The holiday season is fast approaching. Before you know it, there will be large crowds of holiday shoppers moving quickly among the stores. Large green and white festive Christmas trees will adorn the walkways and entrances of your favorite malls and stores. You’ll see colorful ornaments, lights, reindeer, and many other holiday favorites all around you while you’re shopping. So, here’s the real question. Where do you start your search for gifts and begin your holiday shopping?Having worked in retail for over 20 years, I’ve had a chance to see holiday shopping both in the large retail chain stores and smaller specialty stores. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking and talking with many holiday shoppers over the years. There always seems to be a consensus that crowds seem to be what causes the most anxiety about holiday shopping. Working retail and being a holiday shopper myself I’ve come to find out a lot about Christmas shopping over the years. I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve found to help you overcome the holiday crowds and help you find that holiday harmony you so justly deserve.In terms of stores, shopping during the day at the height of the holiday season is just, well crazy. There are large crowds during the day and you’ll find that the busiest times seem to be late morning and late afternoon. These are probably the norm for most of the holiday season with the exception of Black Friday of course. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when retail stores start rolling out Christmas, holiday specials and open quite early (5 am or sometimes earlier) and offer door busters and loss leaders to bring shoppers into their stores. Often considered the busiest shopping day of the year, it is in fact second to the Saturday before Christmas when last minute shoppers are able to get out one last time to finish up holiday shopping lists and will present the largest crowds of shoppers during the holiday season.Shopping in malls and larger retail chains will present the most holiday traffic as these are traditionally the largest concentration of retail stores. This will present the most challenges for you both in shopping and parking. One thought is to ask a family member or friend if they can drive you to the mall, allow you to shop and get those gifts on your list that you need. Cell phones are indeed handy as you can simply call ahead to let the person know you’re done and after they’ve picked you up, offer to treat them to dinner or lunch for their help. It saves you the stress of parking and walking long distances in the parking lot (especially in poor weather such as rain or snow). If you do park at the malls sometimes there are parking areas that are hidden away or seldom used by shoppers. Locate these and use them rather than trying to find a space in the highest traffic areas where parking is tougher to find and to get in and out of.Another idea is shopping at a specialty retail store. These stores specialize in a particular category or product niche and often have more selection in that one product you’re looking for than the mass merchants will be able to provide. These stores are actually great stores that often have dedicated shoppers who frequent them. Ask around to family or friends by telling them what you’re looking for and you’ll often find someone who knows about a store like this. Because these stores aren’t always located with the big mass merchants they’re easier to get in and out of. You’ll also find salespeople who are “very” knowledgeable about the products in their store since they specialize in that particular product. This can be more helpful to a shopper when you aren’t always sure about what gift you’re looking for.Of course in the last ten years online shopping has become quite popular as well. Sometimes harder to find gifts are easier to track down online. Something to consider when shopping online though is the lead time in which to receive your gift. Not every item is in stock and sometimes they are special order. Make a special note of these items and start your online shopping early for the best selection. Nothing could be worse than finding that perfect gift online a few weeks from Christmas and then discover that it will require 4-6 weeks to receive. My advise is shop early online, figure out what stores online have what you want, bookmark them in your browser and find out the lead time on those gifts. Maybe go so far as to including the lead time in the bookmark description so you can remember when you need to order it if you plan on shopping around before making your purchase.I think online shopping and brick and mortar store shopping is similar to trying to compare apples to oranges. They’re similar in description but are quite different when you get a little deeper into them. Is one better than the other? I don’t really think that is the case. Each offers a shopper a different range of products that sometimes can’t be found by the other. So, each has its own advantages. I do believe that unlike traditional shopping in your city or town where there are specific amount of shoppers in your geographical area. Online shopping opens up shopping to everyone around the world which creates a greater competition by consumers to get the gifts they are looking for. My best advice is shop early and shop smart by scouting the stores for the gifts you’re looking for. Just remember, the holidays provide great opportunities to catch up with and to spend time with your family and friends. Don’t let holiday shopping become stressful. Simply plan early and you’ll find your holidays to fun and stress free.