For Immediate Release - November 20, 2012

Top 10 Holiday Shopping Tips from the Consumer Affairs And Retailers Association

BOSTON - With Black Friday approaching, the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) teamed up today to offer tips to shoppers this holiday season.

"Black Friday is an exciting opportunity for shoppers to save money on their holiday shopping," said Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs Barbara Anthony. "We know savvy shoppers make better consumers, so we have put together a Black Friday Shopper’s Guide containing our best tips and information."

"There was a time decades ago that Black Friday was the biggest sales day of the year, and then it fell off," said Jon B. Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. "Consumer demand and great deals have returned it to one of the top two sales days, along with the Saturday before Christmas. Motivated buyers choose Black Friday, while those who procrastinate wait until the final days. Great deals are available both times, yet selection may be better earlier."

Consumer Affairs and RAM offer the following top 10 tips for making the most out of store sales this holiday season:

  1. Know store policies: Refunds, cancellations, returns, layaways – be sure to check the retailer’s website for these policies before heading to the store. These also need to be clearly displayed in the store before checkout. Ask for a copy of the policies so you have them on hand in case anything goes wrong.
  1. Bring ads with you: Once you know what you want and where you’ll be getting it, print or cut out any advertisements you’ve seen for the products. Before purchasing, make sure that the prices on the shelf and at the register match the advertised price. Many retailers will be price-matching their competitors, so you may be able to get an item at a different retailer for the same price.
  1. Get receipts: Make sure to get a receipt for each transaction. Receipts help consumers confirm the price they paid and facilitate easier returns.
  1. Use layaway: Layaway plans allow consumers to pay for items in installments instead of all at once. For an item that may sell out, putting it on layaway is a great way to pay at your convenience while not missing the deal because of limited supply. Shoppers should make sure to understand the layaway terms before putting money down--- missing a payment may mean you forfeit your purchase, and your money.
  1. Watch for inflated prices and exaggerated markdowns: Some sellers will inflate the "regular" price of an item in order to increase the markdown and give the appearance of a deal when no money is actually saved. Watch out for overlapping price tags and know what the real normal cost is before making a purchase.
  1. Know when stores open: The Massachusetts Blue Laws prohibit stores from opening on Thanksgiving Day, but this is not the law in most states. National ad campaigns may not reflect this fact. Some stores will open early Friday, others will not. Local newspaper advertisements, social media and internet sites are good sources for information, or call ahead for store hours.
  1. Use smartphone apps and social media for insider deals and promotions: "Friend" or "follow" your favorite stores to keep track of special promotions.
  1. Consider down hours to avoid lines: If you are going to arrive early to wait in line for a store opening please be courteous and respectful of your fellow shoppers. Please keep everyone safe by not pushing or shoving when doors open and follow the retail staff’s directions.
  1. Shop local: Support your local merchants. Remember the importance to our Massachusetts economy of keeping your dollars local and supporting our local stores and restaurants and their employees. And don’t forget Small Business Saturday.
  1. Take your time: The calendar is very favorable for consumers and stores alike this holiday season. With five weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas – and with the most important weekends being long weekends at the start and finish of the season – pace yourself with shopping trips. There will be many opportunities to research, comparison shop and finish your list over the next five weeks.

For the first time this year, the Office of Consumer Affairs has published a Black Friday Shopper’s Guide, available as a printable, pocket-sized guide, or as a smartphone-friendly PDF. Both formats of the guide are available online at http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/docs/-oca/bfsg.pdf . Consumers are encouraged to bring the guide with them when shopping this holiday season.

The Office of Consumer Affairs would also like to remind consumers to be careful and use the following tips to stay safe shopping online this holiday season:

  1. HTTPS: Make sure to shop on sites that use secure HTTP as denoted by "https://" before the site’s URL. An "s" in the http field tells you the connection is secure and your data is safeguarded. Similarly, a lock icon by the URL also means you are protected.
  1. Use a Credit Card: Consumers should make purchases with a credit card when possible in the event that their payment information is intercepted. There are excellent protections under federal law that limits the liability of unauthorized charges when they are promptly reported. Even better than a traditional credit card--- many institutions now provide consumers with a single use credit card number that may be used for one secure online shopping transaction.
  1. Know the seller: Purchasing from a seller you know and trust is the best way to ensure an excellent shopping experience. For unknown websites, use an online store review service such as Epinions, BizRate, the Better Business Bureau, or even a simple Google search to see what other consumers are saying. When using auction sites such as eBay, check the seller’s rating. Additionally, be on the lookout for scam sites that lure consumers with attractive deals in an effort to rip them off – we have made an example website available at www.massachusettstopdeals.com/99-RebatesToday.html.

For additional information about shopping rights, visit www.mass.gov/ocabr. For questions about your rights, call the consumer hotline at 888-283-3757.

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, on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.

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