Survival strategies for last-minute Christmas shoppers

Run, don’t walk. Know your sizes. Shop very early or very late. These and other strategies from a veteran of both sides of the retail war will enable you to make a molehill out of the Christmas shopping mountain

If a budget deficit is a mountain, then the problem of what to buy and for whom is a molehill in comparison. However, it’s this bump that trips most people up. Last-minute Christmas shopping is, for the uninitiated and disorganised, an exercise in futility that involves much effort and results in very little pay-off. Trust a veteran of both sides of the retail war (20-plus seasons as a shopper, one unfortunate season in the trenches at a very busy retailer). Heed these words, and it’s a hot port for you at the end of a productive, unbruised shopping day. (Gold tone bracelet, €95, Marc by Marc Jacobs)

Triage your shopping list

Is it really necessary to join the physical scrum in the shops? Large ecommerce shops such as Asos.com and Net-a- porter.com are huge fashion repositories with a million and one great gift items. If there is something that can be bought online, buy online. Take note of the final express shipping dates: for Asos and Net-a-porter it's December 18th. You'd better be quick.

Gird your loins 

Wear flat shoes, layers that can easily be stripped off in front of other people (changing rooms are a no-man's land for the time-sensitive shopper) and know your sizes intimately. If you are buying a present, be it bra or blazer, know that not all brands are equal in terms of sizes. A 10 at Topshop may not be a 10 at Temperley. If you don't know what brand your recipient prefers, do some discreet digging before you leave the house. Ten minutes spent on the phone to a friend's mother is worth 45 minutes agonising over several near-identical tie and cufflink sets.

Shop very early or very late 

The best bargains to be had while shopping at the last minute are when the doors open or just before they close. Shops have a quiet period of about an hour in the week leading up to Christmas before footfall thickens and things start getting ugly.

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It might seem, given how busy it gets, that TK Maxx would be the last place a shopper would want to go, but it should be the first. Staff at TK Maxx are trained for maximum efficiency; they often know exactly what's in stock and what isn't, and have to work at such a fast pace that there is zero faffing. Most TK Maxx stores have a dedicated gift section: tables and tables of fancy laptop cases, boxes of socks and nail-varnish sets as far as the eye can see.

Rummaging through those tables can yield unexpected results, as many people make sad efforts to hide the good stuff at the bottom of the pile in the hope of returning to buy later. It’s important not to worry too much about messing up a display. Stop just a hair short of vandalism: TK Maxx usually has someone on constant straightening-up duty. I should know, dear reader. Once, that schmoe was me.

Be sensitive

Well-intentioned gifts aimed at self-improvement, such as bust-firming cream and minimiser bras, are seldom appreciated and can be seen as passive-aggressive. Christmas is not the time to address the perceived flaws of family and friends; save that for the fifth drink on New Year’s Eve.

Likewise, avoid the lazy option that is the gift pack of socks. Every year for many years I gave my father the same multipack of white athletic numbers and am now full sure he will leave me 100 pairs of unused virgin socks in his will instead of the good paintings. (Harlequin shoes, €42.99, asos)

Bespoke? Is that a joke?

Give up all hope of buying anything bespoke and unique. Many Christmas market stallholders are running low on stock at this stage and are catering to a huge demand, so go only if you're feeling Pollyanna-level optimism. It is far too late to buy something truly special now.

Instead, have a firm grip on trends, and if that is a stretch, have a firm grip on what is well-made. A black leather wallet may be a bit dull, but a beautifully designed, buttery leather wallet will always be appreciated. Trust your convictions, and keep every receipt.

Need for speed

A tip from the top. Regent Street in London is one of the busiest main thoroughfares in the western hemisphere at Christmas. Upon asking a visual merchandiser working in a prominent Regent Street store if she had any advice for the last minute shopper, she laughed and said, “Run. Get out, bitch!”

There you have it. Run, don’t walk.