With Christmas Day just around the corner, some people might be enjoying the holiday season knowing that they have purchased gifts for everyone on their list. Others might find themselves scrambling to find presents for family and friends or trying to track down their online orders.
Those rushing to get their shopping done are not alone. Many stores across metro Phoenix will be open until Dec. 25 and expect to be busy with last-minute shoppers.
“I think that this Christmas Eve on Friday could be very busy for us,” said Brett Zimmerman, chief operations officer of Zia Records. “I anticipate every day until the 25th to be really busy.”
This is “the tell-tale week,” said Cindy Dach, co-owner and CEO of Changing Hands Bookstore, with stressed holiday shoppers flocking to stores.
Employees at local businesses such as Zia and Changing Hands are happy to help customers find gifts. However, Dach hopes that shoppers try to be “as mindful” as possible amid the rush. She recommends keeping a “zen mindset” about last-minute gift availability. You might think to yourself, “What is here is what I’m supposed to get.”
“Perhaps people need to lower their own expectations. Everybody gets so caught up in giving that perfect gift,” she said.
“Part of the holiday season is the experience of giving. So (tell yourself), ‘I’m going to go into X local store and I’m going to find something for everyone in that store.’ You know, sort of this mentality of abundance: Everything I need is here.”
How the 2021 holiday shopping season is different
With warnings of supply-chain issues and shortages, 2021 was challenging for most businesses.
Something that was “a little atypical” at Changing Hands this year, Dach said, is that customers were shopping for the holidays starting in October, purchasing large quantities of Christmas ornaments and other items.
“We definitely saw the ‘shop early’ campaign come to fruition,” she said. “People, I think, are very mindful about avoiding crowded spaces, and a large percentage of people did their best to start their shopping early.”
Dach said customers were not the only ones shopping early this year.
Due to warnings about supply-chain issues, Changing Hands placed larger orders earlier than usual in 2021. Dach said they ordered some merchandise, such as puzzles, as early as August. They requested more copies of books such as Paul McCartney’s “The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present,” to ensure stock through the year, knowing that their next order might not arrive until after the New Year.
This time of year is also normally a “scramble” for bookstores not only due to more shoppers but also the announcement of several annual book awards. Bookstore employees do their best to guess which books will earn National Book Awards and the New York Times’ best books of the year, both of which are announced in November and lead to subsequent demand for those titles.
What the week before Christmas is like for stores
The week leading up to Christmas is the biggest hurdle for stores, as children are on break from school and last-minute shoppers try to cross items off their gift lists.
“The week or two right before Christmas is usually when it picks up the most for me,” said Rocio Francis, the founder of Morning Mist Soap Co. “And I always remind people: I love that you support me, but remember that we as small businesses have a lot to do that week, because we’re planning not only how to manage our business, how to coordinate home life, but we’re also trying to fight the delay on shipping.”
Francis operates Morning Mist Soap Co., a West Valley-based company that makes and sells sustainable products, alone.
Francis said she was “on the ground crying” last Christmas when several customers emailed in a panic over their online orders not arriving in time for the holiday. This year, she attempted to avoid that by not filling orders and taking time off from her business to recuperate and enjoy quality time with family after the Dec. 17 first-class mail shipping deadline.
“Technically I will be ‘closed’ from December 20th-January 3rd,” Francis wrote in a Dec. 19 Instagram post. Between online orders and appearances at pop-up markets across Phoenix over the weekend before Christmas, Francis “completely sold out of everything in my store.”
Zimmerman said the weekend of Dec. 18-19 was “the busiest weekend of the shopping season” at Zia Records. However, people who receive paychecks on Dec. 23 and 24 might attempt to do some shopping right under the wire, too.
He said it’s common to see people lined up outside Zia locations before the opening time on Christmas Eve.
‘We’re doing everything we can’:How Morning Mist Soap Co. copes with holiday demand
Is in-store shopping better than curbside pickup?
Both Zia and Changing Hands offer curbside pickup as well as in-store shopping, and both options have their benefits and drawbacks.
Zia has “plenty of employees who can pick up the phone when customers arrive for curbside pickup and run the order out to them,” Zimmerman said. Those who decide to shop in-store can look items up on Zia’s website to see which locations have them in stock.
While online and curbside are “absolutely options,” shopping in-store at Changing Hands in Tempe and Phoenix might be easiest, Dach said.
She said one of the challenges with ordering online for pickup is “people are so used to speed that they expect to make an order online and then drive over and pick it up.”
While Changing Hands employees are sometimes able to make that happen, there’s no designated person whose job is to fulfill online orders all day. Sometimes, an item might show that it’s in stock online but it needs to be delivered from the other location.
So while customers should keep in mind that their order might not be ready for pickup immediately, both curbside and online ordering are good options. The upside to shopping in-store is you see everything that is in stock.
Arizona shoppers have been ‘very gracious’ during the holidays
Most shoppers at local businesses such as Changing Hands and Zia Records have been pleasant this season, with some exceptions.
“Our customers have been largely understanding and very gracious,” Zimmerman said.
He hopes that shoppers continue to practice empathy while looking for gifts.
“I regularly try to remind people: Be nice to the people working out there during the holidays. They’re making a living just like anybody else and (give) them some patience, some understanding,” Zimmerman said. “It’s not their fault necessarily that you waited till the last minute.”
Changing Hands has also been “very fortunate” to have customers who have been patient with staff members, especially as many employees were recent hires over the last several months.
“They’ve been kind. They’ve been understanding when we explain something’s gone and we’re not going to be able to get it back (in stock) until January,” Dach said.
‘We cannot do what Amazon does’
Employees have noticed, however, that some people have attempted to haggle at Changing Hands.
“As one of my managers phrased it, they’re treating us a little bit like a corporation … in the way that they’re asking for discounts. They’re asking for us to meet Amazon’s prices. They’re asking for a discount on shipping,” Dach said.
“Obviously, we cannot do what Amazon does. We don’t treat books like a loss leader. The post office and shipping (companies) all raised their rates, and shipping is expensive this year. That becomes a challenge where we’re a small business, and (customers are) pushing us. A lot of people are taught, ‘Push and you’ll get what you want,’ and that’s uncomfortable, but it’s not unexpected,” she said.
Both Dach and Zimmerman are grateful for Arizonans who shop local for their holiday gifts.
“For people that do make that decision to spend a couple extra bucks on a locally owned smaller vendor out there, it goes a long way,” Zimmerman said.
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