Winsett: Before shopping, do your homework

Winsett: Before shopping, do your homework

December 2nd, 2011 by By Jim Winsett in Business Diary

Q: What advice does the BBB have for shopping during the holidays?

A: At this time, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed. Retailers are experiencing an increase in sales compared to last year. In turn, this means advertising and promotions will increase in an effort for retailers to be competitive and increase sales.

Better Business Bureau past experience tells us that all deals are not created equal. Often the fine print is the most important thing to understand. Before you head out the door and get caught up in the frenzy, or click on a promotional email, the BBB offers the following tip sheet to help you save time and money.

• Know before you go. Now and in the coming weeks many retailers will release their print advertising, deals online, in social media, and other publications. Research and compare prices on your list of gift priorities. Since many

advertisements will begin before the actual sale, create an ad file collection as soon as possible. Remember to bring ads with you just in case the price is not what you expected or advertised.

• Don't fall for false advertising. Despite BBB's effort to advance trust in the marketplace, some companies will resort to advertisements that are untrue, misleading, deceptive, or plain fraudulent. Now and until after Christmas, advertising will be abundant and BBB urges consumers to watch for red flags.

Many consumers have experienced frustration and lost money they cannot afford to lose after being lured by prices too good to be true. Be alert to bait-and-switch ads that are designed to bring you in but push you toward more expensive items. Read and understand the fine print on return policies and final sales merchandise.

• Maximize advance alerts. Do you have favorite retailers? Now is a good time to sign up for their email alerts and "like" their Facebook page. BBB accredited businesses and other stores are working to reward your loyalty and you may get a jump on special offers.

• Set up your reward cards.

Have you ever stood in line without your store rewards card? Make sure you have reward cards with your favorite stores and keep them secure. Check your credit card rewards program for special points that could add up during the holidays.

• Shop with trust. If you find a deal, don't jump at the first chance to get it. The BBB recommends doing your research on the business. Look into their customer service track record and check it out at If you have concerns about the type of gift or the right fit, make sure you understand the return policy and its details.

• Comparative shop online. There are dozens of websites that claim to capture the best deals around and they can really help you do your comparative shopping. Before you pick your favorite site, the BBB recommends that consumers find a reputable site and check them out at Do an online search online to see what others say and have experienced about the site. If you decide to buy online, follow security measures; confirm that the site is secure and be certain you have a phone number and physical address should problems arise with your order.

• Look for QR codes. They are square, black-and-white, and funny looking, but they can take you straight to a deal. QR stands for Quick Response codes and they're popping up in many ads and print advertising materials. Several BBB accredited businesses use them to help you and they can bring you directly to a special offer or a BBB business review. Before you can scan one and view the offer, you will have to install a QR app reader. Most new smart phones are equipped to scan QR codes.

• Shop small. Save your gas, money and time when you stay close to home. The BBB is encouraging consumers to support small businesses. Shop your neighborhood retailers for their advertised deals and gain some goodwill by knowing you have done your part to help them thrive during the holidays. Although a price match may not be applicable for some items, your neighborhood store may be able to guarantee a price for you, even if you decide to buy later.

• Check return and exchange policies. Store policy can change for holiday sales and certain sale items. Make sure you know what the return and exchange policy is for all items you purchase. This policy will be posted in the store or printed on the receipt. When shopping online, determine if a return is even possible. Be alert to merchandise that is sold as a "final sale" item. Be aware that many retailers offer only "store credit" for returns. Remember to get gift receipts, the recipient may need to return the item.

• Shop safely. Always be aware of your surroundings, while getting a deal is important, do not put yourself and others in jeopardy. The BBB advises consumers to take their time and plan ahead for the best rewards of shopping during the holidays.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@