Holiday Shopping Tips: Buying by Mail

11/19/2001

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The Christmas holiday is just around the corner and many gift-givers turn to catalogs as a convenient, timesaving way to shop from home. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) once again offers tips on buying by mail.

When shopping by mail, beware of exaggerated claims for products or unrealistically low prices for merchandise. Compare prices with similar merchandise you could buy at a local retailer (be sure to add in the cost of shipping and handling in your comparison). Carefully read the product's description. Don't rely solely on the picture for information about the product's size or quality.

Completely fill out the order form as directed or your order could be delayed. If the merchandise is intended as a holiday gift, be sure to allow extra time for delivery. Keep in mind that some companies do ship up to the last minute if you agree to pay the extra delivery charges.

Find out if the merchandise is offered on a satisfaction-guaranteed basis. Check for cut-off dates after which the merchandise will not be guaranteed. Check the company's return policy. If not in writing, ask about it before you order.

Every year, BBBs receive thousands of inquiries and complaints regarding mail order companies. If a problem should arise, it will be easier to solve if you have paid for the order by credit card. Never send cash through the mail. Also, keep a record of your order, including the name and address of the company, the date you placed your order, cancelled checks, and the number of the money order or bank check by which your order was paid.

Check your order promptly upon receipt to make sure the item is what you ordered, that it is intact and satisfactory. Notify the company at once if it is not.

The Federal Trade Commission's Mail Order Rule protects consumers who shop by mail. According to this regulation, the company must ship your order when promised. If the company doesn't specify a shipping time, it must send the merchandise within 30 days. If there will be a delay, the company must give you the option to either agree to the delay or cancel the order.

If you decide to cancel your pre-paid order, the seller must mail your refund within seven business days of receiving your notice of cancellation. If you charged your purchase, the seller must adjust your account within one billing cycle.

Before doing business with a company, contact the BBB for a reliability report.

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