Tag Archives: Christmas

The joys of the season

money overhead big billsI am a big online shopper, trying my best to avoid the stores during the busy holiday shopping season. However, my husband insisted we spend some time window shopping at the mall while enjoying the sounds and sights of the season. I reluctantly went. We pulled into a parking space farthest away from the mall. I couldn’t believe the shortage of spaces. The chaos outside made me want to drive away, afraid of what we would experience inside. What we found surprised me.

The mall was filled with people. Some stores were wall to wall shoppers with little room to move. The noise of all the holiday chatter echoed off the walls. When I looked around, I saw shoppers carrying multiple bags. Despite the crowds, it wasn’t chaotic. It was orderly.

One place where I expected chaos was the Santa line. The line was wrapped around the display probably 50-100 deep. Surely, the patience was wearing thin for somebody. I looked around and didn’t see one child running around, screaming, or crying.

I was shocked. I’ve visited gaming and play centers on a weekend, and it’s filled with children running around, screaming, or crying. However, the magic and power of Santa had all these children on their best behavior.

holiday shoppingShoppers were not only on their best behavior, store clerks were too. They were helpful and pleasant. Granted they’re told to be on their best behavior as sales during the holiday season are crucial to the future of some of these businesses. While corporate may send that message, reality doesn’t always allow a smile and courteous attitude. The retail business is tough and involves long, tiring hours. That can easily get the best of any human so I expected “someone” would be in a bad mood. I didn’t find anyone during my visit.

It’s amazing how much one person’s attitude impacts the next. With many people in good moods, the spirit of the season was felt by many. The good mood became contagious. One woman even commented to the manager about the good cheer.

We were eating at a restaurant in the mall parking lot, and the woman in the booth next to us asked for the manager. That’s never a good sign, and you could see the server was concerned by the expression on his face. He even went over to the woman after she asked for the manager, and had a brief interaction. Clearly, the server was concerned about the customer’s request.

The manager came over, and the customer asked her to sit down. Another bad sign, or was it? I couldn’t hear everything that was said, but the next thing that I heard was the manager thanking the woman over and over for sharing such positive comments. The manager told the customer typically she hears the bad feedback rather than any positive feedback about servers. She thanked the customer for sharing.

The manager and customer talked for almost ten minutes as if they were good friends. The manager made it known this was a rare experience.

Minutes later the waiter stopped by the booth to thank the customer. He really was a great server, and we left him a 30% tip to thank him for his good service.

I must say the shopping experience was unexpected for the holiday season. It was nice to see good customer service still exists and good behavior from customers still exists. We hear all about the bad store policies, why not focus on the positive? We all need a bright spot in this still sluggish and unpredictable economy. I hope you’ve also enjoyed the joy of the holiday season. Share your stories of positive customer service by clicking comment below. 

Saving on holiday shopping depends on the “day” you shop

Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy 2010

The holiday shopping season has arrived, and retailers will have all sorts of gimmicks to get you to save. Here’s a look at some of the important dates this holiday that will help procrastinators and early birds save money.

November 23 – Black Friday
If you have no interest in the crowds, there are many other days to save.

November 24 – Small business Saturday
Support your local business and save.

November 26 – Cyber Monday
During the entire holiday season last year, online sales were up 17%. This year, the numbers are expected to jump 20% over last year. On the Monday after Black Friday, shoppers spend their work day shopping for deals online.

December 10 – Green Monday
Ebay came up with this term in 2007 to describe their best sales day in December. It’s the second Monday of the month, and now billions are spent on this online shopping holiday.

December 14 – Post office deadline
Deadline for parcel post mail deliveries to arrive on time for the holidays.

December 15 – Busy shopping day
ShopperTrak calls this the third busiest shopping day of the season aside from Black Friday and Super Saturday which is the last Saturday before the Christmas holiday.

December 17 – Free Shipping Day
Thousands of retailers join together and offer free shipping to shoppers. Some have restrictions on your order total to qualify for the promotion, but may don’t.

December 20 – First class  mail deadline

December 22 – Super Saturday
Lots of procrastinators will fill the malls and take advantage of last minute deals.

December 23 – e-Gift card Day
Once again procrastinators are in luck. This day allows you to get a last minute gift card online and you can send it electronically to your loved one.

Holiday shopping procrastinators may save more on toys

Courtesy: Toys “R” Us

When to buy your holiday gifts? We have one friend who is done with her Christmas shopping. Others will start and finish it on Black Friday. Could it pay off to push back your shopping? Dealnews analyzed the top toys from last year and their sale prices. The site found procrastination may pay off.

This weekend, the holiday marketing begins. The Great Big Toys “R” Us Book will be released this weekend offering savings from October 28 through November 21st. The book showcases 1,100 playthings, and Toys “R” Us advertises more than $8,000 in savings. So, should you buy now?

The deal site went through records from last year, looking at when the top toys went on sale, to predict buying trends for this year. The big takeaway – forget toy shopping before or on Black Friday. To get the best price, wait until the last minute.

Last year, dealnews said toys hit their lowest prices during the two weeks leading up to Christmas. Air Swimmers dropped 50% in price, Lalaloopsy Silly Hiar dropped 63%, and Let’s Rock Elmo fell 57%.

Waiting may help you save, or it may be the reason you lose out. Inventory dwindles the closer you get to the holiday. Sometimes hot toys simply don’t last.

I’ll never forget the stories my parents told me about the Cabbage Patch Kid I wanted decades ago. They had to go to the back door of Toys “R” Us with a brown bag to get the doll. The brown bag was so they wouldn’t get robbed. We’ve seen this craziness a few times since then on other hot toys. A lot of people question whether the shortage is on purpose, to drive up promotion of the hot toy. There doesn’t seem to be that type of hype or shortage for a product this year, but inventory could still drop the longer you wait. Click here for the Top 15 hottest toys by Toys R Us.

Dealnews wrote, “Deal-hunting is not for the weak! To get the best deals, you’re going to have to sweat a little! This is the price we all pay for getting lowest-ever prices!”

If you don’t want to sweat it, December is usually a safe time to buy your toys for a reasonable price. Wait until mid-December and you may just snag an amazing deal.

Some items, though, simply won’t drop. Dealnews said the LeapFrog LeapPad stayed at $100 all season last year.

So, ignore the sales pitches you’ll hear in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, and on Black Friday. December will be here in about a month. If you wait, you may cash in on savings.

Christmas creep: how early is too early?

Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy 2010

It seems Christmas creeps into our lives earlier and earlier every year. The decorations have been up at some stores for weeks. This year, Target is already launching holiday ads and we haven’t even hit Halloween. So, what can we expect this shopping season? I predict aggressive marketing and sales.

Stores are fighting for every last dollar. The consumer friendly marketing started early with layaway plans. More stores are offering them.

Many retailers are also offering a version of price matching with Best Buy even offering to match some online deals. This is a big holiday for Best Buy. This year, it’s already shut down stores and it’s dealing with the issue of showrooming. That’s where Best Buy puts electronics on display, and consumers play around with the items in the store. Then, buy the item online at a cheaper retailer. That’s why they are matching some online prices, although there are exceptions to their offer. Read the fine print.

These price matching policies are popping up because Walmart began an aggressive campaign last year before the holiday rush. I put their policy and other stores policies to the test for NewsChannel 5 last year.

I found very few clerks know the policy at Walmart. We also tested a few other stores, and sometimes a price match added ten extra minutes to our shopping trip. It required circulars from other stores and a store manager. At Walmart, it’s supposed to be easier. Most times, the cashier was happy to change the price whether she or he knew the policy or not.

Many of Walmart’s competitors are now getting into the action and making sure you know about their willingness to match prices. The bottom line – stores want you to shop their store rather than shopping around.

Technology is driving this phenomenon to some extent because pricing is more readily available than ever before with a cell phone. Some apps let you scan the UPC on an item, and within seconds you can see the prices online and at other retailers for the same product.

TV ads already airing
This year, Target is getting its message out earlier than years past with TV ads already filling the airwaves. These come on the heels of a big political season when air time is hard to find in some markets especially swing state Ohio.

Ad Age said typically holiday TV ads don’t appear until the beginning of November. The first ad is from a retailer who held off for its major TV campaign until the weekend after Thanksgiving two years ago. Ad Age said back then, Target’s Chief Marketing Officer Michael Francis said the retailer held off on ads based on guest surveys, and point-of-sale data.

Now, there is new leadership at Target and obviously a new philosophy.

In this age of social media, people are sounding off. On Facebook, there are comments like, “A Christmas commercial? ALREADY?? OH come ON. it’s not even Hallowe’en yet! please. PLEASE stop this.”

Target’s response to some of the comments, “We’re sorry to hear about your disappointment. We’ve shared your feedback with our Broadcast Media executives for review.”

 Ads leaked
The circulars or ads for Black Friday usually leak before the TV ads. So, when can we expect those?

A few ads have already leaked, but  nothing major. We should see higher interest stores in the next few weeks.  According to GottaDeal’s calendar of leaks last year, ACE Hardware and Bed Bath & Beyond circulars were out by now last year. On October 24th, BJ’s ad was leaked and Radio Shack on October 26th.

”Tis the season to celebrate ghosts and goblins and the scary weeks that lead up to the December holidays.

How early is too early for you? Click comment below.

Turn plastic gift cards into mobile money

Did you get a gift card for the holidays? Instead of burying it in your wallet, how about burying it an app on your phone? Some plastic or paper gift cards can now be converted into mobile versions.

There are apps that allow you to store a gift card’s information or some businesses like Target allow you to store the information on their mobile site. When you save the information, the card will be turned into a barcode on your phone that you show the cashier at checkout.
Apps like SWAGG make it easy to store all your gift cards in one place on your mobile phone. The app has teamed up with many national retailers including Brookstone. All you need is the app to check out with your gift card. No need to have the actual card handy once you load the information into the app.

I think a mobile gift card would make me less likely to spend it because it’s easier to forget about when it’s not in front of you on a daily basis. Plus, what happens if your phone stops working? I think it’s a good backup option just in case you lose the original, but I’m not so sure I’m ready to go all digital. Then again, I’m holding out on mobile banking at this point too.



Free batteries at Blockbuster on Christmas Day

Batteries can break anyone’s budget especially if you have kids. They’re a big frustration for parents fed up with how much they spend and how often they replace the batteries.

Blockbuster is giving away free batteries in stores on Christmas Day. If there’s one left standing in your neighborhood, it may be worth stopping by to take advantage of the freebie.

Someone asked me – why Blockbuster? My guess — Christmas is a big movie day and they’re hoping to get people into their stores renting movies on Christmas Day. It’s a good promotion. Too bad there are not more Blockbuster stores still standing so more people could take advantage of it. How movie renting has changed.

The free promotion will run from noon to 10 P.M. on Christmas Day. Blockbuster will power up two Christmas toys with two packs of AA or AAA batteries. If you need more, they’ll be available for 99-cents while supplies last. Not a bad sale price!

Want to know which battery will give you the most bag for your buck. Click here to see which battery lasted the longest in a story for NewsChannel 5.


DIY Gift wrapping 101: videos show you unique ways to wrap presents

English: Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper e...

Image via Wikipedia

Want to wrap a present like a pro, but are sick of wasting money on extra wrapping paper that just goes to waste because you cut too much or too little paper? We asked the gift wrapping professionals for tips on wrapping a basic box and odd shaped items like a candle or lotion. They even passed along tips to get that tissue paper looking great in that gift bag and how to wrap a bag if you don’t have a box.

Click here to see the NewsChannel 5 DIY gift wrapping videos

Free Shipping Day is Friday

If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping, why not wait a little longer and save on shipping. Friday, December 16th, is Free Shipping Day. More than 2,000 merchants will offer free shipping and guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve.

During the holidays, whether you buy on the designated Free Shipping Day, or when it’s convenient for you — shipping is something you should try to avoid. If one store won’t offer it to you, go to one that will. I’ve bought some gifts valued at $30 and $75 this holiday, and haven’t paid for shipping yet.

I always google the company I’m using to make a purchase and the words “free shipping” and “promotional code” to find more ways to save money. There are often promotional codes that will take 10-20% off your order floating around on the Internet. There are entire websites, like Free Shipping, that give you the inside scoop on the promotional codes you need to enter at checkout for free shipping.

You can also earn money to do your holiday shopping online. Simply, sign up for an account through Ebates. When it’s time to shop, find the store through Ebates and if they participate in the cash back program you’ll earn 5-20% cash back on your order. I’m an infrequent shopper and this year I got a check for more than $50 since I earned a percentage back everytime I shopped.

Click here to see if your favorite retailer is participating in free shipping day

Book holiday travel now and expect to pay more

Gas prices might be down at the pump, but airfares are not falling. Be prepared for sticker shock if you haven’t booked your holiday travel yet. Travel agents say flights are up 12 to 15% over last year. There are fewer flights so they’re fuller and more expensive.

For a story for NewsChannel 5, we met passengers at Cleveland Hopkins who have been looking for flights for months. Liz Reitz is trying to get her daughter home from a small town in Texas and she says flights that are normally $300 are now $1,000.

Donna Scicolone is the president of Astro Travel Leaders. She says the days after Christmas are already looking bad.  Scicolone says look to return on off days like the Monday after Thanksgiving rather than Sunday or even Saturday.

Even fliers who followed these tricks of the trade say they’re paying more and buying some of the last seats on the plane.

I’ve also noticed fewer non-stop flights for certain routes out of Cleveland. Travel agents are seeing the same trend since the merger of United and Continental.

You can setup airfare alerts so you don’t have to search for the low fares. They’ll be delivered to your Inbox. Google recently added a flight alert option, and there are others that have been around for awhile. I’ve seen deals arrive in my email, but most of them have limitations on the days you can fly. Most low-priced airfares are for flights on Tuesday or Thursday.

Airfare alerts are free and worth the time to set them up because they can save you hundreds of dollars.

Also, check alternative airports. An investigation for NewsChannel 5 found flights out of Pittsburgh are often cheaper than Cleveland.

Related links you may like:
Tips to save on airfares
Taxes and fees make a deal a dud

Ho ho ho instead of trick or treat? Stores want you to start your holiday shopping

Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy 2010

The holiday shopping season doesn’t officially kick off for two more months, but it’s already starting for retailers. Christmas items are appearing in stores, and we’re learning the different strategies to get customers in the door.

Toys”R”Us says it will offer exclusive merchandise like Moshi Monsters and The Trash Pack. The toy store will introduce its first-ever catalog featuring merchandise only sold at Toys”R”Us. It will be 44 pages long with 350 items in it.

Target launched Cyber Monday sales in September.

While it’s typical for stores to put the Christmas decorations up before the ghosts and goblins are stored away or even bought, Northeast Ohio sees decorations before other parts of the country.

For a NewsChannel 5 story, Strongsville Home Depot employee Tim Baker said, “All marketing research and any of the statistics from sales, etc. are going to show you where the populations are that buy. We’re in a very good market. We respond to it.”

I expect the real Black Friday ads will start leaking by the end of October. Whether you like it or not, the holidays are around the corner and stores are willing to do anything to get you to buy.

Make sure you look beyond the marketing hype, and make sure you’re truly getting a good deal. Compare prices on sites like PriceGrabber to see if a deal is as good as it sounds.