Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Shopping at JCPenney with My Sister!

Best recollection, my sister and I have shopped together exactly once. With her younger son (now bass-voiced and shaving) in a stroller, we hit the Houston Galleria midafternoon on Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving high-holiday of shopping. The experience may have caused permanent damage: we’ve never shopped together since, in fact, both of us are ‘want it, then forget it’ and ‘need it, just get it’ shoppers.

So when BlogHer and JCPenney offered me the chance to take a $300 gift card Christmas shopping, my first response (Sure!) was no surprise but the call to my sister (Hey, Adanna, wanna go shopping?) was. Bigger surprises were my sister’s answer (Okay, sounds like fun!) and that we managed to shop – together – Adanna in Houston, me here in St. Louis.

Best of all: we had great fun! A big thank you to both BlogHer and JCPenney.

[Wait. I know you’re thinking, Alanna, are you kidding? Did a company really send you money to go shopping? To quote Jennette from PastaQueen, “Let's speak the truth here: ultimately this [shopping gig] came about because [JCPenney] wants to see what the blogosphere and social media can do for them. It's about commerce. I know it, you know it, [JCPenney] knows it, and now it's officially out there. I did not go [shopping] just because [JCPenney] is nice. … I got [$300 Christmas shopping money] and [JCPenney gets me to write about what it’s like to shop at their stores]. So yes, they did. But I get to tell you my experience, no questions asked. So you can feel confident that I’ll tell it to you straight – and so will my sister.]

What, you want a $300 gift card from BlogHer and JCPenney too? Done. Just get on over to the BlogHer-JCPenney Holiday Sweepstakes? Each week, there's a $300 gift card to be won. You know you want one! It'll be fun!

Okay, so our shopping extravaganza, here’s how it went. We ‘met’ at the stores with cell phones in hand, me at the JCPenney at West County Center in suburban St. Louis and Adanna at the JCPenney at a mall outside Houston, ready to shop for her family (herself and two teenage boys), our 80-something-young dad and his lady friend, with anything leftover, maybe, for me. Neither one of us had shopped in a JCPenney store for a long while.

VIP PASS Turns out, Adanna was a great shopping-partner pick because she went straight to and found a special VIP Pass (a discount coupon) that made $300 stretch even further. Who knew that my sister is ‘queen of buying on sale with a coupon’? But it’s a great idea, checking retailers’ websites for extra shopping power.

BUSY-NESS Forget shopping doldrums, these JCPenney stores were busy! The dressing rooms were clean and staffed with friendly, helpful-but-not-pushy folks. The St. Louis store was neat and clean, the Houston store less so. During my afternoon, it was easy to tell why the St. Louis store was in such good shape, despite a busy shopping day: salespeople were busy straightening and sorting every chance they got. Lines formed at the cashier stations but moved quickly. The cashiers knew exactly what they were doing, even with our complicated transactions (multiple gift cards, paying in two cities, returns when we both accidentally bought the same items, the VIP Passes for added discounts). Impressive!

JEANS Adanna had a 30-minute head start and had already scouted out the great selection of jeans. She picked out two pairs from St. Johns Company, one pair in burgundy, another in a very pretty forest green. We both loved-loved-loved the amazing jeans / pants / casual pants selection at JCPenney. In fact, I ended up with a pair of jeans myself and must have tried on a half dozen pairs, including the Levis’ 529 and 519s which I liked a lot but needed in Longs to wear with heeled boots.

TOPS We tried to put together an outfit for Adanna, matching pants with tops. I loved some well-constructed feminine long-sleeved tops from Bijou-Bijou but she couldn’t find the same ones at the Houston store. So hey – since I picked one ($18) out for her myself, she’ll be surprised on Christmas morning! (No peeking at the picture, Adanna!) Overall, we were less impressed by the quality and stylishness of the tops than the bottoms.

(YOUNG) MEN’S DEPARTMENT We quickly settled on a couple of practical / fun items for my nephews, sleeping boxers with Christmas themes ($9), plus long pajama bottoms ($10), both made from higher-quality than usual fabrics. We rounded these out with t-shirts from Nike ($15), nice quality, ones that will wash ‘n’ wear for some time.

LINENS Did you hear a squeal from Houston? I’m quite sure I heard my sister cry out, “Oh wow, oh wow, my sister got me new towels for Christmas?” The bath towel selection was terrific – the quality good, the patterns excellent, the colors perfect. Adanna went home with a whole setful ($??, sorry, we lost track but they were very affordable, great prices on linens). I also found some classy Christmasy placemats ($4.25), you’ll see them in photographs for A Veggie Venture and Kitchen Parade soon!

SHOPPING BAGS Somewhere along the line, our arms started to get full and we were still shopping, trying to match bottoms to tops. Separately, we both noticed other shoppers with big lightweight shopping bags. Where the heck were they??? Turns out, the bags are stationed at the entrances. WE were in the center of the store. Maybe bags could be positioned at the spots where our arms became full? Maybe regular shoppers know the drill?

KITCHEN & HOUSEWARES We both expected to find lots of fun kitchenware in this department. And we did – except that Adanna and I have had kitchens so long, we’ve really got everything we need. And at least for us, this is a year where we’re sticking to ‘needs’ versus ‘wants’ so while we browsed and saw good gift ideas, nothing came home with us.

WOMEN’s FASHION Turns out, we ran out of ideas for more gifts before we ran out of money. So good news for me, I came home with a pair of great-fitting jeans ($19) and an embroidered denim jacket ($30), a pair of workout pants with matching fleece top ($20 for the pair!).

MANY THANKS Oh wait, make that two tired but happy shoppers who have made big dents in our holiday shopping and it’s not even Thanksgiving! To JCPenney and BlogHer for organizing this shopping expedition.

PS Turns out, I was so impressed by my shopping expedition to JCPenney that I've been back two more times! Spending my own money!! I'd like to give a special shout-out to Tsedale from the West County JCPenney store who was so very completely helpful when I showed up to check out with a complicated transaction, attempting to use gift cards that I had no idea how much was on. Tsedale, I anticipated lots of moaning and sighing and needing to call a supervisor for help. Instead, you were JUST GREAT. You understood why I was trying to use the gift cards, you figured out a way to make it happen -- and you were COMPLETELY nice about the whole thing, I really felt like we were in it together. Thank you, thank you, thank you.