Are you heading out to get some holiday shopping done on Thanksgiving or Black Friday?
According to the National Retail Federation, nearly 60 percent of holiday shoppers had already started checking items off their lists by the middle of last week.
The association’s latest survey says 135.8 million people plan to shop this Thanksgiving weekend and nearly 80 percent of holiday shoppers — 183.8 million people — plan to shop on Cyber Monday.
Shoppers will spend $630.5 billion this holiday season, according to the federation, up 4.1 percent from last year.
Here are some tips to make sure your money goes as far as possible on deals.
Be a savvy consumer
Do research ahead of time so you don’t get caught off guard by a return policy or overpaying for something, said Christy Page, president of the Better Business Bureau of Akron.
That goes for shopping at traditional brick-and-mortar stores and online, she said.
“A lot of people talk about return policies. Is there a restocking fee? Is there a time limit?” Page said.
The BBB has gotten a fair number of complaints from consumers who also have typed in an errant website address and ordered something from a different company without realizing it.
If you are shopping online, make sure you are on a secure site that has “https” in the front of the Web address, Page said.
Page recommends getting on store’s e-mail lists to get access to perhaps better deals or coupons and always requesting a gift receipt and ask about warranties. Page also suggests checking your credit card to see whether it provides extra benefits, such as price protection or double warranties.
Watch out for advertising gimmicks, too, and know the going price for an item, or what would constitute a good deal. There’s plenty of mobile apps that can help you price-check while you’re shopping, she said.
“Make sure it really is a good price before you fork over your money,” she said.
I also asked Page and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office about a complaint a reader recently lodged with me. She was upset that a local retailer refused to give her the sticker price on an item, saying it was not the correct price. The woman said she was embarrassed and thought it was unfair that the retailer would not honor the price.
Both experts said unfortunately, there’s nothing in Ohio law that requires the retailer to give the shopper the price on the sticker, if the retailer claims it’s the wrong price, or if a sign is placed in the wrong area.
It usually boils down to customer service. It used to be that retailers would honor the price, Page said, but “it seems like retailers took a step back.”
Here are some other tips, compiled from the BBB, Ohio Attorney General and Summit County Office of Consumer Affairs, to keep your holiday shopping positive:
• Read the fine print. Some stores only honor sale ads during a certain time frame, or on certain days. Some stores may only allow you to purchase one item, particularly when it comes to large, popular and/or deeply discounted products. Exclusions and limitations must be clearly disclosed in advertisements, including online.
• Find out if rain checks apply. If a seller advertises a product at a certain price but sells out of that product by the time you respond to the ad, you may have the right to a rain check. However, sellers are not required to provide rain checks if they clearly disclose the number of goods available at that price or if they clearly state that no rain checks will be given.
• Understand return policies before you buy. In Ohio, sellers can choose to set their own return policies, including policies of “no returns,” but they should clearly tell you what their return policy is before you check out or complete the transaction. (For example, the return policy shouldn’t be posted only on the back of a receipt.)
• Know that “free” must really mean free. Sellers may not advertise goods or services as “free” when the cost of the “free” offer is passed on to the consumer. For example, if a seller is advertising a buy-one-get-one-free sale, the seller can’t raise the base price of the first item in order to offset the cost of the “free” item.
• Check delivery dates. Generally, when you order a product or service, the seller has eight weeks to deliver the product or to offer you a refund or substitution. Carefully review expected delivery dates before you make a purchase so you know when to expect the delivery. Pick up delivered packages promptly so that they’re not stolen or damaged outside your door.
• Monitor your accounts. Regularly check your credit card and bank accounts for unauthorized charges or unexpected activity. If you find problems, immediately notify your credit card provider or bank. The sooner you identify a problem, the sooner you can work to correct it.
• Watch for scams. Con artists operate year round. If you receive a message saying you’ve won the lottery, the IRS is coming to arrest you or a family member is out of the country and in need of money immediately, it’s likely a scam. Also, be sure to do your research this time of year with requests from charities. Check such sites as www.charitynavigator.org or the BBB’s www.give.org for reports.
• Understand gift cards: Federal and state laws prohibit gift cards from expiring within five years of purchase or reloading.
Fees are not allowed to be charged within two years after a card is issued. If the card has no expiration date, it is valid until redeemed or until the merchant replaces it with a new gift card.
It is recommended that consumers use gift cards as soon as possible so that they are not left with a valueless piece of paper or plastic if the company issuing the card goes out of business or files bankruptcy.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty