Holiday shopping etiquette

Another Black Friday has come and gone in the U.S. and, as usual, the annual festive shopping spree was marred by unfortunate incidents.  At a Los Angeles Wal-Mart, an overzealous woman pepper-sprayed twenty other customers to “protect her purchases” from prying hands. In Little Rock, a screaming mob tussled over a $2 waffle maker and across the country, gun-toting thugs took advantage of the situation to hold up and threaten shoppers in parking lots.

I’m not going to comment on the economic realities and misplaced priorities that drive humans to hurt each other so they can have cheap, indented pancakes. But the disgraceful behaviour of these bargain-happy shoppers got me thinking about our own festive shopping season. Thankfully, we rarely have incidents of this magnitude but roasting hot malls, too few parking spots and increasing stress levels can cause even the most polite of us to forget it’s the season of goodwill to all men (and women).  So, while there’s still time, here are my seven secrets for holiday shopping etiquette:
Accept reality – Face it.  If you leave shopping until the last couple of weeks, you will not be able to avoid crowds and lineups.  Accept that before you go, arrive as early as possible, leave the kids at home, bring snacks and dress comfortably to mitigate the effects of holiday shopping syndrome.  Fighting against the inevitable is only going to make you cranky.
Don’t expect special treatment – Keep in mind, everyone else is there for the same reason as you.  Despite what you may think, you are not busier, more frantic or more stressed than anyone else.  When it’s time to pay for your purchases, get in line and brace yourself for a long wait.  Don’t butt in or ask people if you can go ahead of them because you are due back in the office or because you have children, are old, are sick, etc.
Focus on the task at hand – Long lineups can be boring but please resist the urge to use the time for a loud cell phone conversation.   Customers who are already feeling frazzled don’t need to hear you droning on about how busy the store is (they know) to your friends and family.  Plus, it usually means you will still be on the phone when it’s your turn to pay.  This is not only disrespectful to the cashier, but it usually results in a longer wait for the people behind you as you try to load your purchases on the counter and fish out your wallet with one hand.
Keep it simple – I once fumed in a line-up as the person in front of me decided that December 23 was a good day to return and exchange a boatload of merchandise, all of which had been purchased at different times and on different credit cards.  Out of respect for your fellow shoppers, keep it simple, buy your stuff and move on.  Leave the complicated transactions for January and don’t agree to sign up for the store credit card.  Be pleasant and offer seasonal good wishes but keep the unnecessary chit chat for a less frantic time.
Don’t fuel parking lot rage – In the days leading up to Christmas, there are officially more drivers than parking spots so good parking manners are essential.  If you see a spot about to open up, pull off to the side of the aisle and turn on your indicator.  Try not to block the entire aisle.  If you see that someone has done this, don’t swoop in and steal the spot out from under them. Bad manners and bad karma. Don’t tailgate people as they come out of stores, creepily following them to their parking spots.  If you are leaving a parking spot, make it snappy. There’s nothing worse than a person who takes ten minutes to arrange their shopping bags in the trunk while you’re waiting to get into their spot. And, unless you want expletive-laden messages left on your vehicle, don’t ever take up more than one spot.
Vent your anger where it belongs – Did you arrive at Toys R Us only to discover that location doesn’t carry the thingamabob that was advertised in the flyer?  Is the 50 per cent off price not showing up after the item was scanned?  That’s horrible luck but don’t take it out on the store staff. They are not usually responsible for supply chain management or cash register coding and can offer nothing more than sympathy.  If you feel it’s worth pursuing, ask to speak to the store manager or call the head office once you get home.  Or, vote with your feet and shop somewhere else.
Smile – Remember that the reason you’re there is to buy gifts for people that you love and celebrate friends and family.  Regardless of your opinion on the ‘consumerization’ of the holidays, if you’ve chosen to participate, do it with a smile.  Say please and thank you and everything will be better.  This also applies to cashiers and other retail staff.  Yes, it’s a busy time and the customers are frazzled but it’s your job to make their lives easier so be pleasant about it.

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