The Best List Ever

K has compiled a list of Retail e-mail, reward and loyality programs that you should know about. Click here!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tips for Saving at the Mall

How do you shop? Window shopping is fun and finding something on clearance is super great ... but this is my best shopping tool:

Oh yes. That is a binder clip. It's super cheap and I look like an idiot when pulling it out of my purse (ahem, my Burberry purse) and its loaded with a thousand pieces of paper and those plastic coupons you get in the mail. But when I go to the mall, move out of my way, 'cause it's on y'all. My favorite day to go to the mall is on Thursday - because it's still mid-week and typically the slowest of days - but also because most sales, promotions and freebies happen on Thursdays.

To become a "Mall Master", sign up to get on lists or reward/loyalty programs for stores that you frequent. Make sure you start a new "coupons only" email because you will get stuff everyday and it will drive you crazy. But print out the things that you like immediately (because I've found that sometimes I can lose them amongst the other e's) and hold on to them - you never know when you'll need to kill a few hours.

Also, just look around the web - I spend about an hour a week on the computer looking for last minute coupons online at sites like, and by just google-ing a stores name and with the word "coupon" behind it. I don't think I've shopped at Bath and Body Works, Victoria's Secret, American Eagle or Express without a coupon in years.

Find a few good coupons but they all say that they can't be combined? Not a problem - most stores will let you do multiple transactions in one trip, lest I've never had a problem with it. (Especially in this economy.) I sometimes get the stink eye from a shopgirl, but I just tell myself that she's jealous and I move on. :-)

And while you're shopping, keep an eye out as to what is being put in your shopping bag. Bath and Body Works LOVE to give away coupons - look before you leave and if its a good one, ask nicely and you could even score more. Many stores have those stupid phone surveys printed on the bottom of the receipts - but if you take the time - about 5-10 minutes - to tell them about your trip (most are touch-tone answers to pre-recorded questions) they'll reward you with instant coupons, like $10 off of your $50 purchase. Once, A and I were at a store, I purchased something, she did my survey in the fitting room and then 5 minutes later was checking out with it.

Its also important to know a stores return and mark down policies. (You don't have to carry them around like Target and Walmart, just be mindful.) Like, Victoria's Secret won't refund an item if you received a freebie with it - so if you bought a pair of panties to get the Pink Nation freebie or you spent $75 to get the After Thanksgiving Day "tote full of goodies" - UNLESS you return the freebie too. (Exception - if you only needed to purchase one item to get said free thing but you purchased something else on the same sale that would also count towards the freebie; if you spent way over the purchase amount - so if you spent $95 and got the tote, you could return something for $20 or under, but over $20 dips into the original $75.)

Most stores even have mark down policies - so if you purchase something and it goes on sale within 14, 30, 60 or even 90 days you can bring the receipt back for a one-time price adjustment, and there is no need to bring the item in! (Altho you may have to find one on the sales floor for the cashier to compare.)

Are you a student, AAA member or out-of-towner? If you're really going to drop some dough (or you are a cash-poor student) ask if that store offers an extra discount; I've done this plenty of times, and you won't know til you ask, right? J-Crew offers a 10% (it could be more, but I haven't been a student for a few years) discount with a "valid" student ID. (But really, how do they know if its valid? Well, unless it's in big print when it will expire ... but all's fair in love and shopping, right?) AAA also has discounts associated with certain stores - I'd do a long post but not everyone is a member so I won't waste my time. (Well, maybe I'll do a post down the road. Whatever.)

If you know you're going out to the mall, check their main website and click around anything that reads "mall info booth", "concierge" or "special mall info" - you're looking for clues as to email clubs and coupons. Some, like Chelsea Premium Outlets, require you sign up for an account (free) and bring in the proper email before they hand over a coupon booklet to you; others just want you to flash your drivers license - if you're a "visitor" from more than X amount of miles (usually 50) out-of-town, then you can claim a free coupon book - this is a MUST DO in Vegas - show your ID at every casino VIP booth, concierge stand and Mall/Shopping staffed Info booth you can - you'll get bogo's and % offs on everything from shows to food to retail.

Yet other malls just have coupons (that you need to redeem for more coupons) just hanging out online, like this one. Also, some state tourism boards have set up special websites just to focus on their shopping. (I bet you can't guess who I'm going to link back to...) That's right, there is a site for shopping deals and coupons for my state - this sub-section is just what is available in the Dallas area, brought to you by

Is it a better deal to get it online? Well, that depends. Factor in things like shipping and the possible cost of making a return - find out those two pieces of info before you even start looking to save the pain of more steps later. You can usually find free shipping deals if you look hard enough online, but what if something arrives broken, too small or you simply changed your mind?

I think that's something that retailers are starting to recognize with the number of consumers who have Internet enabled smart-phones; not only has the game changed due to the economy and technology, but we are more informed as shoppers now more than ever. We can instantly find out if someone else has a better deal than what you're offering, including the parent companies own website, and we can do it right in front of you. Don't be afraid to do some cost comparisons and show a cashier, sales-person or manager what you've found while in their store - they have daily sales quotas to hit and giving you a discount right there is better to them than you walking out of the story completely.

With that said, you may still need to order online from time to time, and with those online orders come the dreaded thoughts of making a return. If you want to return an item and not pay for it, you have to go to the store which uses gas and the carbon footprint and walking past the store displays of other crap you could buy, blah blah blah. Sometimes it is a hassle. But, if you want a same-day return that is done right in front of you instead of trusting the mail and whoever opens and checks your return, then it is the lesser of two evils.

I've never had a problem with Target accepting a return from an online purchase - they've streamlined the process where you can use either your original, email or account record receipt (all printed and brought with you), or if the item was a gift that didn't include a gift receipt they'll walk you through the process of how to obtain one online (usually about 5 minutes). You still have 90 days to make the return and you might be slapped with a 10% restocking fee on some items (electronics, furniture), but if something is damaged, they'll make it right. Walmart (shutter) makes it easier with their "Site to Store" program - instead of having an item shipped to your home where it may be left outside or take a few extra days, they'll include it at no extra charge on a mack-truck delivery within two weeks of your order and notify you when it gets to the store of your choice. The process seems a bit safer than traditional shipping but a downside is that you have to go to the store to pick your item(s) up during said stores "s2s" hours and you can only have someone else pick up your stuff if you included them on the original order. You have 30 days to pick up your package and when you do, you stand there in the store with whomever is on duty at the time checking all the boxes and their contents to make sure everything looks alright from the start; if there is visible damage the employee can help you on the spot instead of taking it home and then having to come back. But should something still not work, you still have the same 90 day return policy and it starts the day you pick the boxes up, not the day you placed the order.

Other retail establishments won't even offer the choice of making a return to your local haunt - instead you have to do so by mail using the "convenient" "pre-printed" return envelopes and mailing labels that they provided with the original shipment. Order by phone or online with Victoria's Secret and you're able to use up to 3 discount codes at once ( free shipping, free panties, free tote bags, free lip gloss, etc) but if you need to return those $10 thongs or that $45 bejeweled bra and you're looking at $7-12 just to send it back using their return slip. Not to mention you have to take the time to fill out a check-list of sorts that contains each item number that you are to cross-reference with each item you are wanting to return and then give a reason as to why (they've thought of all the answers for you, you just need to list the corresponding number) and if you don't do so then your return won't be accepted.

I once partook in the catalog/Internet "X panties for $X" amount promotion but ended up returning two pair because they weren't what I ordered. By the end of everything I was actually charged a second time for the same order, because individually each was $9 but when buying 7 the for $35, each was brought down to $5 each. Had I just purchased 5 individually I would have been charged $45. So in my sending back two, I wasn't refunded the $10 I spent, rather charged $10 more because I was keeping the rest. Too many people over the years had caught on to this sort of "buying at a discount" and in my not returning everything, that is what they thought I was doing. You can bet I'm going to avoid buying online from them in the future.

All in all, we have a lot of choices now, and the retailers know it. They all want our business, not just for the day, but for life. So you shouldn't be ashamed for wanting to get the most for your money, rather, you should feel smart for getting great deals and making the people behind you jealous by how much you're not spending.


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