It’s fall, and time to enjoy these last few weeks of warmth. And now that Halloween has passed, we can begin to get ready for the upcoming holiday season!
Unfortunately, these days, Thanksgiving brings, along with family and friends and food, Black Friday shopping frenzy. However, as more and more people try to avoid going out in the crowds and instead, stay home and shop online, it’s important to remember that there are ways to protect yourself from fraud and get the best deal!
So let’s consider ways you can save money and try to get ahead of your holiday shopping!
A little research can save you a lot of money. Even when you know what you want, it can be overwhelming to choose among dozens of products, brands and websites. Use these tips to help get the best deal – and to avoid being a victim of online fraud.
Think about what you want.
Do you want the a top-of-the-line product, or something generic? Do you want a particular brand? Are there “must-have” features? What’s your budget? If you decide what’s important to you up-front, you’re less likely to make an impulse purchase.
Do some research on the products.
Often, the features of a basic product and the top-of-the-line version from the same manufacturer are the same, and “extras” account for the difference in price. For example, you might have to pay extra for a toaster with a clock and fancy chime even if it turns bread into toast just like a less expensive model. Manufacturer sites often have the most information about product features. It’s worth reading them carefully.
Use search engines.
If you think you’ve found a good deal, but you aren’t familiar with the product or the company selling it, dig a little deeper. Type the company or product name into your favorite search engine with the terms “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” If you find bad reviews, you’ll have to decide if the offer is worth the risk. After all, it’s only a good deal if you actually get a product that works. This is also a good idea for any service provider you are considering.
Check comparison shopping sites.
These sites connect you to many retailers selling the same product, sometimes at significantly different prices. Compare your total purchase price, including shipping and handling, and taxes, rather than just the selling price. Different sites also have different return policies. Check the policy and find out whether you’ll be charged extra shipping or restocking fees for returns. Some sites even let you sign up to get alerts when prices change.
Consider using online coupons.
Some companies offer discounts to online shoppers via email; other sites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. To look for discounts, enter the web site or company name and “discount,” “coupon” or “free shipping” into a search engine. Stay away from sites that make you download software or enter financial information to access the codes. Never input your personal information.
Also keep in mind that a coupon price isn’t always the best deal; again, it’s important to do your research.
Read reviews but be skeptical.
When considering a review, think about the source of the information: is it from an impartial expert organization, one consumer, many individual consumers, a columnist or the company itself?
You can get a good idea about a product’s performance by reading user reviews on retail or shopping comparison sites. But they may not represent the experience of all purchasers: The FTC has sued companies that posted “fake” positive reviews. And some negative reviews may come from competitors.
You also can look for websites that specialize in reviewing products. These sites don’t sell products but offer expert reviews and comparisons.
What if there’s a problem?
Ask yourself a few questions. Does the brand have a reputation for good products and excellent customer service? What’s the promised delivery time? How will you contact the seller if there’s a problem? Will the company accept returns? If so, will you be charged restocking fees? If you need more information than you can find on the site, use the “chat” or “help” box that most retail sites have.
If you shop carefully and leave yourself time so that you are not in a rush, shopping at home can be more relaxing and leave extra time for family and friends in the holiday season!!
And as always, pass it on!!
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.