‘Tis the season of comfort and joy — unless you are trying to complete your holiday shopping in these pandemic-induced, economically shaky times.
Then, it’s more like the season of stress.
The good news is that with proper preparation, precautions and common sense, things can run much more efficiently.
And, you might even save some money along the way.
That’s the word from Taynisha Berenguer, a library service/technology guide with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
She recently shared a wealth of information in a webinar entitled: “Holiday Shopping: Safely, Securely, Sensibly.’’
“I know it’s a cliche, but shopping during the ‘new normal’ has a whole array of things to consider, and there are plenty of other things that you always need to think about,’’ she said.
Here’s how Berenguer broke it down:
Any good shopping expedition needs a plan. That’s where budgeting applies. Even when they have a sound budget, shoppers often overlook the holiday incidentals — such as tape and wrapping paper, Berenguer said.
Research is essential, especially with so many online options.
The pandemic has mandated some creative thinking.
“You need to think outside the box … and by that, I mean it’s really easy to think about just the Big Three — Amazon, Walmart and Target,’’ Berenguer said. “There are a bunch of other retailers out there, along with many small local businesses. These are places to find some good buys and maybe find something really cool.
“If you’re going to the brick-and-mortar store, make sure that store is open. Some may be offering curbside service. You’ve got to have your hand sanitizer and mask. You should research the busy times, especially if you want to avoid crowds.
“Whether you’re online or in person, be ready for shortages and delays. There are issues finding gifts and even the necessities of daily life. You’ve got to be ready for an item not to be there. With everyone shipping everything, be prepared for delays and other issues.’’
Saving Your Money
Who doesn’t want to save money? It can be as easy as doing extensive Google searches, especially on big-ticket electronic items to unearth competitive prices and deals.
“Black Friday’’ is no longer just one day. Now it lasts for weeks. Major retailers everywhere are offering deep discounts that will linger through the holidays.
“You should look into price-tracking apps and coupon apps because there are a ton of them out there,’’ Berenguer said. “Price-tracking apps can help you compare prices with all the major retailers and maybe some others that you hadn’t considered. There are lots of coupons out there and they add up. You just have to seek them out.
“Also remember to use your credit card and store loyalty programs. Those points add up and sometimes we forget about them. If you keep up with those, it can significantly lower the cost of your purchases. But, you’ve got to stay organized.’’
Saving Your Sanity
If you don’t have your holiday shopping wrapped up before Thanksgiving, you must exercise patience, planning and good humor.
To avoid frustration, check shipping timelines before your purchase. There’s always a backlog at the holidays — but especially during the pandemic.
“Most retailers are good about establishing the timelines and letting you know about potential delays,’’ Berenguer said. “If you don’t need it to get there by Christmas, keep in mind that you could ask for a discount on the shipping.
“Be aware of the return policies. One of the biggest hang-ups on returns for gifts are people who don’t have the receipt. Keep all your emails concerning the purchase because it’s the same thing as a paper receipt. And, if you’re just not sure what to buy someone — that can be stressful, too — gift cards are always a good option. It can be for a local shop, an experience. Sometimes, people value experiences over products.’’
Safety And Security
It’s not just about masks and hand sanitizers. When it comes to holiday shopping, you need protection from the proliferation of scams.
“People are finding more inventive ways to take your money,’’ Berenguer said. “You can’t forget that when you’re shopping.’’
That applies when doing your research.
“Carefully consider the online reviews,’’ Berenguer said. “Not all are honest. Companies buy fake positive reviews. Competing companies buy fake negative reviews. You’ve got to vet them, read between the lines and look at a lot of them to pick up on patterns.
“Also, be very skeptical of social media ads. You will see really deep discounts popping up on your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Be wary. Sometimes, these products don’t even exist. If someone is trying to sell you a $700 television for $100, and it seems too good to be true, it probably is.’’
Berenguer cautioned to only shop on secure Web sites (look for the https:// prefix, which indicates that your data is secure and not out there for all to see).
“Your data is extremely valuable in this day and age,’’ Berenguer said. “You have to safeguard that data. You probably notice these very targeted ads on your social media accounts. Companies want to find out about you and what you are purchasing.
“You have to be proactive. Make sure you always update your safety features. Change your passwords. Don’t volunteer information or data. They want access to your location, your data, your microphone — and you should immediately say no to all of that.’’
Berenguer said it’s wise to use intermediate payment methods — such as PayPal, Apple Pay or Google Pay — in order to have a firewall between the retailer and your credit card information. You shouldn’t keep your payment information stored on any retail sites for convenience — even reliable ones — because any site can be hacked.
“My rule of thumb is give the least amount of data as possible,’’ Berenguer said. “When you sign up for coupons or take surveys, your information will be aggregated and you’ll get ads you don’t want. I use a secondary email and call it my junk email. I give a fake last name. You’re not obligated to provide this information and if you are pressured to do so, I would carefully consider whether you want to use that service. You have to protect your interests because no one else is going to do that.’’
By Joey Johnston
Published December 16, 2020