Hit the mall or buy online? Holiday shopping strategies vary widely

Published 5:06 pm Monday, November 26, 2018

Martin Moylan

MPR News/90.1

The economy — and many people’s finances — are in good enough shape that consumers are expected to open their wallets wide this holiday season.

Email newsletter signup

The National Retail Federation estimates that holiday-related spending this year will rise more than 4 percent to $720 billion. That would be the biggest uptick since 2010, the first holiday season since the Great Recession. The trade group expects adults will spend $1,000 on gifts, food, decorations, greeting cards — and things they covet for themselves.

Minnesotans have a wide variety of shopping strategies — and philosophies — for the season.

A lot of cash will change hands at the Mall of America in Bloomington.

Miguel Ayers of Richfield said he’ll be there just before Christmas to shop. “It’s better to get things at the last minute,” he said. “You’ll still get a lot of discounts at the last minute and then you know what people want to get.”

Jayne Schuler of White Bear Lake Township is inclined to shop sooner — and avoid crowds. “I make my list, check it twice. And then I go hit the mall on a Tuesday or Wednesday night when no one’s around,” she said.

The mall expects millions of shoppers this holiday season. For some people a jammed mall is an essential part of the holidays. But not for Nikki Gilmore of Apple Valley.

Her strategy for the season is simple. “Buy everything online,” she said. “Don’t venture out to the stores if you don’t have to.”

Gilmore figures she’ll make nearly all her holiday purchases online and complete her list by picking up gift cards at some favorite restaurants. And that stay-at-home approach is catching on.

A Deloitte survey of Twin Cities shoppers found half have a strong preference for shopping online, and only a third prefer a trip to a store. The survey also found Twin Cities shoppers will spend less than the national average, despite being bullish about the economy.

Online sales have soared, driven by cheap or free delivery. Still, they only account for a relatively small portion of most merchants’ sales. At Target, for instance, online purchases account for 6 percent of the retailer’s sales.

Mahamed Gayre’s family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, because they’re Muslim. He sees the holidays as a time to volunteer at places like homeless shelters and food shelves. And also to snap up some deals.

“They usually offer a ridiculous amount of discounts,” he said. “Right now, we’re looking into buying smart watches.”

Minnesota Public Radio News also invited members of its Public Insight Network to share their thoughts about holiday retailing.

Paul Rozendaal of Minneapolis said most of his presents will be gift cards. “It’s the simplest way to shop, basically,” he said.

And gift cards are the most appreciated gift, it seems. The retail federation said gift cards are at the top of most people’s wish lists.

But gift-givers and recipients should watch out for fees and expiration dates on some gift cards. Generally, Minnesota law forbids the sale of a gift card or certificate that has an expiration date or that is subject to any type of service fee. There are exceptions, though. For instance, there may be expiration dates and fees for cards issued by banks or other financial institutions.

And people need to remember to use the cards. Some companies report the value of gift cards that have gone unredeemed and are unlikely to be used. In its most recent fiscal year, Best Buy, for instance, figured that shoppers had $40 million worth of cards that they had apparently forgotten about or lost.

Unwanted cards can be sold — and bought — online through exchanges like Cardpool.

Some people give experiences instead of gifts, like Ann McIntosh of Shorewood. She once bought her family a dog-sledding trip. “That was everything that everybody got,” she said. “We just went on that dog-sledding trip. And it was great.”

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has a list of dozens of experiences that can be gifts. Its message is: make memories, not trash.

Paul Heimgertner of Blooming Prairie likes to give gifts of experience, too. But when he can’t find a good experience to give, he’ll make charitable donations for friends and family.

“If I know the person well enough, it seems like they’re always interested in helping in a local charity. They seem more than happy to get that as a gift,” he said.