Focus is key to festive shopping
It pays to have some idea of how much you want to spend, and where, when buying gifts, writes Constance Harris
I read fascinating research earlier this year about consumer purchasing satisfaction. According to the report, the person who impulse purchases, even on a big item, be it a house or car, enjoys their purchase and feels way more satisfaction afterwards than the person who spent ages researching and shopping around.
Though a shopping-around nerd myself, I totally agree with the survey's findings.
Having spent sometimes months weighing up pros and cons, I always end up feeling a little bit of hate towards my carefully considered final choice. The fact is, current fiscal circumstances necessitate careful consideration.
Having done a bit of shopping around for my child's Christmas and birthday, which fall on the same day -- tough for him, tough for me -- I have found price differences between shops to sometimes be huge.
So it is worth shopping around. To save time and effort, you can do a lot of it in advance using the internet.
It is also important to remember the good side to being in a financial fix nationally: that cash is king. The bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. You have power when you come in with money to spend. You are valuable. Remember it.
When out purchasing, if you find price differences, I strongly urge you to raise with the store's manager the fact that you have found an item cheaper elsewhere and see if they match it. They might have a better refund policy after all. And it could save you having to trek back to the other store.
If you aren't treated with respect, point that out to them, too.
Retailers all blather on about improving customer experience. The proof is in how they treat you when it comes to returns and to discounts. Heatons and Marks & Spencer are consistently among the best.
Recently I had a run-in with my local Vodafone store about a faulty product. And I was shocked at how the company seemed unconcerned when I said I'd end 17 years of doing business with it due to the issue. So Vodafone certainly won't be seeing my Christmas business, or any other, once my contract expires with it.
To illustrate some of the price differences to be found, I checked out electronic games -- a favourite with both adults and children at Christmas.
I priced the Nintendo DSi. It was €114.99 in HMV's 'special of the week', but normally was €134, depending on colour. It was €139.99 in Smyths, and €149.99 in Argos. At Gamestop it was €129.99 in black or white, and €149.99 in other colours. That is a difference of €35 between some stores.
The Nintendo DSi XL is a new, bigger-screened, retro- designed DS which is probably aimed at the new generation of brain-gym adults but is popular with all. In HMV this device was €169. In Argos and Smyths it was €179.99, and in Gamestop it was €180. A difference of €11.
At Argos the Xbox 360 250gb was €249.99, or €369.98 with Kinect. In HMV it was €299, or €350 with Kinect. At Gamestop it was €250 and then another €150 for Kinect. A price difference of €50.
An iPod Touch 32gb was €299 in HMV + €45-worth of vouchers with your purchase. It was €278 in Argos, or €300 for the 4G version. Not much price difference. But the gift card bundle adds a €45 edge to the HMV option. However, it doesn't give refunds, while Argos does.
Every shop does offers and games bundles, which can sound very attractive: buy this Xbox and get these three games for an extra €50.
I wouldn't touch those deals unless you know your kids want the games, because they can be the previous season's versions. But then again, these offers can be great value. That is why knowing exactly what you are looking for -- focus -- is key.
We impulse shop for two reasons: we don't know what we are doing; or we are high on the risk -- no -- danger, of it.
Impulse shopping can be great fun -- and successful. I remember my most successful Christmas gift giving ever was the year I had only two hours on Christmas eve afternoon to do it. All around me shops were closing, but Urban Outfitters in Temple Bar was open. I ran in and bought for every member of my family in its kooky environs. The fact that most of the store was already offering the usually post-Christmas sales prices meant I got €900-worth for €450.
But it worked because I had a list done. I was focused as to what I needed.
I ticked names off when they were sorted. I didn't dither over my choices. I trusted my instincts: like = buy. Not sure = don't buy.
To avoid costly mistakes, even catastrophe, I strongly, strongly, urge you to sit down and make a list of all the people you intend to buy gifts for.
Create four columns. In the first column list their name. In the next column write down how much you want to spend. Then in the next column, write down some gift ideas. The fourth and final column is for you to tick them as 'done' and keep track of how much you spent.
Doing this list will make you see, before you spend a penny, what your total financial outlay of your intended Christmas could be.
It is here, in a calm, non-sales influenced situation, that you can best decide whether you can or can't afford it, whether you could spend more. You can also assess why you are buying for some people when you don't really have to.
Knowing your limits, as well as your ambitions, before you set off on your shopping trip can save you a lot of heartache and stress.
Be picky about where you shop. I don't buy from stores without refund policies unless I am 100 per cent sure of the purchase. Credit notes can be lost or expire, and are especially risky these days con- sidering how many businesses are closing. Sometimes you can negotiate a refund from a store with a 'no refunds' policy. But you have to ask in advance of a manager, or store owner, and this has to be written on your receipt.
I know what I am suggesting may seem to take the fun out of the shopping. Spontaneity and all that. But there is nothing joyful in finding out that you could have got better value, you could have got better presents, you could have been clever.
And, most importantly, the aftertaste in January of a disciplined Christmas spend will be there in the satisfaction of a credit card bill that is not a horror story all of its own.