Q. I think I'm going to brave the crowds on Black Friday, but I want to make sure my time, and money, is spent well. What advice does the BBB have for shopping during "Black Friday"?
A. A week from today is Black Friday, despite many retailers already opening their doors earlier this year on Thanksgiving. Better Business Bureau's 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, BBB offers the following tip sheet to help you save time and money.
* Know before you go. Now and in the coming week many retailers will release their Black Friday deals online, in social media and other publications. Research where the sales are and make a list of your gift priorities to compare prices and plan your day of deals. Since many advertisements will begin before the actual sale, build up an ad collection as soon as possible. Remember to bring ads with you on Black Friday just in case the price is not what you expected or advertised.
* Do not 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. Black Friday 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, fine print return policies, final sales, and deals that end before the day is done. To protect you on Black Friday, BBB advises consumers to not believe all they see or hear without doing their own research.
* Maximize advance alerts. Do you have favorite retailers? Now is a good time to sign up for their email alerts and follow their social media platforms. 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 with out your store rewards card? Make sure you have reward cards with your favorite stores and keep them with you. Check your credit card rewards program for special points that could add up on Black Friday.
* Shop with trust. If you find a deal - do not jump at the first chance to get it. The BBB recommends doing your research on the business - look into their customer service track record, check them out at www.bbb.org. 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 Black Friday websites that claim to capture the best deals around and they can really help you do your comparative shopping online. Before you pick your favorite site, the BBB recommends that consumers find a reputable site and check them out at www.bbb.org. Do an online search to see what others have said and 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 are popping up in many ads and print 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 your time when you stay close to home. The BBB is encouraging consumers to support small businesses in their community on Small Business Saturday (www.smallbusinesssaturday.com), the day after Black Friday. Check your neighborhood retailers for their weekend 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 Black Friday deals. Make sure you know what the return and exchange policy is for your Black Friday special. Determine if a return is even possible - especially if you are buying online. Be alert to merchandise that is sold as a"final sale" item. Be aware that many retailers offer only "store credits" 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.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga