MacVoices' Holiday Shopping Strategies

With the holiday shopping season almost upon us (or has it already overtaken us?), use these tips to get the most from all the sales and specials on tech gear and other items, and make your life a little easier in the process.

Make A Wish List
No, not the kind you made when you were a kid. Make a realistic list of items you plan to buy, or are at least in the market for. That helps cut down on impulse buys, and focuses you on the items you really want.

Do A Little Research
We all have our favorite sources of information on which products are best. I’ll leave it to you to pick yours (and hope that MacVoices is part of the process), but a couple great sources include:

  • The Wire Cutter and The Sweet Home for analysis of tech and non-tech products alike. They tell you what they pick, why they picked it, and what their qualifications are.
  • Consumer Reports: Some of their content is behind a pay wall, some is not, but it is always worth a stop, especially for big-ticket items.
  • Amazon Reviews: As long as you take them with a grain of salt, and recognize that there are always going to be a few people who are unhappy with everything, Amazon reviews can be a good thing. Give a little more weight to those marked “verified purchase” since they are less likely to be false reviews. If you really care, click though on the individual reviewer to see what other reviews they have done, and then decide if you think they are both legit and credible.

Do A Little More Research
Once you’ve made your list and then determined what the best products are for you, check some of your favorite sites NOW to see what the price is, and make note. Then, when you get that email or banner add that screams about a fantastic sale, you will know whether it really is a great deal, a good deal, or no deal at all. You may be surprised how often a site tells you they are offering an amazing price when it is really no discount at all.

Web Resources
There are plenty of great deal sites out there who will be monitoring the best deals starting before Black Friday and running through the holiday. You can even sign up for alerts to help you pounce on a special offer the moment it is offered. My favorite is dealnews because of their extensive coverage and long history of posting actual deals, not just promotions.

Consider Returns And Refunds
Price is always a key driver during holiday shopping, but don’t overlook things like the ease of returns or refunds. Make sure you understand how long you have to return something, whether there are restocking fees, who is paying the freight to ship an item back, and how many hoops you may have to jump through to do the return or get the refund. Are you limited to an exchange, store or site credit, or an actual refund?  Whether an item is defective or turns out to be something you really don’t want, dealing with it can be a hassle at the time of year you don’t have extra time.

Check Your Email
Vendors will flood your In Box with all sorts of promotions, limited time offers and deals. Some will be legitimate, some will be marketing spam. Triage the barrage by deleting those that you obviously have no interest in, and then scan the rest to see if there is anything worth pursuing.

Cross Check
Think you found a deal? Do a quick search of Amazon or your favorite online vendor as a double-check on what the going rate might be that day for that product.

Look at Total Cost, Not Just Price
Before you hit the "Buy" button, be sure to look at that bottom line total to see if shipping and any other special charges are driving the price up beyond the "good deal" range. If you have Amazon Prime, sometimes paying a little more there with free shipping ends up being a better bottom-line deal than a cheaper price elsewhere.

Act Fast
When you see a deal, evaluate it, and find that it fits your criteria, buy it! Popular items can sell out in a matter of minutes or less, so don’t think too long. Just because it says that the deal is good through tomorrow doesn’t mean that there is an unlimited quantity.

Allow For Impulse Buys
No matter how diligent you are about the preparation, you're going to see something that punches your button. Consider setting a budget for such items, be extra careful about the return/refund guidelines, and stop feeling guilty.

Receipts and Packing Slips
Sooner or later, whether you shop online or down the street, you’re going to have to deal with paper. Receipts, invoices or packing slips…they all can stack up. If you have adopted a paperless work flow, you know what to do. If not, put a folder somewhere in a drawer where you can throw all those pieces of holiday paper until the dust clears and you know that you can safely discard them without endangering return or refund options.

Set a reminder on your calendar right now for, say, January 31, 2017 to empty that folder. When you do, shred the contents so you aren’t exposing yourself to credit card fraud or identity theft.

Monitoring Returns and Refunds
I know, I know…this is a little more hassle, but if you have a high-priced item that has a limited return period, invoke Siri on your iPhone, Apple Watch or Mac to set a reminder a few days before the deadline. Then, once the return is made, tell Siri to remind you to check your credit card statement in a month or so to be sure you received the credit.