Shop Smart for School

Back to school shopping can be easy and painless, with some help from BBB.
August 27, 2014

School BusSummer will be over and school will be starting again before we know it. Now’s the time to take advantage of annual back to school specials on supplies. Whether you plan to shop at your favorite retail store or look around your home, BBB recommends sticking to a budget to avoid the common overspending on school supplies.

Many retailers offer back to school deals to entice shoppers. Coupons, deals and giveaways are nice, but make sure you actually need the items first. There’s no need to spend money on new crayons, pencils and notebooks if all it takes is organizing what you already have.

BBB recommends the following when back to school shopping:

  • Take inventory. There’s always that supply of markers, crayons and notebooks around the house. Re-using these items can save hundreds of dollars over the years. Consider re-packaging, sharpening and cleaning out older items before buying new ones.
  • Look for deals. Some retailer specials are available in-store or online. Also check out your local newspaper. Shop sooner rather than later to get the pieces on sale before they are sold out.
  • Set a budget. Decide how much you’re willing to spend per child and include a teachable moment for your children on creating that budget. Take an inventory, create a shopping list and stick to it. This should help you avoid costly impulse purchases.
  • Check refund and exchange policies. Be sure you can exchange or return items during back to school shopping. Keep in mind some items may be non-refundable or have re-stocking fees.

Online shopping has become the easiest way to shop for the items we need from the convenience of our home and this is true even for back to school shopping. But when shopping online either for yourself or someone else, it is important to know where the business is and how to protect yourself from fraud.

Tips to Protect Yourself when Online Shopping:

  • Protect your computer. Install a firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Check for and install the latest updates and run virus scans regularly.
  • Check a site’s security settings. If the site is secure, its URL (web address) should start with “https://.” You also may see a picture of a small closed lock in the lower right hand corner of the screen.
  • Shop trustworthy websites: Look for the BBB seal on the site and click to confirm that it’s valid. New BBB dynamic seals will take you to a site’s Business Review. You also may find the review at
  • Protect personal information. Read a site’s privacy policy and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. Don’t enter that information on unsolicited emails. If a site lacks a privacy policy, it could be a red flag that the site could sell your information without your permission.
  • Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals. Offers on websites and in unsolicited emails may offer free or very low prices on hard-to-find items. There may be hidden costs or your purchase may sign you up for a monthly charge. Look for and read the fine print.
  • Beware of phishing.  Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with an order, account or a package to lure the buyer into revealing financial information. If you receive such an email, the BBB recommends that you pick up the phone and call the contact number on the website where the purchase was made to confirm a problem.
  • Pay with a credit card. Under federal law, you can dispute the charges if you don’t receive an item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are any unauthorized charges on the card, and many card issuers have zero-liability policies if someone steals and uses your card number. Check your credit card statement regularly for unauthorized charges. Never wire money.
  • Keep documentation of your order. Save a copy of the confirmation page of an order or emails confirming the order until you receive the item and are satisfied.
  • Obtain a tracking number for shipments. If you need the product before the holidays, find out when the seller intends to ship it and if possible, how it will be shipped. The tracking number can help you find a lost order.
  • Know your rights: Research any refund or exchange policies. Find out what your responsibilities are if returning a product. Is there a time frame? Who pays postage?

 In addition, BBB recommends the following:

  • Click with caution. Only open emails, attachments, and links from people you know. Use anti-virus software regularly and enhance email filters to block threats. Watch out for unsolicited emails that contain misspellings or grammatical errors.
  • Don’t believe what you see. It’s easy to steal the colors, logos and headers of an established organization. Hover over any links to see where they lead. Malicious emails may look identical to legitimate websites, but come from a different sender.
  • Safeguard your information. Don’t reveal personal or financial information in an email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information. Be wary of any urgent instructions to take specified action such as "Click on the link or your account will be closed."
  • Verify email requests. If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, contact the company directly using information provided on an account statement, not information provided in an email.
  • Keep software updates current. Having the latest operating system, software, web browsers, anti-virus protection and apps are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.