Category Archives: Christmas

Only While Supplies Last

I don’t usually put companies on blast. At least not in a public forum. But I woke up this morning with the conversation I had with a Customer Service representative last night still on my mind.

Last weekend, @BathandBodyWorks held its annual candle sale. This wasn’t anything new to them, and I’ve been participating in the enormous savings on their 3-wick scented candles ever since I came across the sale many years ago. Every year, I’d wait patiently for that first weekend of December; get up early and go fight my way through the crowds with others who had done the same. Waiting too late in the day meant getting leftovers, and there were always certain holiday scents I wanted to make sure I got a hold of.

There are usually only two times of year that I actually stocked up on these candles. The December candle event, when I grab the various scents of the season. And the summer Semi-Annual sale, to refresh my house with some of the lighter scents. I’ve talked often about what great birthday, hostess, or housewarming gifts these made; and even for things like Administrative Assistant and Teacher Appreciation Day.

A couple of months ago, I asked a sales clerk if they were still going to have the sale this year, given the Covid-19 climate. She said she was pretty sure they would, but that they would probably be doing it a little differently. While she didn’t reveal what that was, I figured it would probably include a multi-day event; since the thought of trying to cram everyone into a one day event (knowing how high the past numbers of people who participated) seemed unlikely.

So I made my preparations in anticipation of the sale. I resisted participating in the Buy One, Get One Free campaign. Given that their candles are regularly priced at $24.50, that would mean I was paying $12.25 per candle. I even ignored the Buy Three Get Three storewide sale, because that would have meant paying $73.50 for six candles — which was the same thing as Buy One Get One (I guess they don’t think some of us actually do the math before pulling out our wallets).

I knew from previous years that the candles would be ten dollars or less. When I first started participating, they were on sale for $8.95. Last year, they were $9.95 — a price that, absent of a coupon, I was still willing to pay; not just for one, but for many. I even tried to persuade a friend from ordering some over Thanksgiving (at the “sale price of $14.50); and told her if she could wait just one more week, she could save a lot of money. She was battling pet odors and other smells in her house, and wanted to purchase one of the same scented candle I’d given her (hostess gift) a year ago when she invited me over for Thanksgiving dinner. Purchasing anything that involves scents for someone else can be tricky. So I was happy that she liked that one so much she was trying to replace it.

When the email arrived confirming that this year would be a multi-day, weekend event, I went to work on it. I started off trying to order through the company’s website. Time after time, I kept getting a “Technical Difficulties” message. It wasn’t just some “message” popping up. This was an official company designed, blue logo, with Bath & Body Works bags as artwork, type of page that kept popping up saying “try again!” And so I did “try again.” And each time I tried again, I would get a little further into the order before getting the same message. At one point I got far enough to get my credit card information in, but then it wouldn’t process it — and bam! That same pop-up landing page about the website’s technical difficulties appeared!

I wanted to walk away, and just forget about it. But the system already had my credit card information. So I tried again, and again, and again — each time something different — wouldn’t take my billing address; wouldn’t acknowledge the shipping address. I got so frustrated that I grabbed the phone, figuring I could not only make them aware of the website issues, but maybe try to do my order over the phone.

But low and behold…they already knew. While the outgoing message (you know, all the stuff you have to listen to when you call a company, before it finally gets you into the holding pattern where you can hold your breath on whether or not you’ll actually get to talk to a human being), encouraged people to make their orders online, it also acknowledged that “due to the overwhelming response…their website was having technical difficulties .”

Well DUH?!

You had just ONE job to do! And you had NINE months to prepare to do it!

When things are so bad that you have to acknowledge in your own outgoing phone message that your website is having technical difficulties — then let’s just all agree, YOU SCREWED UP! And you might need to replace your IT department!

Finally, I just got into the car. The nearest store was only two miles away, and I had other errands to run anyway. But the lines were as I expected; maybe worse (thank you very much Corona!). No way were candles worth hours of my time and increased Covid risk. I returned home and got back online. As I worked my way through the ongoing “technical difficulties,” I decided to also call at the same time. “Whichever came through first was fine with me.”

As I remain on hold, for what felt like hours, I was finally able to get back into my order; only now I was receiving a message that one of the candles I wanted was out of stock. I didn’t dare to return to the shopping page to try to find a replacement, so I removed it from my order, clicked all the right buttons, and finally — Success! Shortly afterwards, I received a confirmation email for my order. Once I double checked to make sure everything was in there, I hung up the phone. NO. No one ever ended up getting on the line the entire time I was holding. But with my confirmation email, I was free to get on with my day!

But then Monday came!

I received an email, subject line “an important update about your candle order.” The email said “due to overwhelming demand for the event, we’re unable to fulfill some of your 3-wick Candle order — so we wanted to send you an apology now…” That was the message, along with telling me I’ll be receiving a second email. I had no idea how many they couldn’t fulfill or which ones. And what bothered me the most was that their email didn’t offer me a chance to choose a different one to replace the out of stock items.

A couple of hours later, the second email arrived: “Item cancelled from your order,” was the subject line. And wouldn’t you know it, the one candle I wanted the most — “Holiday,” was the one missing from my order! Again, no option for replacing the candle with something else. So later that night, when I finally had a moment to call to inquire about a replacement candle, I did. And I think I’m still in shock as to what the Customer Service representative said.

We’re completely out of the candle,” she said. After I told her I was aware they no longer had the Holiday candle in stock, but I wanted to replace it with an alternative, she repeated “we’re completely out of the candles.” The second time, I heard the plural in her response. But for clarification, since I hadn’t even told her which one I was hoping for, I asked “You mean to tell me your company is completely out of every single candle that you make, in all the scents?” I was being funny, and trying to make a point. Until she responded.

“Yes.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Bath and Body Works was completely out of every single 3-wick candle for their online order — no matter what scent!

How could this be? I thought. Certainly a company that’s been around this long; who’s held this sale and knows the typical response to it for this many years; who HAD to have known there would be a MUCH greater demand for online orders THIS year, given the Coronavirus pandemic…certainly this company would have been prepared with a bigger than normal supply in stock?! After all, people have been posting about putting up their Christmas decorations since Halloween! Even some Psychologists have encouraged people to start their holiday traditions early this year, if they wanted to (with research suggesting the calming effect of holiday decorating the house). And with so many people still working from home, the thought that many people may be burning through their candles at a much faster rate (me included) is like “Freshman Marketing 101” kinda sense!

Why weren’t they fully prepared for this deman?

In talking with Customer Service, I learned that they ran out of candles even before the 3-day event was over! Since my order was placed on the Friday morning (started with five and was already down to just four by the time the order processed through), the fact that I not only am not getting one of the other candles I wanted, but that there are no other candles to even choose from, is just mind-blowing!

What’s more confusing, as well as suspect and frustrating, is that the company held TWO different other candle sales within weeks of the big one (at a higher price, of course). So given that they knew in advance how many candles they’d already depleted from their inventory from those two events, why weren’t additional orders to restock that inventory done? Or the bigger question. Why even have two other events so close to the big one in the first place?!

This just doesn’t make sense. It’s like Starbucks saying they can’t fill your coffee order because the factory is completely out of all types of coffee beans! Who’d believe that?

So, back to last night’s customer service conversation. After determining that what she was saying was indeed that there were ZERO candles in stock, and her hearing my disbelief over that proclamation, she actually said to me “well, it does say ‘while supplies last.'”

I tried to contain myself and measure my next words, understanding that I was talking to an hourly employee whose fault it was not, that the company had run out of product. But I said to her, “don’t say that to another customer!” I went on to tell her that when a company advertises a 3-day sales event, and then runs out of stock within 24 hours; and a customer receives an email saying their item has been cancelled; even after originally getting an email indicating their order had been confirmed, the last thing they want or need to hear from that company is any reference to the “only while supplies last” notion. Because in my mind, the moment they took my credit card information and email confirmed my order, then supplies must have been available at that time. What happened after that is their fault, not mine, or the next customer, who might not respond as nicely as I tried to!

So here we are a week into December, and I’m already halfway through burning the last of my holiday candles from last year. What’s left of my now three of five Bath and Body Works order isn’t scheduled to arrive for another week. And that makes me sad. But I did see that @Kirklands has their holidays candles for $9.99. Maybe they’ll become my new supplier.

Seven Things to Do Now to Save for the Holidays Next Year

According to the National Retail Federation, the average American will spend approximately $700 on Christmas gifts and goodies this year. For some people, maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot of money. But these days, I don’t have that kind of extra money to spend in one month. And I prefer not adding to my debt just to add to someone else’s material possessions.

My parents had to buy for six children plus each other. But I don’t remember so many “other people” expecting something simply because they happen to be in your life. I remember my mom putting something in a card for the mailman, and my dad would always get a bottle of whiskey or some other liquor for the guys who picked up trash. But even with all that, I can’t imagine they spent anywhere near $700! Of course those were different times. It seems now, we’re expected to give something to our kids’ teachers, coaches, babysitters, and our own co-workers, neighbors, hair stylist or barber; not to mention friends, and family members.

I’m single. I don’t have to buy for kids, and all but one of my 19 nieces and nephews are young adults; some starting families of their own. We live in six different states so I don’t feel the pressure to try to buy something for everyone. But when you add buying food for the parties, gas for traveling; gifts, wrappings, and decorations, the spending can still creep up on you, especially if you have a growing list of friends, business associates, coworkers, and church community groups.

So how do you make and keep a budget and still find ways to have fun and enjoy being with friends and family over the holidays? Planning!

 “Failing to plan is planning to fail!” 

So here are seven things you can do to save for the holidays now, and plan for the holidays next year!

1.  Join a Rewards Program. Better Yet, Join Several of Them!

I know some people don’t like reward programs. I’ve never really understood why. Maybe they think the business is tracking them. Newsflash. If you’re online. If you have an email, or are on social media. If you have a cell phone. You are being tracked. Joining reward programs now gives you coupons later. Not only do many businesses give free treats, discounts, savings on gas, or money to spend for things like your anniversary date and birthdays, but many have special higher discounts and giveaways during Christmastime. silver ornament

I got this ornament from World Market this year, just for being a rewards member. No purchase necessary! 

2.  Buy Hostess, Teacher, and Coaches Gifts Throughout the Year.

Nothing says you have to wait until Black Friday to start shopping for Christmas. When you see sales or drastic discounts on items that would make a good gift, go ahead and buy it — in March; in July; in whatever month you discover it. The person receiving the first isn’t going to ask if you got it at the Labor Day sale! Spend time during the year also looking for store closing sales. With the right timing, you can find items for as much as 75-90 percent off!

3.  Host an Ornament and Decorations Exchange Party.

This one can be fun. You know how every few years you decide your tree looks boring or you want to change up the way you’ve been decorating the house over the years? Well, have some friends over with the directive for them to go through their Christmas boxes and collect the ornaments, wreaths, decorations — anything they no longer use year-to-year. Everyone brings the items they’re interested in getting rid of, and spreads them out across the table. Then everyone goes around and picks through things that the other person no longer wants. At the end of the night, not only have you managed to squeeze in another girls’ night, but all of you go home with new ornaments, different decorations, and fresh ideas to deck your halls!

bright-christmas-balls-christmas-decoration

4.  Have a Pot-Luck Dinner Party.

Instead of taking on the burden of planning and paying for a dinner party yourself, make it a potluck. Pick a theme, have everyone bring a dish that works with the theme, and you provide the Christmas atmosphere of music, lights, and smells. Don’t worry about buying a candle; just boil some cinnamon and cloves on the stove! By sharing the parts of the meal, no one person is footing the entire bill. And that also means less time in the kitchen cooking and baking.

5.  Save Christmas Gift Bags to Use Again.

Okay, I know most of you are probably already doing this, but if you’re not, you need to start! There’s no shame to reusing gift bags. Just remember to remove the name card from it. I actually save colorful tissue papers as well. Again, when you’re packaging it up for someone, they aren’t going to know or even care when or if you bought the bag that their gift is in. I think I’ve even returned the same bag to someone the following year. It was perfect for their gift. So why not? 

6.  Buy Christmas Cards, Wrappings, and Ribbons at the End of the Season.

The best deals on holiday items is right before the holidays (when they’re trying to get rid of last year’s inventory), and right after the holidays, (when they don’t want to store any remains of this year’s inventory). Make room in your attic, closet, or garage, and pick up items that are drastically marked down. That will be one less thing to worry about the following year, and you would have saved yourself a lot of money.

Christmas snow flake packages

7.  Make a List. Check it Twice!

Create a list and put people’s names in the order of priority. Stick with your list of who you’re buying a gift for, and in what price range you’re spending. That way you don’t end up leaving anyone out, but also, controlled discipline of not adding more people to your gift list later. Budget even what you’re willing to spend on food items for those parties, and which events (movies, theater, light shows) you’re spending money on. Then try to find things to do with your friends and family that are free.

Cutting back and spending less, doesn’t have to mean not having a great time over the holidays. I think it forces creativity and thoughtfulness. But remember that the first step to not over spending is planning. The next step is sticking to your plan. Look for other ways to save money and still have a wonderful Christmastime!

 

Why I Don’t Shop on Black Friday Anymore.

I woke up super early on Thanksgiving morning. It wasn’t by choice; it just happened. I tried to lay in bed in the hopes of falling back to sleep, but when it didn’t happen by 4:30, I decided I was suppose to get up. So I did, and started my morning routine. It had been a month since I was at the gym, thanks to a nasty cold that wouldn’t go away (remnants of which still remain). So out of the door I went just after 6 o’clock in the morning, with predictably almost no traffic, and only about a dozen of other early morning risers in the gym already working out.

I was happy to learn that the gym would be closing early so that the workers could be home with their families that evening for Thanksgiving dinner, and that they wouldn’t reopen until 7:00 on Friday morning. Though my intentions were to wake up early and get my workout out of the way, I actually overslept a bit after turning off my 6 a.m. alarm. Funny how that worked out. The morning I wanted to sleep in, I woke up super early, and the morning I wanted to wake up early, I overslept!

 I was expecting a larger crowd at the gym. While there were more people there than the crazy time I arrived on Thursday, there still weren’t as many there as I thought might be following all the overeating and high calorie foods from the day before. But the parking lots of Kohl’s and Walmart sure were full!   

I’m not knocking anyone who decided to get up early to shop, although I question those who camped out, given the temperatures last night. But I do wonder how many of the people out there have just gotten caught up in all of the buzz and “excitement” of the whole Black Friday phenomenon.

I’ve been part of that Black Friday frenzy in the past. If I were to be honest, I loved it! Back when my nieces and nephews were younger; at that age where they were expecting something from their Auntie, I would go out and try to find good deals. Sometimes I would even shop on behalf of my mom, who didn’t care for the Black Friday crowds, but liked the Black Friday prices; especially since she had so many grandchildren to buy for. Now, all but one of them are young adults in their 20s and 30s, and in general, sadly, we hardly ever get to spend the holidays together anymore.

But today, just as with the past four or five years, I simply asked myself, “Is there anything out there that you need that you don’t already have?”  The answer of course was no. When I calculated the fact that there was also nothing out there I was planning to purchase for friends or family that just had to be bought today either, it definitely wasn’t worth it to me to be out there. 

Moreover, I wonder how many people; namely, the early morning shoppers, even know the origins or meaning behind “Black Friday” and where the term came from? According to History.com:

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

The most commonly repeated story behind the post-Thanksgiving shopping-related Black Friday tradition links it to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”) stores would supposedly earn a profit (“went into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. Though it’s true that retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday’s origin is the officially sanctioned—but inaccurate—story behind the tradition.

So basically, when you run out to shop the day after Thanksgiving, buying a lot of stuff for the holidays — often things you “want,” rather than what you “need” — simply because the items have been discounted, you’re basically supporting the retail industry making profits at the expense of your own bank account and personal budget taking a loss.

As I’ve said to many friends and family members, it doesn’t matter how great a sale is; if you’re spending money on things you don’t need, you’re still wasting your money.

Be careful that your Black Friday shopping doesn’t turn into Red Saturday regrets, and January depression as the credit card bills start to roll in.