How to get better service while Christmas shopping

A few simple tips can help you enjoy your holiday shopping.

A few simple tips can help you enjoy your holiday shopping.

The movies make Christmas shopping seem so delightful. Christmas carolers spread joy while everyone sings along and sips hot chocolate. Families cavort in their yuletide glee. Kris Kringle helpfully suggests that you can get better skates over at Gimbels. 

Reality is often a bit different.  

First, there are the crowds. As I noted in a post earlier this year, crowds are like kryptonite for customer service. There’s something about throngs of people that makes everyone a little less friendly. 

Crowds lead to lines, which sour our moods even more. I recently read an article in the New York Times that suggests people overestimate their time spent waiting in line by as much as 36 percent. Ugh.

There’s also the pressure to get the right gift at the right price right now. This pressure leaves us little time for hot chocolate-sipping, cavorting, or unscheduled trips over to Gimbels.

It’s a recipe for disaster, yet we do it every year. Will this year be any different?

Before you brave the masses, consider these tips that can help you actually enjoy your experience. 


Be the best customer

If Christmas shopping sucks, working retail during the holidays sucks a lot more. You may spend a couple of miserable hours at the mall dealing with rude shoppers who get in your way, but the people serving you spend all day dealing with the same folks. Then they get to stay late and clean up the mess, only to come back tomorrow and do it all over again. And again.

It’s natural for retail associates to feel a little downtrodden at this time of year.

Why not help spread some holiday cheer instead by being the best customer? This is the person who exercises just a little bit of patience. Who smiles and says, “Thank you.” Who sincerely wishes the people who serve them a happy holiday. 

This person is like a breath of fresh air to customer service employees. Employees will go out of their way to provide this person with better service, if for no other reason than to avoid all the miserable people competing for their attention. 

“I’ll be right with you, Ms. Crab. It will be just a moment, Mr. Grump. I’m helping another customer right now.” And that VIP customer will be you if you take a moment to spread some holiday cheer.


Don’t follow the crowd

Holiday shopping crowds are pretty predictable. Going shopping the day after Thanksgiving, Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and Friday after work are all for crowd-loving masochists. 

You can get much better customer service if you avoid the hordes. Get to stores when they first open and associates are fresh. Order online whenever you can. Do your after work shopping earlier in the week.

Try to avoid the crowds when you do venture out. Plan to park in the back of the lot rather than slowly stalk pedestrians in hopes of getting that perfect front row parking space. You’ll get in a few extra steps, which conveniently cancels out all of those delicious holiday treats. Plus, you’ll be a lot less creepy. 

Choose neighborhoods that are a little less crowded. There are three Best Buy stores within 15 minutes of my house, but one of them is always a lot less crowded than the other two. I go there to get the same stuff with much better service and far fewer hassles.

Don’t eat at the mall. Yes, the Cheesecake Factory is delicious. It’s just not wait-for-two-hours delicious. Avoid the crowds and fuel up before hitting the stores. (Save room for a hot chocolate so you have something to sip while you enjoy the caroling.)


Be reasonable

There’s something about the pressures of holiday shopping that makes customers unreasonable. 

Unreasonableness only amplifies negative experiences. It causes people to search for a scapegoat for their self-inflicted problems. People begin to dwell on anger and blame rather than accept what is and move on.

Yesterday, I had lunch with my wife and parents in a busy restaurant in Los Angeles. The fact that they were going to be busy should have surprised no one. They were located near the epicenter of the LA Auto Show, a Clippers game, and the American Music Awards. 

Even so, the restaurant was a little unprepared for the onslaught and their service was slower than it should have been. Orders took a long time to come out of the kitchen. More than a few orders were wrong. We noticed the manager intervening with a lot of guest issues.

One diner decided to handle things by storming into the kitchen and yelling at the cooks, her server, and anyone else within earshot. The manager finally got her to return to her table, where she huffed for a few more minutes before she and her dining companion stood up and walked out. 

The epic injustice, as overheard by everyone in the restaurant, was that she had been waiting 45 minutes for her food to arrive. This doesn’t qualify as great service and can’t really be defended. However, her very un-pragmatic approach amplified the problem. The net result was she never got her meal and she likely had to wait quite a bit longer to eat since every other restaurant in the neighborhood was just as crowded.

My table experienced similar slowness and an undercooked entree to boot. We handled things a bit differently by calmly and politely raising the issue with our server and then the manager when he happened to stop by our table. They took the offending entrée off our bill plus an additional 10 percent for our trouble. We spent the extra time enjoying each other’s company rather than dwelling on the restaurant’s service problems. 

Well, we did laugh about the lady who stormed into the kitchen and yelled at everyone. How can you not be amused by that?


Happy Holidays

The holidays should about giving as much as they are about receiving. This principle should be extended to service and civility. Give the people who serve you and your fellow customers good cheer and you'll likely get quite a bit more in return.

If you’d like even more holiday shopping tips, you can read my posts from 2012, 2011, and 2010.