Tips for a safe holiday shopping weekend from Chattanooga's Better Business Bureau

The biggest shopping event of the year is here! Today of course kicks off the "official" holiday shopping weekend including Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.

Retail experts are predicting higher than normal crowds in the stores and increased spending on gifts, decorations, and other holiday-related items. With this in mind, your BBB offers several tips to help you make this peak shopping time during Black Friday and Small Business Saturday one that's productive and filled with as much joy as possible:

Make the most of Black Friday and Small Business Saturday deals. Start with a list of items and use sale flyers and promotions to determine which store has the best price. Set a budget and stick with it before heading out.

Read the fine print. Some retailers may offer an additional percentage off the purchase but could exclude certain deals or items such as "door busters." Watch for companies boasting a high percentage off; the item may be "75% off," but the original price could be inflated. Carefully check the price tags, terms, and conditions. Research online using a secure Wi-Fi connection to see if competitors have the item at a better price.

Plan out the excursion. Make a map of the stores to visit and what items are at which store. Some retailors only honor sale ads during certain hours, or on certain days, and could limit the amount of deeply discounted items available for purchase.

Sign-up for email alerts. Many stores release their best holiday shopping deals and exclusive coupons to people who have subscribed to their emails. Sign up as far ahead of your shopping plans as possible.

Do Your Research: Read product reviews on extremely discounted items. It could be a cheaper model or brand advertised, and not what was expected. Visit to check business profiles of the stores and read what other customers have experienced.

Know the return policy and warranty information. Don't assume an item can be returned – policies vary from business to business. Make sure to confirm what policies exist before making a purchase and pass along any information about returns, exchanges, repairs, and warranties to the person who will use the item. Gift receipts are an easy way for recipients to return or exchange a gift if it's not just right.

Here's some additional tips to help you fully experience Small Business Saturday:

Connect with businesses on social media. For Small Business Saturday, you'll find that many small businesses will advertise their sales via social media. Use #ShopSmall to search for information and share activities.

Invite your friends and family. Turn this shopping event into a "friends and family" extravaganza! Visit favorite local stores or explore a new one. Take time to get to know the business owners and local community officials, and get a head start on the holidays while enjoying time with loved ones.

Don't just shop small, eat small! Many people think that shopping at local retail stores is the only way to participate. However, small independently owned restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops would love to invite in new customers while they're out and about.

Share your experience. Take a selfie at your favorite small business. Share it on social media with the hashtags #BBB and #ShopSmall to tell the world you're a big fan of small businesses. Leave a review on Remember, these shops are open all year as well!

Millions of shoppers will still be completing their holiday shopping online on Cyber Monday and beyond. In addition to the above recommendations, your BBB offers these tips to help keep your shopping experience a safe one:

Beware of false advertising and phony websites. If a company is selling the hottest item of the year at a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for false advertising and keep a close eye on the web address in your browser. Scammers love to create lookalike websites that can appear to belong to a trusted retailer. Make sure websites use the correct spelling of a business name and have legitimate contact information and customer service numbers.

Shop with trustworthy sellers on secure sites only. Be wary of businesses you aren't familiar with. Check their BBB Business Profile on, look at the rating, and read customer reviews. In addition, be sure any web page you purchase from is secure. Secure web addresses begin with "HTTPS" and not just "HTTP". Never put personal or credit card information in forms on non-secure web pages.

Keep your antivirus software up to date. Make sure you have antivirus software installed on your computer or mobile device, and that it is up to date. This will help you to avoid non-secure websites and pop-up phishing scams and help keep your personal information safe.

Use your credit card. It's always best to make online purchases with your credit card. If any shady charges turn up later, you will be able to contest them through your credit card company. Debit cards don't offer this same protection. Never make purchases with online sellers by giving them prepaid debit cards or wiring them money.

Understand return policies. Online store policies may change for Cyber Monday offers. Read the fine print before you buy. Understand the return or exchange policy for the specific item you would like to purchase. Be aware that stores may not allow returns for "final sale" or "closeout" items. Make sure to get gift receipts, so the recipient can return or exchange the item if necessary.

Please don't forget "Giving Tuesday" as well and be sure to check out unfamiliar charities at, a site managed by BBB's Wise Giving Alliance.

For more holiday tips from BBB, please visit

Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga