Americans will spend an average of $936 per person on holiday gifts this season, according to the National Retail Federation. Consumers only have so much to spend on their holiday shopping, so retailers want to do everything they can to entice you to shop with them, not their competitors. Savvy shoppers require more than just a good product mix, fair prices, convenient locations and attractive store design, which is why many retailers offer a mix of special services. Here’s the skinny on some of those perks and who should consider them.
Best for: People who have trouble finding clothes that fit right, and who don’t mind spending a little extra, if necessary, for a perfect fit.
About: If you’re someone who has a tricky size, whether you’re petite, have a tiny waist and curvy hips or short arms or legs, you probably have a tailor nearby who alters your clothes. But did you know that many apparel stores offer alterations on-site? When it comes to this service, it often pays to be a store card customer – in many cases, membership has its privileges. For example, Banana Republic, The Limited and J. Crew offer free alterations on full-price purchases made with their store cards. Some stores, such as Barneys, Buckle Jeans, Lululemon and Ralph Lauren, offer complimentary services no matter how you paid. And many others, including Club Monaco, Century 21, Neiman Marcus and Uniqlo, offer alterations at a low fee.
Advice: When you’ve had something altered, you need to return to the store, which gives the retailer another opportunity to score a sale. Unless you really need something, pick up your garment and walk straight out.
2. Free gift wrapping
Best for: For those who never get around to wrapping their gifts and instead resort to overpriced gift bags.
About: In-store gift wrapping might seem old-fashioned, something out of a black-and-white movie, but it turns out that it’s alive and well. In fact, many stores, such as Barnes & Noble, Jared, Tiffany and L.L. Bean, offer the service for free. (But that doesn’t mean that it’s free online, or vice versa, so explore your options.) Some stores, such as Banana Republic, Gap and JCPenney, give you a free box, which you should accept so you can avoid a misshapen, lumpy gift. And if you don’t mind wrapping it yourself in the store, try Bed Bath & Beyond or Nordstrom, which offer stocked gift-wrapping stations.
Advice: Unless you love to gift wrap, take advantage of gift wrapping services if you have the time. Chances are, the person doing the wrapping is much better at it than you are. Also, it’s one more task you can check off your list.
3. Personal Shopping
Best for: If you’re stuck in a fashion rut and need a fresh eye. Or if you don’t get that thrill of the hunt from browsing in a store and would prefer to have someone tell you what to buy.
About: Personal shopping isn’t limited to high-end stores anymore. Yes, you can find personal shopping at luxury retailers, such as Kate Spade, Bergdorf Goodman and Lord & Taylor, but it’s also available at more accessible stores, such as Anthropologie, Club Monaco, Macy’s and J. Crew. Some stores will accept walk-ins, but it’s best to make an appointment, so that you don’t have to wait. Working with a personal shopper is an efficient way to see what merchandise is best for you.
Advice: Most personal shoppers are paid on commission, and they’re very skilled salespeople. Set a budget in advance, and stick to it. And because your personal shopper will want to repeat business, they should be happy to make a list of everything they recommended, so you can easily shop from that list when your budget allows. Make sure they get credit for the sale.
Best for: People who want to reserve an item but aren’t ready to pay in full.
About: Layaway became fairly common around the Depression but began to lose its luster in the past few decades as credit cards became more widely available. We’ve seen a resurgence of layaway in recent years, spurred on by the Great Recession. In the past, you often had to pay a fee for the service. Today, stores, such as Sears, Toys R Us and Babies R Us, provide it free of charge during the holiday shopping season. Wal-Mart charges $5 but refunds the fee to a gift card once the item is paid for in full. Other stores, such as Best Buy, T.J. Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory, charge between $5 and $10.
Advice: Layaway is worthwhile if you fear that an item will sell out, but you don’t want to – or can’t – pay the full price at the time of purchase. It can also be worthwhile for large items that you don’t want taking up space at home before the holidays.