Catalog shopping from October through December is definitely different than at any other time of the year — as you already know. However, you can take steps to make your holiday shopping as problem-free as possible.
To avoid disappointment when placing a catalog order, double check small details like your billing and shipping addresses. Be certain you wrote legibly or spelled street and city names to ensure your package isn’t sent to Water Road when you actually live on Walter Road.
Be sure the place you have the package shipped is safe and convenient. If you’re “never” home, consider having the package shipped to your work address. If it’s a gift, your best option may be to have it shipped directly to the recipient.
Watch billing addresses closely, too. During the holiday season, especially, an address or name that doesn’t match your credit-card company’s records might delay authorization.
Credit-card problems are another reason phone numbers are important to include with your order — it’s not just a way to get your number for telemarketing. Be realistic about how a customer-service representative can contact you, providing daytime as well as evening numbers.
Stock items are shipped as soon as you place your order, since they don’t require special handling. Be smart: If the catalog rep you speak with doesn’t tell you that all of your items are in stock, don’t assume that they are. Ask. Some companies give you this information item by item, while others will tell you at the end of your order or never say.
If an item is on back order, find out when it will ship — then ask if the date is considered accurate or tentative. While a company probably won’t tell you an anticipated ship-date is guaranteed, the rep should be able to tell you if you have a reasonable chance to receive the item by your deadline. Last winter, a fleece cooler we ordered in November didn’t arrive until April. It’s still in the plastic bag.
Remember that delivery services are just as over worked this time of year. Ask if the company offers free shipping upgrades if the original tentative ship-date passes and the item remains on back order. Remember, too, you shouldn’t be charged for any item until it ships to you, unless it is a custom order.
The biggest mistake customers make when ordering is waiting until the last minute to place their order. At this time of year, especially, it makes sense to order what you know you want now and place a second order later, if necessary.
Don’t take “custom” for granted. Custom includes monogramming, special sizes, special colors — anything that is not considered “in stock” and is ordered to meet your individual, specific needs.
Custom items create a different set of ordering parameters, beginning with deadlines. Each catalog and each custom item will have a different ordering deadline for holiday delivery. Don’t be surprised if an item that usually takes six to eight weeks ends up a 10-week wait during Christmas-ordering season.
Check websites and catalogs for deadlines on custom orders. Ask the operator to clarify whether or not your custom item is guaranteed for holiday delivery.
If you’re unsure what to order — but believe it’s perfect anyway — we suggest you cut a picture from the catalog and enclose it in a gift card. You can also consider purchasing a gift certificate to go with it or simply tell the person to fill in the specifics and you’ll order it. This way you can have something to wrap and put under your friend’s tree. This is also the best option if you waited too long to order a custom gift for the holidays.
Remember, too, that catalog companies are owned and run by humans, and we all make mistakes even when we’re doing our best but especially when we’re stressed or overwhelmed by a lot of work.
Protect yourself when you place an order. If you mail or fax it, keep a copy of your order and the date you sent it. With mail, but especially with a fax, follow through with a phone call to be sure the order was received.
You should wait 10 days after mailing an order and 48 hours after faxing to see if it was received. Most Internet sites do give you an order confirmation e-mail that eliminates this step.
If you place your order on the phone, write down the date you called and the name of the person who took your order.
Always ask for and record the order number. Every company should be able to track down your order without it, but it will be much faster and less frustrating for both you and the customer service rep if you know your order number, should you need to call.
Consider, too, that shipping companies are also bombarded with work this time of year, so a ground shipment that normally takes two days may actually take four days. Upgrading your shipping options can be a good investment when you must have a package arrive by a certain date.