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Retail Therapy: Holiday Season Session

5 Tips & Tricks for a Better Shopping Experience This Holiday Season

I started in the retail industry a few months after I graduated high school. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do so I opted to go into the workforce while I contemplated what career path I wanted to pursue in college. I was hired at the height of the back to school season and was blown away by how busy we were. Then the holidays came, and I was forever changed.

The holidays are a crazy time of year for many people, especially those who deal with the public. I recently moved out of the retail industry into a different field, but still remember my ten years in retail well. I decided to write this article to help customers, my friends, family and former coworkers who are still in the industry by extension.

Each of the following are based on my first-hand experience in the industry and are meant to highlight habits customers may not realize they are showing. Some will include true stories to emphasize the point. Now that the introduction is done let's get into the article!

Remember stores will be packed on Black Friday, the weekends, the last Saturday before Christmas, and Christmas Eve.

As a retail veteran of 10 years, I will tell you that I typically begin Christmas shopping sometime in August, September, or October. I plan ahead, I make a list of everyone I am buying for and keep an eye out for ideas. I try to buy the smaller stuff first so I could use my larger holiday season checks to buy the big gifts with. 

At the time I started writing this article, I have purchased the gifts for all twelve people & two cats who were on my shopping list with all but one gift wrapped (waiting for the last gift to arrive so I can wrap it). I purchased the first gift in mid-October which was a gift I found the idea for back in July. Why? So I can avoid shopping through the circuses that are Black Friday, the weekends in December, the last Saturday before Christmas & Christmas Eve. 

I have worked these days and gladly say that I never want to shop during them. It is that bad. If you have to shop these days, please keep in mind that the stores will be busy. Do not go off on the employees for how busy it is, they will definitely know how busy it is. No matter how well the store plans there will still be a lot of other customers shopping. There will still be wait times at the fitting rooms, the registers and service desk, and the store will be shopped and not in 100 percent shape.

A quick story before I move to the next tip/trick, I have three sisters one of whom works in retail just at another store. One Saturday, during the holidays, she had to work the morning shift before a family dinner. She worked her shift, clocked out and was leaving the store when she was approached by an elderly woman who demanded she "get her fat butt on a register" because of the number of people in line. 

Be respectful and kind to the staff, merchandise and other shoppers.

It is the holiday season for everyone, not just you. Please keep this in mind when you come out to shop.

When it comes to the employees, be kind. You have been out for hours shopping, we have been working for hours cashing out hundreds of other people like you. Smile, engage in light conversation with us, if you have special requests avoid making them orders. Use your manners, please and thank you go a long way. If you are frustrated or upset do not take it out on us, respect our personal space and do not touch us without permission, remember we do not control inventory, policies or how other shoppers act, etc.

When it comes to the store, leave no trace. Put things back where and how you found them, do not ditch anything elsewhere in the store, give unwanted items to an employee/cashier. If you take something off a hanger, put it back on the hanger. If you drop a piece of merchandise pick it up. If you brought something into the store with you, it should leave with you or be discarded in a garbage can (almost always found in bathrooms or entrance/exit) and not left on shelves, etc.

When it comes to other shoppers, be respectful. Stores are first come, first serve, do not snatch things out of other people's hands or carts, do not push or shove your way past other shoppers, apologize if you bump into someone, use your manners, etc.

The holiday season is the season of goodwill and peace on earth, help make the season special for everyone, not just you and your family. Behave like a human with empathy and concern for your fellow humans, not a lunatic on a bargain rampage.

'Happy Holidays' is a gesture of kindness, not a political manifesto.

Until I started in retail, I was under the impression "Happy Holidays" was another way of saying, "Have a happy (insert the name of whatever religious holiday you observe, if any, here) and a Happy New Year!" I did not know there was any political undertone to it until I started working on the service desk.

My first holiday season on the desk, I was cashing out a gentleman and, by all accounts, it was a pleasant transaction. He was kind and funny and we were cracking jokes and making each other and other customers and employees laugh. And then it happened... I said, "Thank you, sir, have Happy Holidays!" The guy stopped dead in his tracks, turned and said "Merry Christmas" back to me. 

I didn't realize the reason and repeated back "Thank you, sir, Happy Holidays!" He then proceeds to go on a tirade about how unacceptable it was that I would not say Merry Christmas back to him and went in on the "War on Christmas" spiel, moments after I warmly cashed him out for the Christmas presents he was buying.

Unlike what certain "news" outlets would have you believe, there is no war on Christmas. Happy Holidays is a gesture of kindness, please do not make it political. Other religions observe holidays during the same period and we do not know which you observe, if any. It is a blanket gesture of kindness, like "Have a good day!" instead of "Have a good Tuesday!". 

Please, take it as it was intended, say thank you, and move on. If it means that much to you that you HAVE to hear a stranger wish you a SPECIFIC well-wish, then I advise you to grow up.

Know, do not assume, the store's hours and policies BEFORE it becomes an issue.

In all my time in retail, I can safely and confidently state the number one cause of irate customers is an assumption that we could not fulfill which led to an issue. They assumed a store could do something, that the store would be open, that they would accept a return, that the store would price match a competitor, etc.

Never, EVER, assume. If you are buying something that you are not sure of ask the cashier what the return policies are. Know the returns policy to avoid a problem if you do have to return the item. If you are going to the store on or the day before a holiday, call ahead to ask when the store closes. Don't assume their hours, this can leave you crying outside the locked and darkened store after it closed. Trust me, I have seen it happen.

Also, do not trust any source that is not a store employee. While not every employee will know the policies to the same extent as another, they are hands down more reliable than outside sources. So many times people would come in after searching for a question online only to be told that the info they found was not correct. Search engines < calling the store and asking an employee. EVERY. TIME.

They say to assume is to make an ass out of you and me, and I agree. If you 100 percent do not know a policy, rule or restriction do NOT assume the store will just do as you hope. "The customer is always right" is just a commonly known saying, not an actual policy. Call ahead and ask, go to the service desk and ask or find an employee on the floor and ask them. Know, never assume.

Items that are on sale will sell out fast.

That ad you saw? Yeah, a couple hundred other people saw it and are interested in it as well. If you cannot make it to the store soon after the sale starts then the item will most likely sell out before you get there. Retail stores can and do order up on sale items, but supplies will still be limited.

Do not come in well after the sale started and demand to know why the store didn't order enough supplies. They did, other people saw the sale advertised too, came in and bought the product. It is not the store's fault other people acted on it first, next time plan your shopping trip better so you can get the sale too. You have so many options for getting the sale items, it is up to you to figure it out. 

Try getting to the store when it opens or soon after. Stop on your way to work, go there on your meal break, send someone there on your behalf, call the store ahead of time and see if they can hold the item for you, etc. Again, it is your responsibility to do so and is not the store's fault they sold out before you got there. Bear in mind other people will be out to get that deal and plan accordingly. 

Quick story...I was working in a drug store as a shift supervisor when I was approached by an elderly man. He asked me if we had a specific coffee that is very popular and that was on sale that week. I offered to go to the stock room to check for him and proceeded to dig through every back stock shelf for the food items. After checking every shelf, I went back out and politely told him we were sold out but he could get a note to get the sale price when they did come back in stock. He thanked me, turned, stopped and said, "I don't know why I am thanking you since you don't have the coffee I wanted!" and walked away.

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