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Modus Shoperandi : SERIAL SHOPPER : While many Southern Californians swear by old-fashioned assaults on local retailers, others attack their holiday lists by mouse and modem, phone and fax. And, luckily for those unclaimed bottles of Chanel No. 5, more than a few always hit the mall at the last minute. Here are five of the most common shopping strategies of the season.

November 24, 1995|JEANNINE STEIN

"I shop when I'm happy, I shop when I'm sad . . . I pretty much shop all year," says actress-talk show host Deborah Harmon.

It figures that her strategy for Christmas shopping is no strategy at all. Harmon is a serial shopper. With no concrete plan in mind, no master list in hand, she skips from department store to funky boutique to thrift shop, buying what catches her eye and tucking it away for the holidays or birthdays. What retail doesn't provide, catalogues do.

"I'm just always looking for something interesting and unique, something that fits somebody," says Harmon, explaining her modus shoperandi . "I'll find something that will be perfect for my mother, for instance. And I remember conversations with people who say, 'I would love to have blah, blah, blah,' and I put it in the card catalogue in the back of my head. They're very surprised when they get it. They say, 'I can't believe you remembered that!' "

Harmon, who hosts the show "Help at Home" on the HGTV cable network and lives in the San Fernando Valley, favors such malls as the Northridge Fashion Square and Century City Shopping Center, but also adores the bargains at Price-Costco and the unusual finds in such boutiques as Trellis in Studio City, which carries picture frames, antique jewelry, hair accessories and decorative boxes.

She occasionally buys with no designated givee in mind: "A lot of times it's just something that I like, like this incredible picture frame that I bought about six months ago."

Serial shopping has been a habit for years, ever since Harmon saw the ugly side of last-minute panic buying. "When I was in college, I had a Christmas job working in a small department store in the gift wrap department. Every Christmas Eve I'd get these men with alcohol on their breath coming in with packages--I've never wrapped so many bottles of Chanel No. 5. I said to myself, 'I'm not going to get stuck like this.' "

Besides, she'd miss the Indy 500 of serious shopping: the post-Christmas sales.

"I love to clearance shop . . . it's like golfers when they relive their best shots," Harmon says. "Like when I find something that's on its fourth markdown, and someone else has been eyeballing it, but I get it. And then you have [your shopping] done and you don't feel harried."

But there is a downside to all this piecemeal preparedness: "You end up spending too much money," Harmon admits. "When I find something so perfect for someone, I can't wait a whole year to give it to them."

So she'll bestow the gift early--and then buy another. "I have to try to stick to a budget," she laments.

At least Harmon is not tempted to keep a present meant for someone else.

"Oh no, I never do that," she says emphatically. "But I will go and get the same thing for myself."

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