For Immediate Release - November 24, 2009

Ring in the Holiday Shopping Season with 12 Smart Consumer Tips

BOSTON - November 24, 2009 -- With the holiday season picking up steam before hitting a full, post-Thanksgiving frenzy, the Patrick Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation offers 12 smart consumer tips as shoppers hit the malls and Main Streets over the next six weeks.

The tips include some big-picture thoughts like keeping a budget, and detail-oriented reminders like checking refund policies for each store.

"The holiday season is hectic for everyone, and it's good for consumers to keep these tips in mind as they hit the stores and the Internet this shopping season," said Barbara Anthony, the Undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "This year, with so many families paying extra attention to their pocketbooks, keeping some smart ideas in mind can be especially helpful."

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Regulation's 12 tips for the holiday season are:

  1. Establish a budget and stick to it. This can be one of the hardest things to do as you get caught up in buying that one last fantastic gift, but it's essential to keep a financial plan in mind throughout the shopping season.
  2. Comparison shop. Whether it's a sale at a particular retailer, or a store that offers lower prices in general, make sure you take a little time to know you're getting the best price on an item. If you find a lower price, don't be afraid to ask another merchant to match that price. Some stores have price matching policies. Also, be sure to always ask if the store has any coupon promotions you can take advantage of.
  3. Bring sales circulars out with you. You might find the perfect television of DVD player in an ad, but they all look similar on the shelf. Bring the circular so you remember the exact item you want to buy, and also that the price is accurate. Also, if the store is out of an advertised item, ask for a raincheck to buy the item at the sale price when the next shipment comes in.
  4. Save all your receipts. Put them all in an envelope and in a safe place where you can find them later. You never know when you'll need to return something, and a receipt makes the process so much easier.
  5. Don't overuse credit cards. It can be tempting to put a big purchase on a credit card, but the bill won't disappear as part of a holiday miracle. Also, if you're using your debit card, be careful about incurring overdraft fees if you should run out of funds in your checking account.
  6. Know the exchange policies. A store can have any return policy it wants, as long as it's disclosed clearly and conspicuously before the sale is made. Just make sure it's one you're comfortable with if you think the item might be returned, and make sure to make a special note of the time restrictions for returning items.
  7. Know the gift card rules. Be aware of expiration dates, fees, and what happens to a lost or stolen card. These rules can vary by retailer.
  8. Check shipping dates. When you're buying online, make sure what you're buying is going to get to its destination in time. Most retailers list their latest dates for particular days like Christmas on their Websites.
  9. Consider layaway plans. Layaway plans are being more heavily advertised this year, and may be a good option if you don't want to use a credit card on an item but can't afford the entire cost up front. Make sure to check on fees for the plan, and whether there are fees imposed if you decide to not purchase the item and ask for a refund. Also, make sure the deposit amount and payment schedule meet your needs.
  10. Consider time and travel costs. If you find an item is on sale but across town or a town or two away, consider whether a small savings is worth the extra time and gas it will take to pick it up.
  11. Keep an eye on your bags. You might put a bag or pocketbook down for just a few seconds to check out an item or complete a sale, and then you might forget it or have it taken while you're not looking. Always be mindful of your belongings.
  12. Protect your personal information. Make sure your credit card information is protected throughout the holiday season, both at stores and online. When shopping online, check for privacy and security seals that indicate security and privacy measures have been verified. Be sure to read the online retailer's privacy policy before providing personal information, and only give the information necessary to consummate the transaction. When at a retailer, make sure the receipt doesn't include your entire credit card number.

For more consumer information and shopping, retail and e-commerce tips, visit www.mass.gov/consumer.