The holiday shopping season is upon us. Many shoppers are altering their shopping habits to adjust to higher prices. At a time when money may be a little tighter than usual, it’s important to be a smart shopper. Doing so means being prepared and remaining aware of common shopping scams. Business Consumer Alliance is here with some helpful tips to help make your shopping experience go smoothly.
**Make a list (and check it twice)** Start by preparing a list. Planning out what you want to buy can help avoid making spontaneous purchases that you may later regret. Advertisers are busy making offers and low price claims aimed to catch a shopper’s eye during this time of year. Set a budget for how much you want to spend and stick to it to help combat overspending and impulsive purchases.
Review Sales Ads. Utilize online websites such as TheBlackFriday.com or various other retailer websites to preview sales. This will help you plan out the best sales offers.
**Comparison shop** Smart shoppers know how important it is to look around and compare prices from several sellers. But don’t just focus solely on price. Look for retailers that offer extra incentives to sweeten the deal, such as gift cards with a purchase, discounts on accessories, or bundles. Plenty of retailers offer price match guarantees that can help save time and resources. Companies like Pricegrabber.com offer mobile apps that let you compare prices on thousands of items. But beware of sellers that inflate their “regular” price in order to increase the markdown and give the appearance that they are offering a deal when in fact there are no real savings offered. A few searches on the internet can yield big savings for those special items on your wish list.
Check out the business. Anytime you are shopping or looking to do business, it is vital to check out the business. Business Consumer Alliance provides free reports on businesses where you can read consumer reviews and complaints to help you make an informed buying decision. An internet search can also provide information on how a company interacts with its customers. Make sure to check a company’s policies for returns, exchanges, shipping, warranties, and layaway. Knowing the company’s policies beforehand will allow you to know what options you have if anything goes wrong.
**Check for coupons** Many sellers offer special coupons, bargains, and incentives if you follow them on their social media pages, such as Facebook and Twitter, or sign up to receive email offers. This can give you more bang for your buck and increase your savings.
Plan your route. Now that you have your bargains mapped out, your coupons, and you’ve checked out the retailer, it’s time to plan your shopping trip. Consider how long your shopping trip can take. Sales attract crowds of people so lines will be longer, and waiting times may be lengthy. Consider going to a mall or shopping center to visit several different locations and cut down on gas and travel. Now may be the perfect time to use gift cards or gift certificates if you have them to save a few dollars. Before heading out on your shopping trip, take a moment to download the retailer’s app and check for exclusive savings offers. Consider using the option to have the store shop for you so you can just drive up to pick up your order. This can cut down on shopping time and frustrations. If you are visiting the retailer, have your ads and coupons ready to go. We encourage consumers to pay with a credit card when making purchases. Credit cards often provide protections under federal laws that other payment methods lack to safeguard consumers if a problem arises.
**Get your receipt** Make sure you obtain and keep a receipt for all of your purchases and compare them to your balance to make sure you are not overcharged. Also, ask for gift receipts for items you plan to give. Receipts make it easier to make returns if necessary.
**Don’t settle for a more expensive item** The purpose of taking advantage of these types of sales is to get a good deal. Oftentimes the items sold as door buster deals are limited in quantity and they routinely go quickly. Avoid the temptation to purchase a similar higher priced item if the savings are not equally comparable.
Avoid additional debts. Remember that budget you worked on before shopping? Don’t let it go bust by opening up additional credit cards while shopping. It is common for retailers to offer additional savings if you sign up for credit offers. That extra 10 or 15 off may be enticing, but it can also lead to more debt. Also, retail inquiries on your credit can impact your score for the year to come. Some store cards also have high APRs and low credit limits that may cost you more if you don’t pay the balance off by the due date. Stick to your budget and enjoy the savings.
Online shopping tips. The convenience of shopping from home lets you select items you want and have them delivered. Before you check out, follow these useful tips:
- Only shop secure websites. You’ll know a website is secure if you see the “https://” before the URL and look for the lock icon next to the browser.
- Watch out for imposter websites. There are many online scammers posing as legitimate businesses. Make sure you are shopping on a retailer’s official website.
- Use a credit card to pay if possible. This gives an added safeguard when you purchase and makes it possible to dispute charges if items do not arrive, are not as advertised, or if some other issue applies.
- Read the fine print and policies posted on the website so you are aware of shipping, return, warranty, or refund conditions.
- Only purchase from a trustworthy source. Don’t get enticed by flashy online ads or social media posts and make purchases without checking out the business's reputation first.
- Never provide more information than needed. You shouldn’t have to provide your social security number or date of birth to make a purchase.
- Use a strong and unique password.
- Make sure to keep a record of your purchase and routinely check your statement for unfamiliar charges.
- Beware of too good to be true offers. It’s more than likely a scam.
Business Consumer Alliance provides reports on businesses and we’d like to hear from you. Visit our website and share your reviews of businesses you’ve used so others can make an informed decision. Share this with others and make sure to follow BCA on Facebook for more tips, consumer alerts, and scam watch articles to keep informed.