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.
“The holidays are a special time of year, and the temptation to go overboard can be strong, especially with some retailers pushing deferred billing or zero-percent financing for gifts,” said Michelle L. Corey, president and CEO of the BBB in St. Louis.
“Consumers need to make lists and stick to limits on spending so they don’t find themselves overwhelmed by debt next year.”
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:
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