CULLMAN, Ala. – The Alabama Retail Association (ARA) reported back in February that the 2018 November-December holiday shopping season saw $12,069,764,995.28 spent in Alabama stores. The amount was an all-time record setter, and a 2.66% increase over 2017. The association, though, has predicted that 2019 will beat that by up to 3%, based on retail trends through the year to this point. (See https://alabamaretail.org/news/holiday-prediction-2019/.)
Black Friday is usually the busiest shopping day of the year, traditionally kicking off the Christmas shopping season. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports, though, that over half of shoppers will have already started before this week, thanks to increases in online shopping, as well as earlier retail kickoffs like Cullman’s own Christmas in Cullman Celebration.
If you do decide to brave the retail world, and statistically you will, The Tribune has surveyed advice offered by financial and retail gurus to come up with a few tips for shopping survival.
- Set a budget first – Spending a bunch of money or running up credit card debt, especially early in the season, then wondering how you will get out from under the burden, does not make for a merry Christmas or happy New Year.
- Get online – For those trendy must-have items, many online retailers like Amazon, and brick-and-mortars with active online presence like Walmart, have already begun running holiday specials. Bonus-people who shop online are less likely to:
- find store shelves empty of the very thing they are looking for
- have to park in another zip code
- get trampled
- Think small – For those harder-to-shop-for folks, or for something more distinctive, check out smaller, locally-owned businesses for unique gifts. Cullman and the county’s other towns have a bunch of them, and they don’t tend to suffer from the trampling hoards like the big stores. Take a drive around backstreets, do a little googling or hit up the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce for more information.
- Don’t be afraid to troll – If you have one of those folks who are just flat out hard to shop for, and you gave them gift cards the last three years in a row, visit their social media pages to see what kinds of things interest them. Doing so can help give you a little shopping direction.
- Plan ahead – On a busy day like Black Friday, cut down on useless impulse spending and maximize your shopping time with a strategic approach: make a plan for which stores you want to visit, which departments you should hit first, and what items you most want to purchase.
- Compare prices – For the trendy items, you can use your smart phone to compare prices between retailers right from the showroom floor. Be careful with those hot items, though; before you leave store A to shop at cheaper store B, make sure store B is not sold out of what you want. You can also ask an employee; some retailers will price match.
- Play the long game – In many cases, Black Friday specials will not be much better, if any, than day-to-day seasonal sale prices. In some cases, retailers desperate to best their competition and scoop up the last shopping dollars of the season will even lower prices below early season specials.
- Gifts from the heart – Homemade craft gifts are not for everyone who is special to you, but they may mean a lot if you are special to them. Knitting, crocheting, cooking, painting, carving or swinging a hammer can produce meaningful gifts that will not break the giver’s bank.
- Stay safe – If possible, hide your purchases inside your vehicle while shopping from store to store, and be sure to lock your car. In crowded stores, zip or snap your purse, or consider moving your wallet to a front pocket. Guard your PIN numbers. If you feel unsafe leaving a store at night, ask if the store can spare an employee to walk you out to your vehicle.
- Behave yourself – If you get out on Black Friday or on one of the typically busy weekend shopping days leading up to Christmas,
- Be careful en route. Put away your phone in the car, and pay extra attention to the traffic around you, which will be heavier than usual. Keep this in mind: a National Safety Council study showed that a hands-free phone conversation behind the wheel is just as dangerous as holding the phone in your hand. In both cases, you are four times more likely to be involved in a wreck as you would be if you were just concentrating on driving.
- Be patient, respectful and courteous. Kindness is a gift that’s always in style.
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