1. To save time and cut down on frayed tempers--yours and those of the people in line behind you--always check items when you take them off the shelf to ensure they have a universal price code (UPC) sticker. If you are buying an item that isn't marked, find a department clerk to write out a sales slip that you can give to the cashier.
2. If you are going to be tackling a major project that will require frequent trips, memorize the layout of the store and make detailed shopping lists that are segregated by aisle. This will keep you from wasting time and energy crisscrossing the store.
3. If you are not sure of where it is, ask the first employee you see as you enter the store: It will save you a lot of time and effort. And on really busy days, it can be hard to collar an employee with questions once you get inside.
4. Check prepackaged items to make sure all the parts are still there--parts pilferage is a problem in many stores, and nothing is as frustrating as getting your purchase home only to find out that a critical piece is missing.
5. Go ahead and ask department clerks for advice, but first ask if they have professional background in the area in which they are working. Not every electrical department clerk is a qualified electrician, and not every plumbing department worker knows which end of a pipe wrench is up.
6. If you can't find what you need and can't find a clerk to help you, try to apply logic: in what kinds of projects can the item be used? It will probably be on an aisle near other items used in the same project. Masking tape is near paint. Roofing nails are with screws and nails in the hardware section, but at some stores they also can be found with roofing material in the building material section. Notched trowels for mortar and mastic at in the flooring section with tile, but trowels for applying mortar to bricks and blocks are usually to be found only in the building materials section.
7. Make use of free services like interior decorating advice in the window covering and paint departments and weekend do-it-yourself workshops on building decks, laying tile, installing sprinklers and planting sod lawns. Although they are plugging products the stores sell, the workshops usually contain sound advice and tips.
8. If you have returns to make, do it on off hours--weekday and Sunday mornings and late evenings, not during lunchtimes and on Saturdays when everyone else is at the return counter.
9. Use the contractor doors and check out counters in the back of the store--you'll often get through in half the time it takes to use the public counters up front, and the contractor counters are open to all. Also, at Home Depot stores, take a look at the special checkout station in the tool section. Though put there to cut down on pilferage of small hand and power tools, the checkout clerks can ring up anything, and they often are standing idle while lines are forming up front.
10. Consider whether you really need to go to a big warehouse store for a small purchase. Is the extra drive, hike in from the parking lot and time you'll spend in the checkout line worth the dime you'll save over buying that package of wood screws at the neighborhood hardware or lumber store?