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Last-minute holiday shopping strategies

With just hours of shopping time left before Christmas, procrastinators have limited bargain options.

By Karen Datko Dec 24, 2009 12:29PM

This Deal of the Day comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.


About 12% of shoppers say they plan to wrap up their shopping today, according to the National Retail Federation. “Many people have procrastinated, in part because they’re hoping for the same deep discounts we saw last year,” says Deborah Mitchell, a senior lecturer of marketing and associate dean for Enterprise MBA programs at the Wisconsin School of Business. But stores’ scaled-back inventories have left those shoppers out of luck. “Retailers are holding the line (on price),” she says.

If you’re planning to brave the crowds, however, cautious spending is still the way to go. The sales are out there, but they’re targeted to items that aren’t selling as well as retailers hoped -- namely, winter clothing and kitchen electrics, Mitchell says.

No matter how late you leave your shopping on Christmas Eve, there are still ways to snag a bargain. Here’s how:


Morning: Browse store sales

Promotions have fallen off over the past week as retailers took stock of early sales, says Guy King, a co-founder of coupon site Still, there are a handful of stores offering discounts.

  • Kohl's: Through today, save 60% on select jewelry, 10% to 40% off select kitchen electrics, 15% to 40% off select toys and games, and 50% to 55% off select boots. Shoppers earn $10 in store cash (e-mailed Dec. 26) for every $50 spent. Kohl’s store credit cardholders also receive scratch-off coupons worth 15%, 20% or 30% off.
  • Old Navy: Bring in a print-out coupon to save 20% on store gift cards (maximum value $300) through today.
  • Sears: Through today, save up to 15% off all appliances and up to 60% off all women’s holiday coats, dresses and tops. All game tables, fitness equipment and Craftsman tool storage are also on sale.

Afternoon: Arrange for in-store pickup

Instead of hunting through limited inventory, consider in-store pickup -- where stores reserve an item for you to retrieve. If you decide to try this, don’t leave home without receiving a confirmation e-mail. Online guesstimates on inventory may be based on yesterday’s store tallies, Mitchell says, and you could make a trip for nothing. If a store requires you to pay online ahead of time, look for coupon codes.

  • Barnes & Noble has a “Pick Me Up” option to reserve an item in stores. You’ll receive a confirmation e-mail when the order is ready, usually within an hour, the store says. You can also opt to receive a text-message confirmation. Pick up items at the register.
  • Best Buy lets you place orders online for store pickup until 3 p.m. today. Pay online and you’ll receive a confirmation e-mail when the order is ready, usually within 45 minutes, the store says. Pick up items at the “ In-Store Pickup” counter.
  • Borders provides the option to reserve an item in stores. You’ll receive a confirmation e-mail when the order is ready, usually within two hours, the store says. Pick up items at the register.
    • Use a print-out coupon to save 30% on a single item through today. (You must be a Borders Rewards member to use the coupon. Membership is free.)
  • Sears regularly offers same-day in-store pickup on orders completed during store hours. Pay online and you’ll receive a confirmation e-mail when the order is ready, usually within two hours, Sears says. Pick up items at the Merchandise Pick-Up area. (Go to the jewelry counter for jewelry and watches.) If the items aren’t ready within five minutes of your arrival in the store, you’ll receive a $5 gift card.
    • Save $5 off your order of $50 or more with code SEARS5OFF50 at checkout. Offer good through Jan. 31. During the site’s Last-Minute Gift Sale through today, all electronics are also 5% off online.

Evening: Opt for electronic delivery

Truly last-minute shoppers still have options after the bricks-and-mortar stores have closed for the night. But even though e-gift cards, magazine and service subscriptions, event tickets and media downloads can all be purchased swiftly online, they aren't always delivered instantly. J.C. Penney, for example, warns that its e-gift cards are usually mailed within 12 hours, and can take longer on weekends.

Some gifts delivered electronically may be eligible for discounts via online coupon codes.

  • Select titles offer an extra $3 discount, automatically applied at checkout, when you buy before Dec. 31.
  • Get a free $25 gift card for every $100 in e-gift cards (up to $500 total) bought through today. The $25 card expires Feb. 21. (E-gift cards are sent to the recipient within 24 hours.)
  • New customers can use code THANKS10 at checkout to save 10% on all downloadable titles. Or use code MOBILITYSITE25 to save 25% at checkout. Both codes expire Dec. 31.
  • Use code HOLIDAYMAGS at checkout to save $5 through Dec. 31.
  • Use code SANTA at checkout to save 80% on print-out gift certificates. Promotion expires Dec. 25. (The site regularly offers $25 gift certificates to local restaurants for just $10.)
  • Save 15% on gift certificate purchases. (No end date specified.) Gift certificates arrive via mail, but purchasers are given the option to e-mail or print a gift announcement.
  • Save 10% on gift certificates using code SBCG, or 15% on gift certificates valued at $125 or more with code DBGCN. (No end dates specified.) Purchasers can choose to print or e-mail certificates, as well as ship them.

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