Thursday, November 20, 2014

What kind of holiday shopper are you?

What kind of holiday shopper are you? Before I started working in retail, I was only vaguely aware of the differences. Now, since I deal with all of them, the various types are crystal clear to me.

Pre-retail, I used to begin my shopping sometime during the first week of December, and I shot for finishing at least a half-week prior to Christmas. I never indulged in Black Friday shopping, and still don’t. I know others love starting that day, but I always thought there were better deals to be gotten in December, and I hate crowds. My plan usually worked pretty well for me. While I did sometime have to nip back into the stores for something I’d forgotten during those final chaotic days, it was always just in and out. Now I have to stay there. That means that while the rest of you are trying to capture the true meaning of whatever holiday you celebrate, I’m being tutored in the true meaning of chaos.

The shoppers I admire most are the ones who do it throughout the year. Grabbing something whenever they see the perfect gift for someone and hiding it away until the end of the year. I always used to think that would be so boring, that they must miss the fun of December shopping. Or I thought they must forget where they stashed those presents bought so early. But now, since my free time in December is so limited, I have started my shopping earlier than ever. While I’m not a world-class year-long shopper like some I’ve met, I do count on picking up a few things in summer and another few in the fall. It does reduce the December shopping pressure. But I am careful to hide them all in the same, obvious place — I do worry about forgetting where I hid them.

But since I can’t fully mobilize myself throughout the year, I’m still doing the bulk of my shopping in those middle weeks of December.

Thankfully, most of our customers do theirs then, too. That leaves us enough time for us to order what they want if we don’t have it, and allows for the extra shipping time required. Not only is shipping slow at that time, as you online shoppers know, but the packing up of books and gifts in wholesalers and publishing houses runs behind, too. And books that show up in databases as available at the time of our orders suddenly disappear, after committing those books to us, when those orders are packed. But our customers know we move the heavens to make their orders arrive on time. They appreciate all we do for them, and we appreciate it when they can give us that bit of extra time.

The customers I find the most challenging are the last minute shoppers. Oh, not all of them. Some are quite aware that by waiting until the last minute, the selection inevitably becomes limited. One of my favorite last minute shopper stops by mid-morning a couple of days before Christmas on his way home to California. He shops for an hour or so, doing the best he can with the selection we have left, leaving a variety of books and gifts for us to wrap, while he has lunch somewhere. He’s figured out how to make last minute shopping work for him.

Most last minute shoppers, strangely, have no idea how many things have been snatched off the shelves by others by the time we reach the final days or even hours. Even crazier, their requests are always hyper-specific, often looking for out-of-print books, or hardcover versions of titles that have been strictly in paperback for years, if not a decade. And they get nasty when what they want is not available, and they act as if their requests are completely reasonable.

I’m sure they have a good reason for waiting until the last minute to shop, and I admire that they want to find just the right gift for everyone, no matter how unusual it might be. But I sure wish they could be more realistic about the odds of finding anything that scarce.

I also wish I could make them understand how hard the person they’re dumping on is working and how much that person would like to help them find really good gifts, in not those perfect mythic treasures they imagine.

I’d especially like them to understand that person they’re shouting at probably hasn’t quite finished her own shopping. That she shares the last minute shopper’s frustration — even if she hasn’t resorted to the same level of vitriol — because she’s in the exact same boat.

This year I’m vowing to have my shopping complete by mid-December. Odds of pulling it off? Probably about the same as those unrealistic last minute customers of mine.

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