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(CNN) -- Haven't started your holiday season shopping yet? Breaking out into a cold sweat just at the thought of the horrors ahead? Fear not. The Briefing Room's guide to "power shopping" is here to take the pain out of present-buying.
Make a plan: "What makes holiday shopping such a horror is when we put it off till too late then go out to the store in a panic with no idea what to buy," says consumer expert Pam Danziger, author of "Shopping: Why We Love it and How Retailers Can Create the Ultimate Customer Experience." "The relaxed shopper spends more time developing a strategy for effective shopping than they do in a store." Danziger says the most important part of any shopping trip actually occurs in the forward planning of four key details -- who to buy for, what to buy them, where to shop and how much you plan to spend.
Start big: For maximum convenience when it comes to Christmas shopping, head for the nearest and largest department store you can find. You may not get the cheapest prices, but you'll find somewhere geared up for the Christmas rush that is likely to cater for most of your needs and will also act as a central hub for other retailers, cutting down on unnecessary travel time. Danziger suggests mapping out your shopping route beforehand. "Power shoppers don't need to visit a lot of different stores, what they want is diversity and wide selection," she says.
Start early: The worst time to shop, short of 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, is at the same time as everyone else. The best time to power shop is first thing on a weekday morning when the sales staff are still fresh, the queues at the tills are still manageable and the merchandise displays are yet to look as if they've been devastated by a small earthquake.
Shop alone: "Leave the kids, significant other and friends at home," advises Danziger. "Children, husbands or wives, and friends and family are only distractions and keep you from your power shopping objective." She also says dress up, rather than down. "The reality is better dressed shoppers get better service."
Cut the wrap: In-store gift wrapping may be a nice idea in theory but in reality it just wastes crucial shopping time and distracts from the crucial job of present-buying. Don't worry about gift wrap, cards etc. until everyone on your list is catered for. Then stop by your favorite store for all the extras. Danziger says attention to presentation can make the difference between a present appearing hastily bought or carefully chosen. "When you give a gift, the presentation really counts, so the extra money and time spent on wrapping each gift will pay off in emotional enjoyment," she says.
Go online: Growing numbers of holiday season shoppers are swapping the traumas of the high street or the mall for the painless consumer nirvana of the Internet. If it's basics like books, CDs or DVDs you're after, there are sites galore to choose from, all offering prices more competitive than you'd get in a store. But hurry up if you want guaranteed pre-Christmas delivery -- the clock is ticking...
Christmas shoppers hit the streets of San Francisco.
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