BBB Offers Tips for Holiday Shoppers

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The biggest holiday shopping weekend of the year is almost upon us, and many consumers are eager to take advantage of sales on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. According to Accenture’s annual holiday shopping survey, spending on holiday gifts is expected to hit an average of $718 per shopper. In addition, the National Retail Federation is anticipating that 140 million holiday shoppers are planning to shop over Thanksgiving weekend.

“Savvy holiday shoppers should plan ahead by creating a shopping list, checking it twice and being mindful of their budget,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “By developing a game plan in advance and being aware of retailer policies, you’re more likely to have a successful and stress-free shopping experience.”

BBB offers the following tips for holiday shoppers:

  1. Search for sales ahead of time. Newspapers often have coupons that provide discounts for holiday sales and ads are usually posted on the Internet and on retailer websites. Don’t be afraid to comparison shop and check prices on the same items at different stores.  If an offer sounds too good to be true, think twice though!
  2. Don’t fall for a phishing scam in disguise. Watch out for phishing emails from “phony” retailers or shippers that try to trick you into exposing passwords or financial information. Do not respond to any such email or click on provided links, but contact the number on the website where a purchase was actually made to confirm any issues or problems.
  3. Shop safely online and be aware of shipping deadlines. Always use secure, encrypted, “https,” websites when buying online and pay with a credit card. Don’t use the same password for shopping or for creation of “user accounts” that is used for your bank account. Be sure to place online orders early if you want them to arrive by Dec. 24th; the US Postal Service offers specific deadlines to keep in mind.
  4. Ask about return and exchange policies. A store’s typical return policy may differ from the one being offered on items sold during a sale. It’s possible that all sales could be final or the time frame to return or exchange a product may be significantly shorter. Keep in mind that a store is not required to accept purchases for refund, exchange or credit unless the item is misrepresented or defective. You should also ask if a retailer charges any restocking fees and keep a copy of all receipts, asking for gift receipts when necessary.
  5. Educate yourself about gift cards. Federal rules govern gift card sales, but they do not cover reloadable cards, rebate and loyalty reward programs. These rules state that:
    • An inactivity fee cannot be charged until the card has not been used for 12 months.
    • Gift cards cannot expire for at least 5 years.
    • No more than one fee (of any kind) can be charged to the cardholder in a single month.
    • Information printed on the card must disclose fees and expiration date and provide a toll-free phone number or website where you can get more information.
    • A one-time fee can be charged when you buy the card, though this generally only applies to gift cards purchased through your credit card company – not those purchased directly from stores and restaurants.
  6. Know your rights. Federal law requires that orders made by phone, mail or online be shipped by the date promised or within 30 days if no delivery time was stated. If goods aren’t shipped on time, shoppers can cancel and demand a refund.

The holidays can be an expensive and chaotic time of year, so start the season by shopping with trust with your BBB. Check out a company’s BBB Business Review and read additional BBB Holiday Tips at bbb.org.