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The cold snap has finally kicked in which means that Christmas is almost around the corner. For some people. shopping for presents can be more of a chore than a pleasure.
I have worked in fashion retail now for nearly ten years, and i have to say that having the knowledge i have aquired over that time has helped me in my annual quest to find not only presents that the reciipients will love, but also help me to make the most from my moula. Of course a lot of it is common sense too, but for those of you who find the whole Christmas thing rather tiring, i hope my hinters will help you out a bit this year.
With such fierce competition now on the high street especially over the festive season, you will find that stores are slashing their prices in a bid to take your well earned cash. In the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas, and the all important Xmas Sale, retailers expect to take nearly a quarter* of their half yearly total.
You might want to bear this in mind when doing your shopping. Deliveries will be at their peak at the end of November which means that the stock levels in store will be at their highest on gift ideas like Nightwear, game consoles, Cd's/DVD's, jumpers, cold weather product and novelty items such as slipper socks and stocking fillers.
This type of product has quite a short self life, so it is vital to make sure that you buy this sort of thing early to avoid disapointment. If you go in to a clothes shop on christmas eve to buy a dressing gown, you will be hard pushed to find one in the size/colour/style that is desired.
Most retailers now offer a fairly flexible refund policy, that is usually extended
over the Christmas period to allow for early shoppers, so you don't need to worry about your loved one not being able to return the gift if it isn't suitable. My advice would be to ask for a 'Gift Receipt' at the time of purchase. This way you are given your itemised receipt and a secondary one which lists the items without putting a price on. You can include this gift receipt with your present, so it avoids the embarassment of asking for the receipt should the present need to be brought back for an exchange. It also means that the recipient will get the full money back should the item get reduced. Just make sure that you check with the retailer whether you can get a full refund or just an exchange, as not all shops can give money back on just a gift receipt.
If you are fairly frugal with your cash and is the sort of person that clears your credit card balance every month; then i would definately reccommend putting your purchases on a store card. Account cards get a bit of an unfair rep in the financial press, what with their high APR, however, like any credit card, used wisely you can only reap the benefits.
Lots of retailers have Account cards now, because the revenue they get back (not the banks who peddle them) is massive. A card holder spends an average of £10** more per purchase than a non card holder. Retailers take advantage of their loyal card holders and lavish them with money off vouchers, special event days and priveleges like free alterations. In the lead up to Xmas, these card holder events come thick and fast and is an excellent way to save money.
If you are to apply for an account card, to make some savings, i would suggest looking at the optional cover that is offered with the card. GE Capital run many of the high streets store cards and have recently reviewed their protection policies. Now when you buy any item and when it gets reduced at any point in the future, you can claim the full difference back. So for example: Should you buy your daughter a £50 coat tomorrow and you are shopping in the store in the january sales and see it reduced to £10, you get the whole difference of £40 creditied back to your card. As with all premiums there is a small cost which is on average 1.5p* of every £1 on your outstanding balance. But if you had the choice of paying £50 for a coat that would always be £50 or £50.75 for one that you can get at the reduced price at any time in the future, which would you opt for? Remember, it is only a premium on your outstanding balance, so a way to cheat the system is to pay off your purchases BEFORE your statement is generated, that way you pay no premium and no interest and get full advantage of any discounts you've had and your item is protected against its sale reductions.
Now, how about those sales?! Practically all large retailers start their sales on Boxing day, (which by the way i think is a bit pointless as it is just spreading the revenue and it takes workers away from their families at Xmas) however, if you think about it, how does this sale magically appear all ticketted and reduced for your shopping pleasure at the front of the store? Trust me, Santa's helpers DO NOT come in and do it over Christmas day. (I wish they would!) Yes, the official sale launch is 26th December, but, in actual fact, it is Christmas eve. All markdowns will be processed ready for trade on Boxing day. So, to avoid the rush and garment grabbing of the 'first ' day of the sales, get your self down to the shops on the 24th to get the best pick of the bargains and perhaps pick up a few extra presents. You will also find that in the whole week up to Christmas you will have lots of exciting reductions. BHS are especially good at this on their Christmas shop, all their lovely novelty stocking fillers will be as cheap as chips!
Early shopping does still have it benefits, especially in food stores where you frequently see multibuys on Xmas produce. Boots do a great mix and match on Xmas gifts and many other shops have jumped on the buy one get one' bandwagon.
To Conclude, as i said previously, planning your shopping is as much about common sense as anything else. I am very good at buying gifts as i have a knack for remembering what people have said they like, but i know not every one can do this so it might be worth just jotting down a note in your diary, so for example when your wife tells you how much she enjoyed Jane Eyre on BBC1, buy her the book as a little treat. Or if your daughter loves to watch Mary Poppins every Xmas, get tickets to see the West end version.
Finally, another small hint (and i am sorry to be a bit sexist here, but experience has proven it! ), but men; when coming in to shops on Christmas Eve to buy your lady a present, make sure you know her dress/ bust size, as it makes the shop assistants job a lot easier!
Happy Christmas shopping every one, i hope you find my review helpful.
(* ** Figures taken from Company sensitive material so cannot disclose source.)