Holiday shopping 101

Have fun this holiday season. (November 21, 2012)

I am a Black Friday survivor.

I have not only survived my years as a shopper, I have also lived to tell the tales from being in the trenches on the other side of the counter.

As a shopper, I have fond memories getting up early with my mom and sisters to make sure we were the first in line at Eyerly's at the Valley Mall to get the doorbuster giveaway — usually an ornament that contained a special discount to those first in line.

People didn't pop a tent back then to get to the best deals. You got up at 5 a.m. to make sure you had a hearty breakfast (there's a lot of calorie-burning to shopping) and have your spot in line.

I had fun, too, working retail on Black Friday; at some of the shops I worked at we'd chat about our Thanksgiving Day festivities and psyche ourselves up for the onslaught of shoppers. Oh, I didn't like getting there earlier than usual, but there was one thing for sure — there would be no clock-watching on that day.

But Black Friday isn't all Christmas caroling and people skipping through the lines with a smile on their face. It can be ugly and I have been a party to that as well.

About 10 years ago, I was a Black Friday shopper and I was standing outside of the toy store when I saw two mothers got into a shoving match. Not over the Holiday Barbie, but because one mother perceived that the other mom had said something to her kid. She did. It was "Excuse me."

And to think, Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season.

Instead, let's start a movement to have a fun holiday shopping experience and still manage to get all the things you were looking for.

Here are a few of my tips for dealing on both sides of the counter.

Bring the basics. Do you have your debit or credit cards? How about cash? The coupons or discount cards? Cellphone? You don't want to have the last Blu-Ray player and not have any money on you. Believe me, it's happened.

Wear comfortable shoes. Nothing makes a person more grouchy than having aching feet. Find a pair of shoes that will keep you shopping for hours and not hurt your back. And take time to sit and rest a few minutes. You'll need your second wind.

Dress the part. That parka you wore when you got there is not going to be fun lugging around during shopping. Leave the big jacket in the car. Not only will you keep cool, you won't accidentally knock over a display with the coat you're carrying.

Remember where you parked. There might have been only a few cars in the parking lot when you arrived, but four hours later there's a sea of cars and you've gotten yourself turned around. Today, we have smartphones to help us remember what our brains cannot. Take a photo, making sure to include the row number or landmark. Or download the Find My Car app. Some people take the time to tie a brightly-colored ribbon on their antenna to help.

Leave the little ones at home. Sure, it's great to have a family moment, but if you can, leave young children at home. There are too many people at the shopping centers and a child can easily be bounced around. I have witnessed too many times a kid getting knocked down by another shopper and I have helped more than one lost child find Mom or Dad. If your child is in a stroller or has to hold your hand, holiday shopping might not be the best outing, especially during peak hours. Pick a time with the kids when it might be a little less chaotic. That way the kids feel like they're getting time with you and you have a great memory.

Act civilized. That means no pushing, no shoving, no tearing things out of other people's hands or carts. There have been too many reports over the years where people have been killed because of overzealous shoppers. And this is for both sides of the counter: Smile. It can actually go further than you realize.

Not everyone in line is on your side. This goes back to acting civilized. I was working retail on an extremely busy holiday shopping day. A line wrapped three times through the small shop. And a gentleman at the front was becoming downright belligerent to the group of us behind the counter. He turned to the line for support. Unfortunately for him, the next two ladies in line were regulars. And  instead of lighting the torches with him, they gave him an earful of how he was being rude and nasty. The rest of the line clapped.

Pay it forward. While you're shopping, remember it's about giving, not receiving. Help an older shopper with her packages. Hold open a door. Let the person with one item jump ahead of you. I waited on an elderly woman one time who was short $2 for her purchases. She didn't want to wait in line again and she was nearly in tears. A gentleman behind her paid the remaining bill. She kept thanking him and wiping away tears. It was a great holiday moment.

And always, think of ways to give to others. Buy an extra toy for Toys for Tots. I like to keep spare change on me so I can slip money in the Salvation Army pot. Still unsure? Pick up the Sunday, Dec. 2, Herald-Mail for our Nonprofit Holiday Wish List that will have plenty of ideas to help you give back.

Happy holidays and safe shopping.



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