Special to Daily News
It’s Dec. 22 and you’ve just barely made it through half of your holiday shopping list. The panic may have set in that you just don’t have enough time to get everything done.
This is a common scenario around the holidays. Shoppers have the best intentions to get their gifts early, but whether because of work obligations or social events, the task seems to get pushed further and further into December. Soon many are staring down the calendar experiencing sweaty palms. Many others may be putting off holiday shopping simply because of the current state of the economy and affordability.
According to a Steelhouse Marketing Consultants poll of 1,000 consumers, 62 percent predict they will spend less money on the 2011 holiday season. Plus, 56 percent of families predict they will comparison shop more than they have in the past. These factors may contribute to just how long shoppers put off actually getting into stores or going online to shop.
For the scores of shoppers who consciously or subconsciously wait until the last possible minute to shop, there are ways to survive and surprise friends and family with great gifts.
* GIFT CARDS: They may not have sentimental meaning behind them, but gift cards are fast and easy. Chances are you can run into a store and be out with a handful of gift cards in less than 15 minutes, depending on lines at the checkout counter. Also, many supermarkets, bookstores and other retailers offer gift card kiosks enabling you to shop for different gift cards all in one place.
* FOOD AND BEVERAGES: While everyone is heading to the mall in droves, you can be stepping inside of a gourmet food or spirits store. Splurge on fine cheeses or that trendy bottle of liquor that a gift recipient has mentioned but not yet purchased for him- or herself.
* MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION: A magazine subscription is an easy fix as a last-minute gift. Purchase one copy of the magazine at the newsstand and wrap it up nicely. Put a note that a year’s worth of this periodical is on the way. No one will suspect that the gift was a last-minute thought.
* E-CERTIFICATES: Retailers like music or book sellers will e-mail a gift certificate code to the person of your choice on a selected date. For those who are never without an e-reader or mp3 player, digital gifts could fit the bill.
* GAS CARD: It may sound funny and tacky, but a gas card from a brand-name station is a universally acceptable gift for anyone who drives regularly. With fluctuating gas prices, filling up the tank can be an expensive venture. Having a pre-paid gift card can help.
Online retailers are also there to help last-minute shoppers. Many online retailers guarantee in-time-for-Christmas shipping even on gifts ordered as late as Dec. 23. However, overnight shipping charges will cost more. But it’s all worth it to get the item in time.
Waiting until the last minute for shopping can induce some anxiety. But knowing about easy gifts for procrastinators can take the stress out of this type of shopping.
Take the hassle out of gift returns
Special to the Daily News
The magic of the holiday season is hard to replicate. Gatherings with friends and family members can put smiles on many people’s faces, especially for those people who only see their loved ones once a year.
But the smiles and laughter may dim when faced with the prospect of returning unwanted gifts. Few people haven’t had to return a holiday gift once or twice in their lifetimes. In fact, a survey from Consumer Reports indicates that 1 in 5 Americans will return a holiday present this year, while retail merchants expect about 10 percent of all holiday purchases to be returned.
Part of the difficulty of returning items is a result of stores cracking down on merchandise fraud. While there are scores of honest customers simply looking to exchange that paw print set of pajamas for something a little more stylish, there are plenty others who are interested in taking advantage of the holiday season to return items that may have been used, such as a cocktail dress that livened up Christmas festivities just as much as the spiked egg nog, only to be returned December 26. With the desire to curtail fraud, retailers have tightened the reigns on return policies.
Keeping this in mind and being prepared for a conversation with a store’s customer service employee can make the return process go more smoothly.
* Know the store’s return policy. It pays to go online or call the store to find out about its specific return policy. Being armed with this knowledge could help you avoid a trip to the store and waiting in line only to be turned away. Return policies may vary depending on the item being returned, so be sure to check about the item you have. Requirements often are more stringent on electronics.
* Use a receipt whenever possible. Receipts speed up the return process considerably. Whether it is the actual receipt or a gift receipt, this small slip of paper is evidence that the item being returned actually was purchased at the particular store on a particular date.
* Bring identification. Stores will sometimes honor a return for store credit when you present your driver’s license. Keep in mind that there may be a strict limit on how many items you can return without a receipt, and many stores keep track of this information by utilizing the unique scan code on your license. If you are a serial returner, you may find your efforts are for naught.
* Keep boxes closed. Restocking fees are charges exacted for items returned that have been opened. Generally they are applied to electronics and appliances — sometimes 15 to 30 percent of the total purchase price. To get the most value for your return, be sure to keep the box closed.
Cut down on the stress and hassle of holiday returns by knowing store policies and only returning items that are unopened and unused. And whenever possible, bring a receipt, even if it’s just a gift receipt.