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23 Things Target Employees Wish You Knew About Holiday Shopping

Updated: May 04, 2023

Target is the center of holiday shopping for people across the country. We talked to current and former employees for the scoop on what you should and should not do while shopping this season.

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Target employees offer tips for the best holiday shopping experience

Shopping during the holiday season is stressful, no matter the store. Target is special, however, because there are so many shopping deals that are too good to miss. Make the most of your time at the store and with these tips from employees.

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Shop with a plan

It is so hard to pass up a good shopping deal at Target—and that’s by design. “The biggest mistake I see people make when shopping at Target during the holidays is falling for a deal they didn’t already have in mind,” says Derek Hales, founder of ModernCastle.com and former Target employee. It’s easy to give in to a deal that seems too good to be true, but remember that’s exactly what the store expects. You’ll end up staying on budget if you stick with your list, Hales notes. Target has plenty of ways to get you to spend more, too.

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Keep track of your receipts

Target has a very generous price-matching system, according to former Target executive team leader Lynda Peralta, founder of The Pocket Palette. If you buy something like a blanket, for example, and see that it goes on sale the following week, you can go back and get your price adjusted, Peralta says. And check competitors’ pricing for items you plan to buy from Target since they’ll price match almost any competitor. Plus, save money at Target with these other secrets.

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Avoid wearing red

Although you might be in the holiday spirit, opt for green or other clothes when you stop by your local Target. Former Target employee Becky Beach, creator of MomBeach.com, says it’s common for people to confuse shoppers for employees if they wear the signature bright red Target color. Make things easier for yourself and others by wearing anything other than red.

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Wednesdays and Fridays are the best shopping days

Arrive early on Wednesdays to get the best selection of inventory since shipments usually arrive at most stores on hump day, Beach says. Fridays are another ideal shopping day because new items often go on clearance. “It’s because it’s the end of the week, so what items that had been selling well will get reduced,” Beach says. Save even more cash with these money-saving Target hacks.

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Remember that Cyber Monday deals are online

Some Target shoppers make the mistake of thinking Cyber Monday deals extend in stores when those are only available online. “I had several customers get angry with me when I could not honor the online deals at Target.com,” Beach says.

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Rewards pay off during the holidays

If you plan on using Target as your main store for holiday shopping, it pays to sign up for the Target REDCard and Cartwheel App, according to Beach. “I would offer people the chance to sign up, but several didn’t think it would save them any money,” Beach says. Even Value Penguin reports the 5 percent discount with the REDCard is not only hard to beat, but offers better discounts than most rewards credit cards.

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Holiday “packs” might not be the best deal

Sometimes getting value packs of household items is not always cheaper than buying full price. According to Peralta, you could spend more on the bulk holiday pack then the regular size. They often list the price per ounce, so check the cost carefully. And even though holiday bulk products might not be a great deal, these things you should always buy from Target are worth every penny.

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Look out for hidden discounts

If you check the prices and the holiday bulk item is worth buying, know that you can still get that price after the holiday. “For example, a teacher came in and bought all of the leftover Easter egg chocolates a few days after the holiday because she was buying them for a class activity,” Peralta says. “It had to go through a few rounds of managers first, but it’s definitely possible if your reason is genuine, and you ask nicely.”

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Prepare to spend more time than you think

Remember that Target is one of the most popular holiday shopping destinations, so expect both crowds and long lines. “Several hundred people will be in this store at the same time, and there’s a good chance they are there to pick up the same items that are on your list,” Hales says. “Therefore, don’t walk into the store every time thinking that you’ll be in and out with everything you need.” Lines will be long, and Target will be fully staffed, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be all smooth sailing. Make the most of your time in line by reading how to shave up to 90 percent off your holiday spending this year.

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There are plenty of easier ways to shop rather than in-store

Save yourself the hassle of coming into the store and shop online instead. “While there is something special about coming into the store, you will more than likely have better luck checking out the website from time-to-time, as a majority of other holiday shoppers will still be running around Target’s physical locations,” Hales says. Most shoppers forget that you can order online and have Target employees bring your items to the curb for you. Curbside pickup is definitely one shopping trick you’ll wish you knew all along.

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That last in-stock item might not actually be there

You’re desperate to get your hands on the must-have “it” toy of the season or a video game that’s sold out everywhere else. So you feverishly type the item into the search bar on Target.com and look for a location near you that says the item is in stock. Score! You found one and race to the store, only to find that the item is actually not in stock. What gives? “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been yelled at by irate guests who expected something to be in stock because the website says we have it and we don’t,” says Claire P., who works at a Target in Seattle. “There can be a lag time with the system. If you don’t want to make a trip to the store for nothing, it’s better to call.”

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Take advantage of price matching

You can’t be shy if you want a good deal. “Definitely ask about price matching if you find a product cheaper at another store,” says Steven H., who formerly worked at a Target on Long Island in New York. “It may vary by store, but I know at the one I worked at, we were encouraged to price match to the best of our ability. Obviously this doesn’t work for Black Friday or Cyber Monday when the deals are at their greatest but bring it up during any other sales period and you might be pleasantly surprised.”

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Black Friday items sell out fast

For extreme shoppers, Black Friday is basically the Super Bowl of the holiday season. And while it has already passed this year, definitely keep this tip in mind for years to come. Many enjoy the endorphin rush they get from scoring a top-tier item at a low price. But if you hate the crowds, don’t worry. One Target team member, who asked to remain anonymous, says you shouldn’t sweat skipping out on this high-traffic shopping day. “Black Friday deals are awesome, but we have limited stock, and unless you’re at the front of the line when the doors open, your chance of getting that deal is pretty low,” says the tipster. “Honestly, I think we have great deals throughout the shopping season. And if you can hold off until after Christmas, you’ll find really good sales and clearance items.”

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Memorize Target’s markdown schedule

Weekly sales circulars are great, but the truly stealth Target shopper will be aware of the retailer’s markdown schedule, which is in place throughout the year. Several Target employees gave us the rundown, which goes something like this…

  • Monday: Electronics, accessories, kids clothing, books, baby, stationery
  • Tuesday: Domestics, women’s clothing, pets, food
  • Wednesday: Men’s clothing, health and beauty, lawn and garden
  • Thursday: Housewares, lingerie, shoes, toys, sporting goods, decor, luggage
  • Friday: Auto, cosmetics, hardware, jewelry

Check those endcaps, in particular, for these markdown and clearance deals.

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A little kindness goes a long way

Long lines, out-of-stock items, rude people—holiday shopping can put even the calmest of us on edge. But try your best not to take it out on that Target employee who is also feeling the burn of the hectic season. “The holidays are toughest on team members,” says Claire P. “We’re as frustrated as the guests, and getting screamed at for things that are out of our control makes going to work miserable. When a guest is nice and understanding, it makes me want to go the extra mile to help them find what they’re looking for, even if that means suggesting a competitor who is more likely to have the item in stock (which we’re not supposed to do).”

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Patience pays…and helps you save

Target’s annual markdown calendar may not help you save as much as you want during crunch time (Black Friday through Christmas Eve), but if you can hold off on buying a coveted item to gift until after Christmas, you may be in luck. Here’s the rundown so that you can play accordingly throughout the year: December 26th through January 5th is the time to stock up on wrapping paper (no surprise there). You’ll find the best deals on toys from the middle of January through the middle of July. And you should buy school supplies, patio furniture, grills, and games between the end of August and mid-September. As for costumes (perfect for your kid’s dress-up bin) and candy at great prices, stock up after Halloween from November 1st through the 7th. And no matter when or where you shop, you should know how to coupon, according to people who save thousands every year.

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Get your non-sale price adjusted

Didn’t get the price you were hoping for on a product? Keep an eye on Target’s sales—yes, after you’ve made the purchase. “A lot of people don’t realize that if you buy something at Target and it goes on sale, as long as it’s within seven days of your purchase, you can bring it in and ask for a price adjustment,” says Fran H., a former Target employee from Columbus, Ohio. “They will refund you the difference in price. But it has to be within a week.” These are the stores with the absolute best return policies.

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Batteries not included—but don’t buy them here

While checking off items on your holiday shopping list, you’re likely to need batteries in order to make sure all of those toys are fully operational on Christmas morning. Plan ahead and buy those elsewhere. “I don’t even buy batteries at Target,” says Christine S., a team member in Dallas. “I find I get a better deal when I buy them in bulk on Amazon.”

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Early birds get the popular items

Even if camping out for Black Friday deals isn’t your thing, don’t underestimate the power of getting to the store when it opens on any other day during the holiday shopping season when stock has recently been replenished. “Inventory is constantly moving in and out,” says Christine S. “It’s annoying to have to keep coming back to the store, but if you’re persistent enough and get here early, you may luck out and find a really popular item. I remember when the Nintendo Switch was new and popular, a mom came in looking for it, not expecting it to be in stock but hopeful. We had just received two, and she was so excited to find one!” Be a power shopper with these 13 savvy tricks you’ll wish you knew all along.

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Cycle out to another store

If the kiddo in your life asked Santa for a new bicycle this year, do some research before picking one up at Target. You can likely find a better selection elsewhere, the right choice for your child, and a better price. “I worked for Target for years and never purchased my kids’ bikes there,” says Helen M. of St. Louis, Missouri. “I always found it better to take them to a local bike shop where they could get properly fitted for the size bicycle they needed.”

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Skip the lines altogether

This year, Target is expanding its popular drive-up service, where customers can make a purchase online and pick it up without ever having to enter the store. If your favorite location offers this feature, take advantage of it. “Drive-up is the best for guests because they don’t have to fight crowds or long lines,” says Helen M. “It makes shopping so much easier! I personally think it also saves you money because you’re not wandering the aisles, tempted by all of the other fun stuff you might not really need but buy anyway because it’s cute.” Read up on 50 insider secrets to save at all of your favorite stores.

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Get crafty with gift cards

Sometimes deals are staring you right in the face, but you don’t realize it. In the case of gift cards, Target puts theirs on “sale” occasionally, offering a percentage off the purchase price of a gift card. Employees suggest stocking up when Target gift cards are sold at a sale price and using them throughout the year—and not only as gifts. “You can save a lot during the year if you buy our gift cards on sale,” says Helen M. “It can equal to an extra 10 percent off (or however much the sale price) on your next purchase. If you combine that ‘discount’ with sale items, you’re doing really well.”

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Shop the new budget displays

This year, Target is setting up holiday market-style displays with budgets in mind. Each setup will be specifically labeled for gifts under $5, $10, or $15. For each price point, there will be an array of different gifts to suit the many different personalities on your holiday shopping list. This way, shoppers can head straight to a designated display without wasting time, since they’ll know that the items there fit with how much they want to spend. They’ll also be less likely to have sticker shock on a higher-priced item located elsewhere in the store. Next, find out how to shave up to 90 percent off your holiday spending this year.