5 Tips for Black Friday Shopping

by Jamie Sanford on November 22, 2015

It’s that time of year again, when everyone gets together to celebrate gluttony and the joining of Native Americans and the Pilgrims, and then use all of that carb energy for shopping at ridiculous hours.


I have only done the Black Friday thing once, getting up at 4am to go buy a television. It was a hot deal at the time and we still have the TV, so 7 or so years ago, it was worth it to freeze in the parking lot of that 6th Ave Electronics. However, since then, I have not had anything that I needed so badly that I wanted to get up that early, or stay up that late.

Online shopping is another story, I had some GREAT buys last year online, and I think it will only get better this year. I know that people will be doing both in-person and online shopping, so here are my Top 5 Tips for Black Friday Shopping.

1. Evaluate your needs, right now.

What do you really need? When we bought a TV on Black Friday, we were replacing a ye olde television that had seen better days. If you’ve been thinking about replacing something for a while, Black Friday is definitely a good opportunity to purchase that item at a reduced price.

2. Evaluate your gift list.

As mentioned in my post on starting your holiday shopping early, there’s no shame in the sale game. If you can get a great gift for someone and can save a little money in the process, then have at it. Review the list of gifts you still have to buy for the holidays, and see if you can match up your list with a Black Friday opportunity.

3. Do your research.

Black Friday is full of tricks and vague language. In addition, the sale items can at times be inferior. If you want a 1080p flat screen TV, the one on sale is probably 720. Look around online for the item you’re interested in, figure out the specs that are important to you, and note the prices of items that meet your requirements. This will give you a clear look at how good the sale prices really are.

4. Sign up for emails and connect on social channels with your favorite retailers.

If you aren’t already receiving emails from sites you shop at often, or if you don’t get emails from brands you are already a fan of, now is the time to sign up for emails. You can always unsubscribe from these emails later, and it’s worth it to get the alerts to all of the holiday special offers. I recommend Amazon, Ulta, and The Body Shop in particular, they are some of my favorites. Ulta has exclusive LORAC palettes for Black Friday, and The Body Shop always has some hot deals as well.

Also, connect on Facebook or Instagram with your favorite brick-and-mortar retailers. Exclusive offers are often available through one channel only, and while it might bog down your newsfeed for a few weeks, you can always un-like after the holidays, and get a few hot deals for your trouble.

5. Have fun!

This was also the last tip in my early holiday shopping tips list, but it really is the most important. Stressing out like mad to save $50 on a Blu-Ray player is not worth it. If you know that going out at 4am to shop will make you cranky, stay home and wait for Cyber Monday specials to flow into your inbox or Twitter feed on Monday morning. If you love the rush of standing outside big box stores for a hot deal on a Crock Pot, then you should definitely do that. Enjoy the process!

Let me know your tips for Black Friday shopping in the comments!

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Pier 1 Imports | Brand Experience Project

by Jamie Sanford on May 9, 2013

Click here for all posts in the Brand Experience Project.

As I mentioned at the start of this project, I am excited to present different types of posts related to brand experience. This week, I’m going to share an experience I had while shopping on

At first, I get this highly celebratory email about a big clearance event at Pier 1 Imports. I’m very excited since this was just after the holidays, so I quickly clicked through to the website.

I saw this “capiz” ornament in the clearance section but didn’t screencap that view. This image is the result after using search to find it again. I didn’t notice the “out of stock” in red when I scrolled over the image.

Where this starts to be really unfortunate is on the product page, where there is no indication of this item being out of stock. It even says “arriving soon,” which suggests to me that even if it was on sale that I can purchase it now and that more are coming soon. I then proceed to add 3 of these to my cart because I want them. I also manage to add a few other items before making my way to the shopping cart to start the checkout process.

Side note: How is the Pier 1 website not designed to automatically hide items of this nature? If you have an item in discontinued status, the website should know that the remaining quantity is all that remains, and the item should disappear from the site when there aren’t any left.

This is where Pier 1 Imports lost me. I had shopped their site, and added a number of items from their clearance section to my cart, with the intention of buying said things. Then I get to the cart, and the message says this:

“Your shopping cart can currently not be ordered since one or more of the products in your cart have an invalid price or are not available in the requested quantity. If you have any questions, please contact customer service.”

What. The. Hell.

Seriously, what was my next step meant to be? I saw that the Giraffe Foil Platter was marked out of stock, so I tried removing that from the cart. The message appeared again, and I assumed it had to do with the capiz ornaments because of that little message on the search results page about them being out of stock. However, the cart thinks they are arriving soon, so how am I supposed to know which item is the problem?! The message that “one or more products… have an invalid price” is meaningless to me – I didn’t enter any prices, I have no control over the prices, how is this my problem?  That’s a huge red flag that implies their site is essentially broken.

Needless to say, I did NOT complete this shopping experience. Sending me to customer service instead of just having your site work properly isn’t acceptable to me. The words “customer service” aren’t even a link to a pop-up – at the very least, you should make it easy for me to be able to connect with someone.

So, I was epically disappointed in my sale shopping experience with Pier 1 Imports. I only give report cards to brands that I actually order from – but obviously if I never make a purchase, I would think the score is a zero. I really like some of my Pier 1 products, so I hope they can work on fixing their cart and clearance items situation.

Have you successfully shopped Pier 1 Imports’ website? Let me know about your experience in the comments!


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MAC | Brand Experience Project

by Jamie Sanford on February 28, 2013

Click here for all posts in the Brand Experience Project.

The next brand examination will be on MAC Cosmetics and I’m going to combine two different experiences here. I was lucky enough to receive wishlist items from MAC for Christmas, so I got to experience the extra benefit of gift wrapping and messaging in the package I received in December. For the shopping experience portion of this post, I will focus on my recent experience buying cute stuff from the Archie’s Girls collection. Please note that I am a big fan of MAC products, and would still use them even if the website totally sucked. This post has nothing to do with MAC, I am not paid to write it, etc.

Shopper Experience

The MAC website hasn’t changed for as long as I can remember. The homepage is definitely dedicated to promotional imagery for current collections and new items.

The left navigation on the website stays present on all pages. It’s pretty straightforward. Picking your items at the top, customer service information, search, etc.

Choosing something on the left generates a pop-out menu of everything in that category.

Some categories drop down and then out, as seen with the makeup menu. The design here is simple and easy to navigate.

I navigated my way to the Veronica section of the new Archie’s Girls collection.

Here’s a closer look at the items in the Veronica collection. You can shop right from this menu by clicking a color swatch-

-as seen here, where I clicked the blue swatch for the nail lacquer and was then able to add it to the cart. I tried to show the item I actually bought, but it is sold out and so indicates that in this small pop-up box, without letting me add to the cart.

You can also click on each item’s name and get this more detailed view of the color swatches. You can create an account and create a favorites list, or you can check out the Colour Play feature, which is very cool. It’s a little side track from this process, but I cannot skip over it.

You visit the MAC rainbow and pick a color on the left bar, and it shows you swatches of all of the products in that color family. You can then break it down by product area, finish, coverage level, etc. It’s really fun to click around and look at all of the red products, all of the purple products, etc. I highly recommend trying it out. I love all of my MAC makeup, I doubt you will regret anything you purchase from MAC.

Back to the purchase process.

I added the Double Trouble nail lacquer to my cart, and I get this lovely confirmation that not only did I add it, I am going to get free shipping!


Here’s my shopping cart. It is pretty straightforward. I really like the links at the bottom for shipping information, returns, and sales tax. They generate pop-up boxes that keep you at the page with your cart but lets you get information relevant to your purchase easily.

The page asking for account information is made slightly more interesting by the step numbers at the bottom. I like the idea that it is only 2 extra steps if I don’t have an account yet.

Here’s an example of the pop-up that comes up when I choose to click for more information. On the left under “shipping method,” you get to quickly access anything you might want to know about shipping your order.

The gift wrap options are made available here as well. My issue with this is that the picture of the gift wrap isn’t very big, and the “MAC box” is not what I received when I got my own gift last year. (Granted, I do not know if they show a different image at the holiday season. My wrap wasn’t particularly seasonal, so this is an unknown.)

The billing information page is easy to use and understand. The biggest issue I have here is that “Learn more about gift cards” at the bottom of the page is NOT a pop-up, but opens another page on the site. It takes you AWAY from the checkout process, to another page. I would recommend that MAC turns this link into a pop-up like the others, with a link there to open a page to buy gift cards in a new tab or window.

After this, I completed my purchase with a credit card. Everything went smoothly, and I was told I would have an email confirming my order.

Here’s my confirmation email. As with the Solestruck email, I like that I’m told how long it is going to take to process my order, and that they will be in touch when my order ships. I know that most people think that stuff like this is standard, but I can tell you that it is NOT.

On to the order packaging! As mentioned before, the photos are of a box I received as a holiday gift in December, not the items I ordered recently.


Not exactly a branded box, but since everything MAC does is black, so it makes perfect sense.

In the top of the box is this plain white envelope on top of black tissue paper.

Branded card! (Side note: MAC has such a damn good logo.)

My gift message printed on the card. Not complicated, but I really like the touch of getting an actual card in the box.

After removing the top layer of black tissue paper (used for padding the contents), the actual items are also wrapped in the same paper.

This was great! This is a simple silky bag with a velcro closure.

Here’s a better view of the ribbon.

Inside the box were my 2 packaged gift sets. Both were charming and lovely, which is what I’ve experienced with other MAC items as well.

The second box.

In post number 2, MAC has also stood up as a brand doing a good job of selling online and then continuing that positive experience through the shipping and receiving of items. While I did not record it, I can say that my non-gift wrapped items that I ordered a few weeks ago came in a smaller black box with the same black tissue paper. The consistency is there!

So, I applaud MAC for their experience. I only found one flaw that is easily fixed, and other than wanting things to be on sale every now and then (I RARELY run into a MAC sale), I am completely satisfied with my interaction with the brand.

Please let me know what you think of this post, and recommend other websites I should try out for this project!


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Shopping for Holiday Gifts? 5 Tips To Get Moving!

by Jamie Sanford on August 13, 2010

I asked a group of my colleagues the other night if they had started their holiday shopping and they were shocked that I had suggested it. I had a similar encounter on Twitter where I talked about having started my holiday shopping already and getting messages back saying things such as “WHAT?”  I knew immediately that I needed to offer my tips on fulfilling your holiday shopping list to my readers.

The Tree at Rockefeller Center.

This famous tree will be up in no time!

Why is everyone so surprised by this? There’s no reason why holiday gifts need to be purchased around the holidays, unless you’re shopping for someone who must have the absolute latest gadget—some tech toy purchased in July may conceivably be outdated by December, sure. But most other gifts have staying power. In addition, I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys going to a store after Thanksgiving.

So, I’ve purchased 3 or 4 holiday gifts so far, smallish things but I’m working through my list. It’s not as if the major holidays won’t come around this year, so why not start gift shopping now?

Here are my top 5 tips for getting into early holiday gift shopping. (Note that these ideas can also apply to your year-round gift shopping, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.)

1.  Keep notes! Your friends and family probably drop subtle and not-so-subtle hints all the time about things they like and are interested in. If you think someone is consistently hard to shop for, remember this tip and it will be much easier in the future. My husband saves emails that I send him about things I like and revisits them later when it is gift time.

2.  Expose yourself to opportunities for saving money! I have been having a ball checking out the daily sales from the following websites. The first 5 are mostly focused on product purchases, but Groupon has daily deals on things to do or see in your area – and most of the experiences you can buy can be redeemed within long period of time, completely making this viable for holiday gift shopping.

Gilt Groupe
Beyond The Rack
Swirl by Daily Candy

Leave a comment below if there are other sites in this category that readers should check out.

3.  Set a budget. This process is much faster in general if you have a hard number in mind as a budget for each gift you are going to give. It makes snap decisions very easy, especially when using the deal-a-day websites. If it is above your budget, let it go. If it is below your budget, great – this can work especially well if you get a really hot deal on something. Keep in mind that smart shopping means that a small budget can go a long way!

4.  Go “shopping” in a real store, or at the mall. As much as I love the Internet, you can’t see everything online. There is a lot to be said for window-shopping, and it can really help to jog your memory—passing a display of perfume can remind you that your mother-in-law mentioned liking/wanting it. I highly recommend doing this memory-sparking shopping early in the week, at night. This is the time I find the mall to be the quietest. Feel free to take notes (or photos with your cell phone if you prefer), and order the items online when you get home. You might be able to find a much better price online, but the experience will help you nonetheless.

5.  Have fun! I know I’m not the only one who really gets a kick out of giving gifts that really makes the other person happy. I’ve been told that I’m great at finding holiday gifts (hence this blog), but for the most part, anyone can do it if you put some thought into it.  It really does bring a great feeling and it is worth the effort—there really is no need to default to buying holiday gift cards!

Here’s a great 30-second clip from 30 Rock, where Jack discusses the beauty of gift-giving. It pretty much sums it all up. The clip is gone now and I can’t find it anywhere. The best quote from Jack Donaghy is this:

“Gift giving is the purest expression of friendship. I’m going to think about what I know and like about you and that will lead me to the perfect gift, and you do the same.”

Please post your early shopping tips in the comments!

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Well played,!

by Jamie Sanford on March 8, 2010

Obviously I’m a bit behind, because the Olympics have been over for a week now.  However, I wanted to be sure to comment on the online coverage available from  In this post, I will focus on the “You Be The Judge” feature that was available to use during the figure skating competitions.

So here you can see the first panel that was present – there’s some information on the skater (in this instance, my favorite figure skater, Johnny Weir), along with their planned program elements on the right.  As those elements are performed in the program, they become highlighted so that you can then score the skater on their grade of execution for that particular element.  As you can see in the image, I’ve given Johnny the highest scores for each element.  The unfortunate thing here (and I am fairly certain that you can’t fix this) is that skaters sometimes change elements in the middle of the program – they can fall, make a planned triple jump into a double, etc.  This means that you are scoring that person on whatever they do, which means that the base value of that jump is going to reflect what was planned, not what actually took place.  In addition, what looks like a triple jump to us at home can be downgraded based on super slow-motion replays that the judges are using these days.

Anyway, so after scoring the individual elements, you are shown the following scales:

So once you determine these ratings, you are given the final score.  If you go back to the first image, you can see that I put Johnny in first place.

In addition to “You Be The Judge,” the less ambitious watchers could use the scoring that was live updating after each skater, and also provided a bit more information than was was on the television screen.

So, at the start of Johnny’s program, this was on the screen:

As soon as the scores were up, it updated to this:

…and then, of course, also being live-updated are the overall results.  A bit less detailed but the information was still available for each skater.

As you can see, the Olympic judges know nothing and somehow Johnny Weir ended up in 6th place, underneath other skaters who were messy and fell down, but that isn’t the point.  I was already a big figure skating nerd, and this has just added to the fun.  I’m interested to see if we will be scoring gymnastics the same way for hte London summer games in 2012.

I’ll be writing part 2 soon, where I will cover the online event coverage!

Did you watch the Olympics? Did you utilize to enhance your experience?

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