Data mining your holiday shopping: Go or no go?

Shoppers wait in a check-out line at a Kmart store during the Black Friday sales on November 23, 2012 in Braintree, Massachusetts. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, consumer spending was higher than expected this holiday season.

It is November 27th and I'm 90 percent done all my holiday-gift shopping.  I may break my all-time record!

Mind you, I'm one of those people whose eyes roll far back up the head when I hear Christmas music the week after Halloween and mutter "sacrilege" when elves with pointy-toed shoes share shelves with plump turkey plush-toys sporting pilgrim hats.  However, I'm a realist and the reality is that for most of us, holiday-gift shopping plus travel plans cut into our already busy lives.  Which means stress -- and not only financial.  So my goal each year at this time is as follows:  Set spending budget.  Stick to budget.  Then budget my stress. 

Spending under stress means possibly spending more. Yes, I may get more for my money as sales climb closer to the holidays, but on the flip-side, I won't be as efficient a shopper under duress.  (To thine own sell be true, shoppers!)  Also, I want access to what I'd like to buy in all sizes and colors, rather than being forced to buy a plaid shirt for my brother who would much rather have a Cosby-sweater in the right size.  Truth be told, the only person who gets super-special treatment under the tree is my 7-year old daughter.  'Santa' shops much more strategically and over a longer period of time for this one.  To be fair, she gave me a cheat-sheet (a.k.a. 'For Santa') so I can hold out another week for a price-drop on the limited edition Easy Bake Oven.  But not too long or I'll be stuck with the purple model instead of the black and chrome.  (The horror!)

And of course, now that I've looked up that oven online to price-compare, nearly every window I open on my laptop has the oven 'following' me from site to site.  Quite crafty of online retailers (and Google), but nevertheless, a tad creepy.  It reminds me of a nagging salesperson on the retail floor:  "You sure you don't want it?  I have it in magenta!"  But, if it saves me $20 to be cyber-stalked (mildly), I'll take it.

On this week's show, Marketplace senior reporter, Stacy Vanek Smith, joins me to give us the real scoop behind how retailers are tracking you online and now even more, in the stores themselves!

How do you feel about walking into a store and the store knowing that you're there?  Maybe sending customized sale alerts to your cell phone as you walk around?  Tell us your take on retailers, both on and offline, tailoring service to you by data tracking.  And if you're not a fan, what strategies do you have or resources do you use to block the 'elves'? 

We'd love to hear from you!

About the author

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the former host of Marketplace Money, APM’s weekend personal finance program.

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