Confident Consumer: Shopping Tips

December 09, 2010

As holiday shopping reaches its peak, keep in mind these simple tips to protect your wallet and your ID.

1. Shop around.

A “sale” price isn’t always the “best” price. Some merchants may offer a sale price on the item you want for a limited time; other merchants may offer items at a discount everyday.

2. Look for price-matching policies. Some merchants will match, or even beat, a competitor’s prices. If you purchase an item based on “Lowest Price Guaranteed”, ask for the store’s criteria for that claim and hold them to it. Many merchants use this to lure customers in without “backing up” the claim.

3. Go online. Check out websites that compare prices. If you decide to buy from an online merchant, keep shipping costs and delivery time in mind.

4. Carefully consider bargain offers that are based on purchases of additional merchandise. For example, “Buy One, Get One Free” or “Free Gift with Purchase.” If you don’t really want or need the item, it’s not a deal.

5. Clip coupons. Coupons are useful when they save you money on what you’re already planning to buy. Check coupons for any restrictions. For example, do expiration dates apply, or do you have to spend a certain amount before you can use the coupon? Some retailers will accept expired coupons, and even coupons from their competitors. Check with the retailer before you leave home to learn their policy.

6. Ask about sale adjustments. If you buy an item at regular price and it goes on sale the next week, can you get a credit or refund for the discounted amount?

7. Keep an eye on your wallet. Don’t flash cash. Keep an eye on your credit or debit card during transactions, and get them back as quickly as possible. If your cards are lost or stolen, report the loss or theft immediately to the card issuers.

8. Use credit and debit cards with care. Save your receipts. You need them for returns and exchanges. Check credit and debit card sales and return receipts against your monthly bills and statements, and report any problems to the credit card issuer promptly. When possible, put all holiday purchases on one credit card to monitor more closely and with greater ease. And if at all possible, make purchases using a credit card rather than a debit card. A debit card is the like using cash and if the personal information falls into the hands of an Identity Theft Scammer, the bank account can be wiped out.

9. Ask about refund and return policies. Many merchants may have different refund and return policies for sale items. For example, clearance merchandise may be on final sale, meaning no refunds or exchanges.

10. Keep good records. Whether you’re ordering by mail, phone, or online, it’s important to keep detailed information about the transaction, including your order number, shipping costs and dates, warranties, and refund and return policies.