10 Holiday Shopping Hassles -- and How to Avoid Them

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BEAT THE CROWDS, SOUNDLY

The holiday season brings some good deals but also a slew of frustrations, which only intensify after weeks of trying to find the perfect gift or score the best price. Don't just sit back and accept these annoyances. There are ways to avoid the worst of the holiday shopping season and be a smarter, more efficient consumer.

SHORT-STAFFED STORES

Although many retailers bring on additional help during the busy shopping season, customers still may have a hard time getting an associate to help find a product or answer a question. If no one is available, visit the store's website. Retailers often provide details online such as the number of products in stock, what colors are available, and even the aisle number at a specific store. In-store information kiosks likewise may show the same information a store employee could provide.

OVERZEALOUS SHOPPERS

For some, holiday shopping is a pastime -- or a sport. Some shoppers get aggressive about finding the best deals and will do anything, even risk the safety of other customers, to be the first to grab a product. Avoid these types of holiday shoppers by going out in the morning or late in the evening, when most people are at home. Always yield to an aggressive shopper, even if it means losing out on a good price. Check retailers' websites, too; often the same promotions offered in stores can be found online.

LIMITED PRODUCT AVAILABILITY

Retailers carry a limited supply of discounted products, and it's common for inventory to run out fast at the holidays. Once a gift goes on your shopping list, review sale ads regularly and ask store employees about upcoming deals, but above all act quickly when the product arrives at a good price. If one store is out of stock, search online to see if the item is available elsewhere. No luck? Companies try to hang onto customers by offering alternatives to out-of-stock products. Don't be afraid to ask for a similar item for the same price or a "rain check" for the current price and email notification when the product returns.

LONG LINES

The holiday season is the busiest shopping time of the year, so long lines are expected through the end of December. To bypass the crowds and long wait times, head online to see what retailers are offering. When going the brick-and-mortar route, help the cashier by having payment and coupons (paper or mobile) ready before reaching the register. It speeds up the process and reduces wait time for the whole line.

LIMITATIONS AND FINE PRINT

It's always a bummer to get to the register or confirmation page and realize there are conditions on a deal. Classic ploys include requiring customers to pay with a store credit card, buy a specific brand, claim a mail-in rebate, or buy one product at full price to get an advertised discount. Always read the fine print before making a purchase. Occasionally, a store manager will accept a customer's interpretation of a deal, especially if an ad is misleading.

FORGETTING A GIFT RECEIPT

The checkout process can be hectic this time of year, and a cashier (and you) could forget to mention a gift receipt. To keep family and friends from being stuck with gifts they don't want, return to the store with the original receipt as soon as possible. Retailers with advanced point-of-sale systems can print gift receipts or even reprint multiple, separate receipts for purchased items. As more companies offer e-receipts, shoppers can also call a store and request that a receipt be sent electronically.

SLOW WEBSITES

A National Retail Federation survey predicts that almost half of all holiday shopping will occur online this year. As consumers flock to the web to score deals, websites can slow or even crash. The online storefronts of Walmart, the department store Belk, and other major retailers crashed last year, frustrating millions of shoppers. If a crash prevents you from getting a deal, don't panic. Instead, take screen shots and good notes, including details of error messages, and report the issue promptly. Most companies are willing to provide the same discount or promotion past a sale's end date if a technical problem prevented a purchase.

DELAYED SHIPPING

Weather, scheduled holiday closings, and an increase in shipping volume all contribute to late deliveries during the holiday season. Pay close attention to shipping deadlines before placing an order -- Free Shipping Day, Dec. 18 this year, is typically the last day to get a gift by Christmas without paying for expedited delivery. If a package arrives after the estimated date, contact customer service and ask for a refund on the shipping. Some retailers will agree; others might offer a coupon for a future purchase or another type of discount to make up for the inconvenience.

MISSING OUT ON A DEAL

Ads often make deals seem last-minute to encourage a sale. It's common for shoppers to feel pressured to buy immediately, and unfortunate when they buy an item only to spot it for a lower price somewhere else. Luckily, many retailers offer price matching, honoring a lower price advertised by a competitor selling the same item -- even online, in some cases. Target makes price adjustments to match cheaper prices found within 14 days, and Lowe's and Home Depot offer an extra 10 percent off if a shopper finds a lower price somewhere else.

CONSTANT HOLIDAY SALES

Retailers inundate shoppers with deals during the holiday season, and it may be difficult to resist succumbing to every promotion. Use defensive shopping tactics to keep from overspending: Always create a list, set a budget in advance, and use cash to stick to the budget and make spending more tangible.