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The holiday shopping season is off and running despite a shaky economy. Smart shoppers may be able to snap up bargains before, after and on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that traditionally is one of the biggest shopping days of the year.
However, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to arm themselves with knowledge and a budget before hitting the stores. Setting limits on spending is especially important to avoid a deluge of post-holiday bills.
“Consumers need to make lists and stick to limits on spending so they don’t find themselves overwhelmed by debt next year,” says Reanna Smith-Hamblin, Communications Director for the Better Business Bureau. “Work out a plan, and stick to it.”
Shoppers should be wary of exaggerated claims of discounts whether shopping online, in a mall or at a free-standing store. Be sure to shop around to compare prices, matching descriptions or model numbers of items you want to buy.
When buying gifts, it’s important to obtain and keep receipts for all purchases in case the recipient needs to return an item. Many stores will provide gift receipts upon request, which allow returns but don’t show the recipient how much you paid for an item.
Be sure to check a store’s return and refund policy before you make a purchase. Although some stores relax their return policies during the holiday season, others may require that returns be made within a few days of purchase. Some only allow returns if a product is defective while others may give store credit instead of cash refunds.
While online shopping can be a way to avoid crowded stores, shoppers need to be careful of the sites they patronize. When shopping online, be sure to:
• Check the site’s security settings and read the company’spolicy on sharing information with other sites. If the site is
secure, its address should start with https://. You also may see a picture of a small closed lock in the lower right hand
corner of the screen. Know the company’s refund and return policies before ordering. Are there restocking fees? Do you have to pay shipping costs on returns?
• Do not rely on pictures of a product. Read the description and check model numbers, if applicable.
• Be cautious of free or very-low-price offers. Often, free offers are followed by an open-ended enrollment in a program that automatically bills your credit card account. Before ordering anything online, make sure you click on and read all terms and conditions.
• Pay with a credit card whenever possible, so you can challenge the charge in the event of a dispute.
• Obtain a tracking number for shipments. If you need the product before the holidays, find out when the seller intends to ship it and if possible, how it will be shipped.
Toy safety also has become a concern for many parents. Make sure any toys you buy are appropriate for the age of the child. If possible, inspect toys carefully to look for sharp edges that may cut, moving parts that can pinch or small, removable pieces that can be a choking hazard. Toy chests should have air holes, and fabric products should be flame-resistant. Check for a UL (Underwriters Laboratories) seal on electric toys.
Research any company carefully before doing business with it. Check out BBB Reliability Reports online at www.bbb.org or call 1-800-388-2222.