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Hate Crowds? Here’s Where to Shop This Christmas

The Exchange

Fall is upon us. Halloween is just around the corner, followed by the rare Hanukkah-Thanksgiving collision. Yes, the holiday shopping season will soon be here, which can mean only one thing -- and it's not get out there before the deals run out.

Mall decorated for holidays: Credit Getty Images

It means it's time to own up to what kind of shopper you are: The kind that pretends to hate crowds, but really loves "retail combat," or the kind that really does hate the madness of holiday shopping – but isn't ready or able to forgo brick-and-mortar retailers for online buys just yet.

So in the interest of public service, here are a few recommendations for where both types of shoppers should check out in 2013.

If you DON'T like crowds, go to:

--Teen apparel stores. Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), Aeropostale (ARO) and American Eagle (AEO) all qualify. No one's going there based on their recent sales and predictions, so you'll pretty much have the place to yourself. Assuming other shoppers keep staying away, you might get the added benefit of a markdown. Note that for A&F, it's especially a good idea to be young and attractive. Also note, crowds are going to be at Urban Outfitters (URBN), so check your signage carefully.

--J.C. Penney (JCP). The problems here are becoming legendary. Presumably, stores will still be around at Christmas for you to go in. By yourself.

--Sears (SHLD). Is Sears your first choice for anything? Or your second? Not that it really matters.

--Macy's (M). The world famous department store on 34th Street in Manhattan is a terrible place. Of course, that particular store, owing to its tourist-friendly location and the St. Nick yarn spun around it, is actually fit for crowd-likers. Why's it here, then? Because at the other stores -- outside New York City, that is -- you should be good to go. Middle America's not necessarily feeling so great at the moment, and that means things are not all right down at the mall.

--Dick's Sporting Goods (DKS). Who needs a kayak in December? If you do, head in. Yes, it sells clothes, too, but you are not going to take up jogging in January, despite your well-intentioned New Year’s resolution. A plan to boost advertising might dent this prediction and give you more competition in the fishing aisle than you'd like, but the store should still be safe from those who suffer from demophobia, or an abnormal fear of crowds.

If you DO like crowds, go to:

--GameStop (GME). New consoles from Sony (SNE) and Microsoft (MSFT) and new chapters for huge titles like "Assassin's Creed" and "Call of Duty" will get your blood boiling in tight quarters. Get in, sell the used games, drop a few hundred bucks on the PS4 or Xbox One, and disappear to the basement. We'll see you again in eight months.

--Gap (GPS). Go ahead and hate it, and, by all means, point out that it had an ugly September. But we'll say the good times return for the comeback kid when the tinsel goes up. Maybe it even gets a little extra juice from new TV ads.

--Apple (AAPL) stores and places selling Apple accessories -- excluding RadioShack (which is for the don't-like-crowds camp). The new iPhones have already arrived, thank God, so if you missed that overnight line thing that appears every single year, don't worry. You can still get some expensive consumer-friendly add-on gear from the approximately 7,000 people in blue shirts in any given store. Yes, they work there. They're not Best Buy refugees.

--Speaking of Best Buy (BBY). Yeah, Best Buy. Wait a minute -- didn't we leave these guys for dead? Some thought it was pretty much over for this consumer-electronics chain, seeing as how it was getting taken apart by "showrooming" and the Amazon juggernaut. It just might be back.

--5th Avenue, New York, from 49th Street to 59th Street. This is the place to be in early to mid-December. That chill in the air, maybe a little snow, visit the places you've seen in the movies. The only (?) drawback is that unless you're from San Francisco or Tokyo, everything here is a lot more expensive than where you live. The good news, seeing as you're into crowds, is that several hundred thousand other people have exactly the same idea as you. Understand this.

While there, make time for FAO Schwarz, which may not be on the stretch for much longer.

Free bonus tip

This one has no chance of being off as a prediction, no matter what. And it gets a special category all its own.

It's Toys R Us. If you hate crowds, avoid Toys R Us. If you like crowds, avoid Toys R Us. You can get what you need elsewhere, many elsewheres.

Here's the thing: Too many of your fellow "shoppers" are the small, difficult-to-see-in-aisles, germ-toting variety, aka "children." Very bad. Even in quiet years when, relatively speaking, no one is shopping, it's chaos.

Do not do it. Repeat this to yourself.

Now get to buying.