For Immediate Release - December 14, 2011

Office of Consumer Affairs Offers Shopping Tips to Make the Holidays Brighter, Less Stressful

BOSTON - December 14, 2011 - As the shopping season gets shorter, the pressure of the holidays get turned up, but by taking a few proactive steps at home before hitting the stores and being mindful while shopping, consumers save money and relieve some stress this holiday season, according to Barbara Anthony, the Undersecretary of the Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.

"The holidays can be a hectic time, and the deluge of market can be confusing to consumers," said Anthony. "Taking a little time at home to prepare and being aware of some of the tricks of the trade in the retail marketplace can reduce the stress and headaches and make a happier holiday season."

For those who still have holiday shopping to do, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation offer these tips for an easier shopping experience:

Make a list and check it twice. Make a list of everyone you need to buy presents for, and set a budget and stick to it.

Comparison shop. Take advantage of sales and promotions. Research online and look at the sales circulars before you shop.

Bring sales circulars with you. Bring circulars to the stores so you remember the exact item you want to buy, and can verify that the price is accurate.

Save receipts. You will need them for returns and exchanges. Do your gift recipients a favor, and enclose gift receipts in the box.

Don't rely heavily on credit cards. If you choose to make purchases with a credit card, use just one. This makes it easier to keep track of your spending. Paying by credit card also provides legal protections if products are defective or you don't receive what you ordered.

Ask about refund policies before you buy. Some stores offer a full refund, while others offer only a store credit or no refund at all. A store can have any return policy it wants; as long as it is disclosed clearly and conspicuously before the sale is made. Make sure you are comfortable with the store policy if you think the item might be returned, and take note of time restrictions for returning items.

Stuck for ideas? Think local. There are many great gift ideas just around the corner in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism can tell you where to find them. Or, be creative. For the person on your list who has everything, consider a donation to favorite charities in the name of the recipient.

Know the rules for gift cards and certificates. Be wary of expiration dates, fees, and what happens if your card is lost or stolen. These rules can vary by merchant.

Check shipping dates. When you are shopping online, make sure your purchase will get to its destination in time. Also, know the rules on shipping fees, and look for return policies for online retailers.

Consider layaway plans. Layaway may be a good option if you don't want to use credit cards, but can't afford the entire cost up front. Know the layaway terms — ask about fees and make sure the deposit amount and payment schedule meet your needs.

Consider time and travel costs. If you find an item on sale across town, consider whether the savings outweighs the extra time and gas it will take to pick it up.

Keep an eye on belongings, especially your wallet. Stay alert to your surroundings, as con-artists will try to distract you with the intention of stealing your money or shopping bags.

Guard against identity theft. When shopping online, check that the website is secure before entering your personal or financial information. Secure websites begin with "https://" rather than just "http://." They also display a locked padlock at the bottom of the screen. An unlocked padlock means the page is not secure. Read the retailer's privacy policy before providing personal information, and only give the information necessary to complete the transaction.

For more information and consumer tips for safe holiday shopping, visit the Office of Consumer Affairs shopping webpage . The Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Follow the Office at its blog, Consumer Connections, and on Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.