BBB advises to do your homework when back-to-school shopping

August 14, 2012
School is just around the corner and students are rushing to take advantage of back-to-school deals on everything from computers to clothing. Better Business Bureau (BBB) has some back-to-school basics to keep in mind.

“Whether shopping for new clothes, pens and pencils, or electronic items it’s important to be prepared and have a plan,” says Danielle Primrose, President and CEO for the BBB serving Mainland British Columbia. “It will keep you on budget, save you money, and avoid getting stuck with an item you don’t want.”

The 2012 Huntington Backpack Index estimates that back-to-school costs for students in kindergarten through high school are expected to increase by as much as 6 percent this year. A child in elementary school could cost a parent up to $548 in shopping costs. Consumers need to sharpen their own pencils and take out their calculators to factor in whether they are getting a good deal.

BBB has these tips to help you be a savvy back-to-school shopper:

Plan ahead. Set a realistic budget and stick to it. First check what you have from last year’s supplies which could be re-used, then make a list of the items you need to purchase to avoid buying on impulse. Be sure to check with your child’s school for a list of required to avoid return trips.

Ask about returns and refunds. Shopping for new clothes, accessories, and electronics is one of the highlights of going back to school. Ask the store about their return policy and always keep the receipts. In B.C., stores are not legally required to exchange an item or give a refund.

Ask about restocking fees. Some merchants charge a restocking or “open box” fee—sometimes as high as 20 per cent of the original cost—for returns of electronics products or large-ticket items. Ask if that is the policy so that you know before you buy.

Shop smart online. Find out the physical location and phone number of the merchant. Read the refund and return policy, have in writing any warranty or guarantee details, be familiar with delivery/shipping costs and time schedules, feel comfortable that the merchant is reliable and not the subject of consumer complaints, and be able to trust that any information you submit to complete the sale transaction (credit card number, etc.) will be treated with the proper care.

Know the true cost of what you are purchasing. You might be moving out for the first time and buying new furniture. If you are buying an item on credit, make sure you are aware of not only the interest rate being charged, but any additional fees and costs associated with purchasing on credit including late payment charges. If you engage in cross-border shopping, factor in the cost of gas, duty taxes, and any other additional costs associated with getting your goods back home.

Go online and do some comparison shopping. There are now smart phone applications that help you to do price checking for a variety of products. Lastly, check out a company’s rating with the BBB at