Originally created 11/27/05

Ready, set, go: Gearing up for holiday shopping



NEW YORK - Holiday shopping can be a marathon event. It can be long and grueling, and there's a pack to break away from. Endurance is invaluable but sometimes elusive.

In the end, the winners are those who prepare for the event - mentally and physically: They have the right equipment, the right attitude and the right pace to sustain the challenge.

"The most important thing is to wear comfortable clothes," says Anna Wallner, co-author of "The Shopping Bags: Tips, Tricks and Inside Information to Make You a Savvy Shopper (Dutton). "That might sound simple but it will make a difference in how long you can stay out. If you're comfortable, you're wearing clothes that make you feel good, you'll be a better shopper. Wear layered clothing, be well fed and carry a bottle of water. Shopping is a sport you've got to win."

But co-author Kristina Matisic also notes the necessary evils of bringing high heels or control-top pantyhose if you're shopping for a party dress for yourself.

"If you're shopping for yourself, be groomed. Do your hair, put some makeup on. This will also make you feel like a more confident shopper," she advises.

Once you arrive at your shopping destination, whether it's a mall or a street with chic boutiques, Wallner encourages parking the car as far away as you can while keeping in mind the haul back will be done carrying big bags - or at least you hope so.

This gives a bit of exercise and likely will keep you from getting caught up in parking lot gridlock. Shopping midweek in the midmorning also will help keep you saner, Wallner says, because it's the quietest time for most retailers.

Another way to streamline your efforts: Leave the big pouffy winter jacket behind.

If you'll be spending most of the time in one store or indoor shopping area, store the coat in the car; if you're going store to store outdoors then choose a slim coat without fussy details.

But before you get this far, you should have already formulated a plan of attack. This goes whether you're shopping for gifts or yourself.

"You don't wander to get inspiration," says Wallner. "You should have an idea of what you're looking for. Then stop and think about your route. Buy the heaviest items last."

When you do start making purchases, try to limit the number of bags you'll be carrying. Consolidate smaller bags into big ones, and if you already have a bag large enough to accommodate a bottle of perfume or another petite purchase, tell the salesperson you don't need yet another shopping bag. (Take the receipt, though.)

Mandi Norwood, editor in chief of Shop Etc., says consumers are loyal to retailers who create a pleasant environment and foster a positive relationship.

The magazine received 7,000 responses earlier this year to a survey sent out to subscribers.

"The thing that came through for us was that the merchandise has to be top notch. It doesn't matter if you're talking about a high-end designer store or a value store. People want good quality for their dollar but that's not enough. There needs to be a good ladling of customer service," says Norwood.

Shoppers look for - and reward - salespeople who know about the products beyond pointing in the direction of a skirt rack. Patience, honesty and integrity also are important.

Victoria's Secret, for example, was named best fashion catalog in Shop Etc.'s ranking of favorite retailers because the advisers on the other end of the phone or Internet order warned customers if a particular garment tended to run small or large, or if it was made of a fabric that was likely to pucker.

"That integrity really bonds the customer and the retailer. That's so valuable to a retailer beyond a particular sale," Norwood says.

Flattering lighting should be a no-brainer for a store, she adds. It'll make the shoppers feel they look good.

"If I look like something the cat dragged in, I'll run out of that store as fast as I can," says Norwood, who also thinks she gets better service when she walks into a store well-dressed and well-groomed. "People will think you've got more money to spend."

To make shopping even more pleasant, Norwood suggests using personal shopping services, offered for free at many department stores and apparel boutiques. "People feel intimated but they shouldn't. I use them in specialty stores. They'll call me when something that's great for me comes in."

On the flip side, stores should offer generous return policies.

"Retailers need to accept that people change their minds. It's just human behavior," Norwood says.