'Tis the Season (for P#ss@d Off Customers)
'Tis the season to over-service your customers and quickly make it right when you drop the ball.
This coming Friday and the following Monday are typically two of the most heavily shopped days of the year. This is when we give up our hard-earned cash in the hope that we have the right gift and that we are the only one buying it for a loved one. We have both old and new tools this year and a number of them could help at least assure we get the right price.
As you go into battle, here are my best suggestions for the technology weapons that will help you emerge victorious. (I'm clearly watching too many war movies this week). One thing to remember: When it comes to technology, the best prices actually come closer to Christmas as folks begin to panic about excess inventory; however, I find having my shopping done early so that I can enjoy my time off to be a better choice, personally.
This always seems so easy and becomes too much of a pain for me. Most bank cards truly suck, but a great place to start is ScripSmart, which is a site that ranks all of the cards. The best bank card is American Express, but it is eclipsed by store cards like those from Jack in the Box and Starbucks (my own favorite). I'm just having trouble thinking of whom I'd give a Jack in the Box card to that wouldn't be more pissed than pleased.
By the way, if you are using a credit card to buy a gift, American Express is top-ranked by Consumer Reports because it'll cover up to $300 if you can't return a gift that you've purchased with that card. Nice insurance.
Now the top-ranked retailer by Consumer Reports on its annual Naughty and Nice ("The Today Show" coverage here) list is Costco. This is because it has the most liberal return policy and has warehouse pricing, which is often below other retailer's discounted prices. In addition, it generally automatically extends your warranty for up to two years and it has a decent online site as well, providing plenty of variety and choice. It has a gift card, but given how low it is ranked, I wouldn't use it.
This is where I typically do most of my shopping, and it is also listed as one of the 10 best on the Consumer Reports list. If you have a Prime account, two-day shipping is free and it offers gift wrapping. Returns are relatively easy, but be aware that if the gift is not fulfilled by Amazon, the shipping time can be incredibly optimistic because Amazon has no control over it. And when I say optimistic, I mean it can be months off. Its gift card is ranked a little better than the American Express card. Amazon has already started its Black Friday deals, so you can get ahead of the curve.
If you are buying an Apple product this year - and the iPad is this year's "it" gift - then use either the online or brick-and-mortar Apple store. While it didn't make the Consumer Reports list this year, both typically provide the best Apple service and engraving is free. Also, if the product is in short supply, they are the most likely to get more product first (Apple appears to historically favor its own stores over third-party retailers). This all suggests that if you are buying Apple, shop at Apple. By the way, if someone asks for an Apple product by name, it is generally best to either give them that or a gift card so they can pay the difference and buy it themselves. The Apple Store gift card was highly rated.
If you are buying a PC, on the other hand, and haven't tried a Microsoft Store, it did make the Consumer Reports list (interesting that Microsoft did and Apple didn't). The store is based on one of the most advanced retailing labs in the world. It is a great place to compare PCs across vendors and service is the best you'll likely get for a PC. They are also generally next to Apple stores if you want to cross shop. Apparently, there is no Microsoft Store gift card.
If you use the tools to find the best prices and shop smartly, you can at least get decent prices and not have a return headache if you guess incorrectly. I hope this helps and let me know if there are other things I didn't mention that you've found helpful as you hunt for that elusive perfect gift.