track your shopping and browsing habits and, in return, offer them to you. back 1 to 10 percent – sometimes more – of what you spent.
Some services also allow you to link your credit card, so you can get some cash back when you shop in person. Rakuten sends a lump sum every three months, either by check or PayPal deposit. Others, like Dropp and Swagbucks, will pay with gift cards or points. Websites like Honey and Coupon Cabin offer unique discount codes. Download has the option to donate money back to charity.
But beware of these browser extensions. They can entice you to spend more than you intended by dangling a big discount.
US Postal Service, FedEx, UPS — there aren’t many other options when it comes to sending gifts. With the holidays come seasonal charges and possible delivery delays. Therefore, preparation is the key to earning this badge.
Earlier is always better – especially the Postal Service, which are the cheapest services and after that increasing rates every six months. It should take two to five days for the mail service to deliver a package this holiday season, but you can pay extra for faster delivery. Prices for first-class package service — a standard Postal Service product — start at $4.80 and increase by package weight. Maximum weight is 13 ounces, so consider this service for small electronics and clothing items. For larger packages (up to 70 pounds), try Priority Mail, where rates start at $9.90. You will save money if you bring your own box.
But if you’re pressed for time and don’t mind the extra charge, FedEx and UPS are your best options. Prices for both services vary by package size, delivery speed and shipping distance. UPS is slightly cheaper, with a medium-sized box — big enough for some clothes or a shoebox — starting at $14.95, compared to $15.70 for FedEx. A large box, the size of a soccer ball or blender, starts at $19.60 at UPS and $24.20 at FedEx.
When it comes to return policies, change continues. We have already seen the gradual disappearance of return labels with online orders. Now, free returns are also on the way out. High gas prices — rising above $5 a gallon over the summer — and rising labor costs have forced retailers to make a change that some industry educators and executives have advocated for years: charging a return label or adding a restocking fee. Returns have been expensive for retailers, especially clothing, experts say.
Anthropologie, Zara, H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch and J. Crew are among the retailers that charge restocking fees and/or return labels. That said, making returns at brick and mortar locations is always free.
Therefore, be sure to read the seller’s return policy before purchasing. You should also think carefully before sending a gift or ordering something from someone online. Pay attention to the store’s return window — if you’re sending a gift three weeks before Christmas, make sure the retailer doesn’t have a two-week policy. Also, ask yourself: Does the recipient live near one of these stores? Do they have an easy way to get there? If not, and you’re worried they might not like what you bought or that it might be the wrong size, consider sending a gift card instead.
Another good option is to order from a local business, so you won’t have to worry about return mail.
The easiest way to protect this badge is to avoid fast fashion brands, whose clothes are often made of synthetic materials that are not good for the environment. These companies also produce a lot of waste. Consider buying high-quality clothes, which will last a long time if you take good care of them. Also consider shopping at thrift or consignment stores and hunting resale platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.
If your mode of transportation is a car, instead of walking, biking or taking public transportation, shopping online can be better than shopping in stores. But it’s important to make a few changes, experts say. First, try to combine your orders. The fewer delivery trips to your house, the better. Second, avoid fast delivery. Early delivery dates often require items to be shipped by air and through inefficient delivery routes, including trucks that may not be full.
We know the holidays are about giving back and spending time with the people we love, but it’s important to make time for yourself. Lucky for you, inventory backlogs and changing consumer interests have boosted sales this year.
Natalie Kotlyar, retail analyst at accounting, tax and financial advisory firm BDO, said she had seen an “unprecedented” number of promotions for health and wellness products this year. Other things you can find among holiday promotions: shampoo, vitamins, soap, cosmetics, face masks.
“All of us – the consumer – feel good about ourselves … and we give that to someone else,” Kotlyar said.
Jacob Bogage and Allyson Chiu contributed to this report. Editing by Robbie Olivas DiMesio and Karly Domb Sadof.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly included Nordstrom in the list of retailers that charge returns. Nordstrom does not charge restocking fees or return labels. This story has been corrected.