Tag Archives: Retail

Registering for your wedding

Chef Wes

My husband using some of our new kitchen tools.

If you’re having a summer or fall wedding, this is a good time to start thinking about creating a gift registry. It’s a great time to reinvigorate your fiance, and get them involved in the planning. My husband loved registering and checking out all the kitchen gadgets. The key is to give your guests choices.

First, you need to choose where to register. I suggest shopping the stores before you choose one. Go to two or three and figure out if they have what you’d like to have in your home.

Look for products in a wide variety of price points as every guest will have a different giving level especially if your guests are from different parts of the country. Having lived in several parts of the country, I’ve realized there are huge differences in price points for weddings. Some of it’s personal, but a good chunk of decisions are regional.

When you’re browsing the store, it can be overwhelming because you’re deciding on so many things. What kind of dishes, pots and pans, or mixer do you want for the next 20 years?

Be realistic. It’s easy to get carried away and register for items that you’ll never use. We had a few on our list, that we’ve used once in six months. I tried repeatedly to get some removed from our list, but my husband insisted we would need it. I just rolled my eyes and let him relish in the fun of registering. He is handy in the kitchen, and the last thing I wanted to do was discourage him from planning and cooking.

The stores all offer different programs. They want you to sit through their speech about the pros and cons before they allow you to register. One store even wanted to follow us through the store to make suggestions. Luckily, we convinced them otherwise telling them we already did a site survey and knew what we wanted.

Some stores give you cash back on a percentage of the purchases made from your registry. Others, give you nothing for bringing dozens of your friends and family to their store to shop. Also, consider shipping and handling. Many stores will charge you for it online while others give you free shipping for orders over $99. Bed Bath & Beyond will only ship for free if you find a promotional code or if you go to the store and don’t find the item you need.

We registered at Macy’s and Bed Bath & Beyond, and by far the majority of our guests bought items at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Once all the registering is done, sit back and relax. It’s like Christmas everyday as you get close to the wedding and have gifts arriving. I laughed at some that arrived in huge boxes with a small kitchen gadget in them. Another one arrived with cups wrapped in just a few pieces of paper. Needless to say some were broken and we called for replacements.

Finally, keep track of everything as you receive it. It gets confusing as the gifts start piling up. We waited to send thank you notes until after our wedding so we could send notes with our wedding pictures on them, and I think some guests would have prefered thank you notes as the gifts arrived. I say this because when you send something you always wonder if the recipient got it. We had people asking if we received gifts, and I felt bad when they inquired. It’s just something to consider when you’re figuring out the best way to thank someone.

Just make sure you take the time to write a thank you note at some point. I can’t tell you how many weddings I went to where the bride and groom never said a word about the gift. I don’t want a big pat on the back, but I want to know you received it and put it to use.

Finding the right bridesmaid dress on a budget

bridesmaidsLooking for bridesmaid dresses was one of the more challenging tasks of planning my wedding. All my bridesmaids live out of town and I wanted a dress that would fit everyone’s body style. I had to accomplish that without ever seeing the dress on them prior to my wedding day. I wanted a light dress because the wedding was on the beach in August and one friend was 9 months pregnant. I also wanted something reasonably priced because as much as we all think we’ll re-wear a bridesmaid dress, it rarely happens. There are ways to accomplish all of these tasks without wasting a lot of time. I’m sharing  my mis-steps to help you check this task off your checklist faster than I did.

I started my search online, but that turned out to be a futile task because the majority of the dresses I liked were not in the store. I tried several stores looking for the dress I wanted, but I never found it other than on the Internet. Save yourself some time, and visit a few retail stores rather than online stores.

Expand your horizons and consider a department store as well as a bridal store to find the style you want. 

If you have a pregnant woman in your bridal party, you don’t necessarily need a maternity line of dresses. By the way, there are very few. My friend just ordered a size she knew would fit with her belly, and I made sure I picked out a dress that would give her room in the belly for her cute baby bump. Just talk to your friend who is pregnant and find out what type of dress will feel most comfortable. If you pick a flattering style for a belly, you don’t have to limit yourself to the few companies that have maternity size.

I had a big problem finding just the right color. I knew I wanted something bright and in the fuchsia/bright pink shade. The colors I liked were not in the store, so I often had to rely on a swatch. The swatches are so small and so difficult to tell the true color.  In this case, it helped to have bridesmaids all across the country because one of my brides was able to try on the dress in one of the targeted colors.

bridesmaidsAfter many stressful weeks, I finally decided on a color and dress style. I was so nervous because a cell phone photos was the closest I got to seeing the dress in the right color and on one of my bridesmaids. I was very relieved when I finally saw the dresses in person.

Once you decide on your dress, look for ways to cut the cost. If you know a good seamstress, you might consider ordering it online. There are many discount sites that sell some of the styles online. Get measured in store, and then order online. Just choose a reliable retailer. Check reviews before ordering because this can be risky if you don’t know anything about the company.

Sometimes the bridal store will sell the dress at a discount online. My friend ordered hers from R.K. Bridal in New York City, and then ordered it for a cheaper price from their website. She had to pay $20 for shipping, but she still saved money off the store retail price.  The order is shipped to your home, and you have to find your own seamstress. 

Even better – how about just renting the dress? I’ll discuss that option in tomorrow’s post.

Related links you may like:
Creating a wedding website
Planning a wedding on a budget
Airport parking that won’t break the bank
Wedding decorations on a budget
Picture perfect honeymoon – best research sites
Do it yourself invitations 


Will consumers pay a fee to swipe their credit card?

Credit card cash registerWill the cost of swiping plastic get more expensive starting this weekend? It depends on who you ask.

On Sunday, January 27, businesses who take Visa and MasterCard can begin imposing a surcharge on consumers who use credit. This new fee for consumers is being called a “checkout fee.” It can only be applied to credit cards, and not debit cards.

The surcharge can’t be more than the amount the business typically pays to accept credit cards. That fee ranges from 1.5% to 3% of the transaction amount.

While stores will have the ability to charge this fee, the National Retail Federation told me consumers don’t need to worry about this fee because the majority of businesses will not pass it on to the consumer. The Retail Federation called it “propaganda from the credit card industry.”

This all stems from a lawsuit settlement involving the retail industry and the credit card giants. The suit is still being debated in court, but these fees would start on Sunday. The retail industry filed the suit to bring down swipe fees. The NRF says the intent was not to pass the charge onto consumers.

“Surcharging therefore would run 180 degrees to the intent of the suit,” the NRF said in a statement. “While there can always be exceptions, merchants in general have no intention of surcharging.” According to the NRF, they don’t know any business that’s passing this charge along.

Business exclusions
Even if a business wanted to pass along the fees, the NRF said that would be difficult due to state and credit card laws.

The settlement won’t trump state law. In ten states, laws prohibit these fees. You won’t have to worry about these fees if you live in the following states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The second reason the NRF believes very few stores will charge these fees to consumers deals with the cardholder rules. In a phone conversation and prepared statement sent to me, the NRF said Visa and MasterCard rules require retailers to handle all credit card transactions the same way in all their stores. Therefore, a chain that operates in one of the ten states which prohibits the surcharge, won’t be able to apply the surcharge to any of its stores. The same would apply to regional chains with a store in one of the prohibited states.

Courtesy Visa

Courtesy Visa

However, Visa has a different view on how the state exclusions impact this fee. The Frequently Asked Questions section for Visa states the following, “If a merchant is prohibited from surcharging in one state, Visa’s rules do not prevent the merchant from surcharging in other states that allow the practice.”

I think if a merchant actually did this, consumers would be outraged. Those who live near the state line would simply shop in the other state. This could cause all sorts of problems for businesses and governments who might lose a tax base. I think there is far too much to lose for the big stores to create an unlevel playing field for consumers. Stores are already trying all sorts of marketing techniques to get consumers to spend their money in stores rather than online. This could be a disaster for a store.

The NRF said American Express agreements reduce the number of stores who could charge this fee even more. The settlement says that if you surcharge Visa and MasterCard the same must happen with AmEx. The NRF said the AmEx agreement prohibits the fee.

With all these exclusions, the NRF said very few stores could charge this fee.

I think the most likely candidates for this fee are mom and pop stores where these fees cut too deep into their bottom line. However, the NRF said they don’t even think that will happen because it will be too time-consuming and costly to to re-configure their computer system to accommodate the change. Time will tell. I think at best this will be hit or miss.

Disclosure is key
You will know if a business is charging a checkout fee. For retail stores, there needs to be a sign at the entrance and point of sale. If you are shopping online, the homepage will disclose the fee. The disclosure will have lots of fine print. For the consumer, the most important thing to look for is the amount of the surcharge. Your receipt will also disclose the dollar amount of the surcharge.

The settlement is still pending in court and appeals have already been filed.

If we ever even see these fees, they may be delayed. The stores need to give MasterCard and Visa 30 days notice.

If you see a store charging this fee, let me know on Facebook and Twitter. Would this fee make you shop somewhere else or use cash? Join the conversation by clicking “comment” below.

Retail stores need more inventory to stay relevant

hiking boots 2Stores are working hard to prevent showrooming, where a customer goes into the store to touch and feel a product and then returns home to buy it cheaper online. Some retailers are price matching online prices hoping you’ll buy in the store rather than online. While it hurts local business owners when you buy online, I find it’s hard to avoid. Recently, two in-store experiences left me no choice but to purchase the products I wanted from online retailers.

My husband and I are taking a vacation to New Zealand this spring, and we need hiking boots. I’m not used to hiking boots so I wanted to try them out for fit and comfort. I walked into Dick’s Sporting Goods, and found just a few options. Of the three I liked, the store didn’t have any in my size. So, I took a picture and went home to search online.

hiking bootsI waited to purchase the boots until my husband was ready. A few weeks later, my husband and I went to the same sporting goods store in another town. This store had even fewer choices. There was only one boot that fit my needs, and once again it wasn’t in my size.

My husband tried two pairs, and again neither one was in his size.

Why bother driving to a store to try on shoes? They obviously don’t have a good selection of inventory. Dick’s Sporting Goods even offers free shipping and returns on its shoes. There is no incentive to go into the store anymore.

Buying shoes online is tricky if there’s not free shipping both ways. You have to weigh the costs and benefits just in case that shoe doesn’t fit properly. Many retailers are beginning to offer free return shipping including Amazon on certain Prime purchases that are fulfilled through Amazon. If you are looking for a specific shoe, it may not fit these specifications for free returns. I recently bought a pair of boots that did not have free return shipping, and it cost me $15 in postage to send them back. I still saved $55 buying through Amazon compared to other e-retailers, so sometimes it’s worth the cost of return shipping to buy online.

Courtesy Apple

Courtesy Apple

I had a similar experience with electronics. We needed two phones, and only one was in stock in the store. We went to the store thinking it would be easier than online since we had to port our phone numbers and open an account with a new cell phone carrier. It was another wasted trip. The store was no help, and couldn’t even place our order online for us.

We went home and ordered the items we needed. With this, I will admit the online systems was not perfect. The online ordering system told us we could only ship the smartphones to a nearby store (not the one we visited). I placed the order, and then got an email ten minutes later telling me the items were not available and we needed to call customer service. It took two more calls to customer service before they found the phones we needed. The option of home shipment wasn’t available previously, but the second customer service got it to work.

It took a few phone calls, but it still took less time than it would to drive to the store. Plus, I didn’t have to pay for gas.

I try to find reasons to shop in stores knowing local owners are dependent on my business. However, without adequate inventory and customer service it’s hard to argue with the ease of online shopping.

Share your experience by clicking comment below.

Free shipping for the holiday

Courtesy: FedEx

Courtesy: FedEx

If your shopping isn’t complete, the shipping deadline for holiday items is approaching. As a last push to get you to shop, an estimated 2000 retailers will participate in Free Shipping Day on Monday, December 17.

The Free Shipping team put together a handy list of shipping deadlines by retailer. Some say standard shipping orders placed by December 20th will arrive in time for the holiday. The  majority list earlier dates including December 16th and 17th.

It’s amazing the differences in shipping when you order from different companies. Continue reading

Consider Facebook to buy that perfect gift this holiday

Facebook GiftsStill undecided about a gift? Look beyond the traditional retailers and online shops. Consider the social network, Facebook, to find that perfect present. The company is adding a “gift” section, and you don’t even need the receiver’s address. The return policy is unique too.

Here’s how it works. You pick out the gift, and your friend is notified. Then, they enter their shipping information. If they don’t like the gift, they can trade it for a gift they’d rather enjoy. That’s perfect for the person who doesn’t give you any clues about what they might like for the holidays.

Before you can see the gift options, you need to enter your friend’s name. You can send everything from whoopie pies to whiskey rocks. There’s a lot of food and beverage options, but also a magazine subscription, fun quirky items like a harmonica necklace, gifts for the home or kitchen, bath and body products, kids items, fashionable things, kids products, and items that give back. You can give actual products or some are simply for gift cards.  The majority of products appear to be under $50, and the sender is charged for shipping if applicable.

It’s shopping for the lazy person who already is spending a lot of time on Facebook. It’s also a way for Facebook to make even more money, and get you to stay on its site longer.

Will you try Facebook Gifts? Click comment below.

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. 

Return policies: some naughty, some nice

shoppingHave you started your holiday shopping yet? When deciding what to buy, also consider where to buy. Some return policies are more generous than others.

Kohl’s has a very generous return policy. It’s called “Hassle Free Returns” and is quite hassle free. The policy states, “You can return any item, anytime, for a full refund with a receipt. No receipt? No problem. You’ll get a Merchandise Credit good toward anything in the store or online. At Kohl’s, hassle-free is more than a policy. It’s a promise.”

That’s an amazing policy in this day and age where stores are cracking down on returns. Part of it is hte cost to the retailer and risk of fraud. I also think they’re trying to eliminate people like me. People who change their mind. I’ve changed some of hte stores I shop because of their poor return policies that clearly burn a busy consumer.

I’ll admit I buy a lot and return a lot. I don’t like to shop, so I’m on a mission when I hit the stores. Sometimes I buy something and later think twice about it once I get it home and have a clearer mind. I’ve experiecned first hand the need to get back to the store ASAP to return it or I’m out of luck.

I think Dillard’s has one of the tougher return polcieis for a department store. You need to have the tags attached, which I’m fine with, and the item must be returned within thirty days of purchase. I’m used to three months at other department stores and this return policy burned me pretty good this summer.

I bought a jacket, but ended up returning it because it was linen and I was worried it would be a wrinkled mess by the end of the day. I really liked the color yellow, and looked for another one that wasn’t linen. I found one with the help of an associate. We had to order it to get the right size, and when it arrived I wasn’t sold. It seemed big and wasn’t cut the way I hoped. I got busy with a million other things planning our wedding and kept meaning to take it back, but kept forgetting.

It’s my fault. I should have made it a bigger priority, but again I’m so used to a three month return policy at other department stores. I waited and finally found some time to get it returned after our wedding in August. That’s when I learned about Dillard’s 30 day return policy. I was shocked. Now, I’m stuck with an expensive jacket that I’ll probably never wear. What a costly mistake.

Just pay attention this holiday especially if you are buying for a woman because woman’s sizes are all over the map. There is no consistency.

J.Crew won’t let you return some sale items even within 30 days and with a receipt. I’m not talking about super big discounts. All sales were final at a recent 30% off sale I shopped. There were signs near the clothing alerting shoppers to this caveat, which I appreciated.

Forever 21 won’t return jewlery. All sales are final. The cashier told me at the register, and it certainly piqued my curiosity when the woman asked if I was familiar with the return policy? Again, at least it’s brought to the shoppers attention.

Some stores even limit the number of returns you can make each year.

For the holidays, many stores have an extended return policy through mid or late January.

Returns are not that big of a deal for some items. It seems I’m returning clothing most as I change my mind later. Everything looks good in the store. If you’re going out on a limb with a gift or buying clothing, consider the store’s return policy.

Earn money while shopping on Cyber Monday

The focus is turning from retail stores to the Internet for Cyber Monday, and there are lots of ways to save on your online purchase.

1. Look for discount codes
Retailmenot shows promotional codes that will save you money your purchase and shipping. If there is a discount code, Retailmenot typically has it listed. You can also search the store you are shopping and “promotional code” in Google to find a discount.

2. Shop with Ebates
Ebates is one of my favorite sites. I earn money for shopping. Every quarter, I get a check in the mail. To qualify, sign up for an account. Then, when you’re ready to shop type in the name of the store. You’ll see if it participates in the program and the percentage you will earn back. Not every store participates in the money back program, but many do. When you find one, click on the link from Ebates and start shopping.

3. Get free shipping
Retailmenot will also let you know if free shipping is available. Also, Google your store and “free shipping” to find a discount code. Many stores require you spend $50 or $100 to earn free shipping.

If you are shopping Amazon, consider a monthly membership to Prime if you think you’ll do more shopping in the future. The membership was once only sold for a year, but recently the e-retailer began offering month long memberships. It might be worth it to join for a month or two at $7.99, and then cancel your membership after the holidays. You get two day free shipping in qualifying purchases.

4. Look for discounts on social media
If you’re looking to buy a certain product from a certain company, consider “liking” their Facebook page or following the business on Twitter. Exclusive deals are given to friends and followers on social media. Read more on publicizing your purchase to save money

Also, look in your Facebook news feed for deals. While some deals are only for followers, others are publicized through social media. Perhaps you’ve seen these coupons in your news feed when a friend of yours claims the offer. Toys “R” Us has an offer right now for 20% off a regular priced item.

Once you claim the offer, it shows up in your news feed so your other friends see it. It’s a way for businesses to promote their sales and deals and it’s a way for you to find out about sales.

Third, consider linking your credit card to your Facebook or Twitter page. American Express allows you to Tweet and Facebook your way to savings. These offers are limited, but offer more significant discounts like $10+ off your purchase.

Related links you may like:
Ebates pays you to shop
Publicize your purchase to save money
Tweet your way to savings

“Thank you for your business”

What a week of contrasts — thankfulness and greed. Just hours after we finished our Thanksgiving meal with family and gave thanks to all we have in our lives, people lined up to rush into stores to grab a good deal. Some people fought to get what they wanted. Thanksgiving has become Black Friday or Gray Thursday. Whatever you call it, corporate greed and survival is the focus on a day we’re supposed to be reflective and thankful for what we have.

Black Friday camper.

You can’t just blame the stores. Shoppers are so desperate to gobble up the doors they line up a week early.

This holiday, the stakes are higher than ever. Stores are desperate to pad their bottom line, as Internet businesses are making it tough for retail stores to keep their doors open. I think some retailers will disappear before the next shopping season if their sales are not good. Stores have all sorts of gimmicks and promotions to get you to shop like Thanksgiving day doorbusters and price matching policies even for Internet stores and prices. That’s an unprecedented move as retailers are desperate to keep their doors open.

Gordon Square. Cleveland, OH

It’s not just corporations looking to keep their doors open, but small businesses as well. The mom and pop stores of the world. The ones opened by your neighbors who live in your community and support it when their business thrives. Saturday, the corporate credit card company American Express, is promoting “Small Business Saturday.”

It’s a way to get you to support your local business. The ones that are the framework of your community. For every $25 you spend at a participating AmEx small business, you’ll get a $25 statement credit. It’s a free $25. A nice incentive to support your local stores.

I stopped in a few the other day, and I must say it opened my eyes to the unique gifts and good people behind these storefronts that I buzz by every day. You really can find gifts you won’t find anywhere else. You may pay a bit more for your gift, but you get so much more.

Service anyone? When was the  last time you got service at a store? It’s a rarity at a big business. Free gift wrap and packaging? It’s just part of the standard package at a small business. Check one out this weekend. I think you’ll be surprised.

I got a surprise from a local business this week — unrelated to holiday shopping. I needed three tire valve caps to keep the air pressure in our tires. I went to Lakefront Automotive Parts in Cleveland to pick up the caps. I like walking in there because the staff is friendly and always willing to help you find what you need. You’re in and out in less than five minutes and get service with a smile.

The salesman told me they didn’t sell just three caps. They came in a packet of 100. I was willing to accept it and go someplace else. Then, he grabbed the package off the shelf. He opened it up and handed me three. He said, “We’ll get you next time. Have a great day.”

I offered to pay and he refused. The cost  would have been less than a $1, but it didn’t matter. It was the gesture that will remain in my mind. He went out of his way to make sure I was a satisfied customer. It’s something you hardly get anymore. Such a small thing, but it left a big impression on me. It’s the small things in life that leave the most lasting impressions.

Don’t forget to Shop a store this holiday that truly is thankful for your business.