This article was originally published in the December, 2023, issue of The Island Review.

As the festive season approaches, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the significant advantages of doing your Christmas shopping right here in Carteret County rather than caving to the convenience of online retailers. While the allure of one-click purchases made from the cozy comfort of your sofa is undeniable, there are compelling reasons–both economic and sentimental–to check off your Christmas list at home. 

I know what a lot of you are thinking, so let’s just rip off the Band-Aid. Yes, for many generic products, shoppers are likely to find lower prices online. We’re talking generic. A beige sweater. A scented candle. Some gold earrings. Generic, meaning not quality brand name products, and certainly not unique ones. 

But this often isn’t the case for higher end and more memorable options.

You might be surprised to learn that popular gifting brands, like Yeti, Solo Stove, XtraTuf, and just about any electronics brand you can think of, are priced relatively evenly across retailers, even independently owned brick and mortar stores. These big players request retailers to sell these items at MSRP, or manufacturer suggested retail pricing, which matches the pricing they offer through their self-managed stores. This sets an expectation for shoppers, so retailers of all sizes are likely to stick close to that suggested price. 

You probably assume that $450 Yeti cooler you saw online will cost you $500 at family-owned stores nearby, but my quick survey of several local retailers proves that assumption wrong. Why not buy it here instead? 

What I personally find to be the most compelling argument to keep your shopping local is harder to quantify. It’s tough to put a value on a truly unique item, or something intrinsically tied to a sense of place or time. These are the gifts that spark looks of genuine delight on the faces of your loved ones. They come with anecdotes (“I found these at a craft show. The artist who made this pottery has a dog who looks just like yours!”) and visions of memories to be made (“When should we book our sky-diving date?”). You just can’t buy that on Amazon.

By the time this article is published, you’ll have a little more than three weeks of shopping time before Christmas. Try not to panic yourself into an online shopping session. It may take a bit more time and effort to shop in-store, but with a little planning you can make it work. Here are some tips to reduce in-store-shopping-stress and maximize your time:

Outline your gifting goals: If you’re lucky, each of your giftees has requested one specific gift from you. Chances are, you’re not lucky. Instead of getting overwhelmed, brew a cup of coffee, grab a notepad and get cozy on the couch for a 20-minute planning session. You’re going to make three bullet points under each person on your gift list and jot out a response to each of these prompts:

  1. Is this person going through a major life change, such as a move, caring for a sick family member or switching careers? Consider stressors they may be experiencing and write those down.
  2. What was going on the last few times you saw a reaction of excitement or joy on this person’s face? Was it over dinner with friends or family? While showing off a unique outfit? During an intense game of Scrabble? Write those moments down.
  3. What types of gifts has this person given you recently? Do they usually give one big item, or a collection of fabulous finds? Do they seem to avoid giving certain things? Their own gift-giving habits can shed light on how they like to receive gifts. 

At this point you may be able to pinpoint one or two things to give to each person on your list. If not, you have a strong outline that should jog your brain when you’re out at the shops.

Do some research: Google what you’re looking for along with the words “near me.” For example, “outdoor gear near me” will yield you results for local shops. Even searching concepts works, such as “unique gifts for men near me.” It’s a great way to discover new places, and it sets you up for the next tip.

Map your shopping trip: This is a critical step when time is of the essence. Jot down the shopping areas you’d like to hit. Pull up Google Maps and browse the stores in that area, listing the ones you’d like to stop into along with their opening hours. Level up this process by using Google’s “save to list” feature so you have a GPS-able shopping map in hand. Use that handy list of open hours so you know where to start your trip. Shops are usually less busy when they first open up.

Make it an experience: Strolling around a downtown shopping area instead of rushing store to store may seem like a waste of time to a frazzled shopper, but what you save in time, you pay in mental fatigue. You’ll find that when you allow yourself to slow down and enjoy the experience of being out and about surrounded by lights and decorations while sipping a peppermint latte, shopping feels much less like a chore. That’ll leave you some extra headspace to wrap all those locally purchased gifts!

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