Q. Summer and play time are gone; what advice does BBB provide in preparing my kids for school?
A. Parents and students expect to spend more than ever on back-to-school shopping this year, according to the National Retail Federation's annual survey, www.nrf.com. If you — or a student in your life — are shopping for books, clothes, school supplies, backpacks or other items; be sure to keep these tips in mind. The Better Business Bureau offers the following advice on how to shop smart for back-to-school or back-to-college purchases:
» Before leaving the house. Start your back-to-school shopping by creating a list. Jot down everything you need and stick to the list! Impulse buying can increase your overall total in a hurry. Then, shop your home before heading to the store. You may already have some of the items from last year. Why purchase the same thing twice?
» Research big ticket items. Before purchasing that expensive laptop, tablet or dorm refrigerator, be sure to do your research. Research the brands, warranty, customer reviews and the prices at various stores to be sure you're getting the best deal. Also, look up the retailer on BBB.org.
» Ask for student discounts. Many stores and software companies offer discounts to students that have either an .edu email address or a student ID. Even if you don't see a discount advertised at the store, it doesn't hurt to ask.
» Shop in bulk. Some teachers ask parents to buy bulk items for the entire classroom to use throughout the year. Talk with other parents about what they're getting and see if you can all split the cost.
» Know the return policies and save your receipts. Kids can be fickle. They can love a new shirt yesterday but hate it today. Ask about return policies before making your purchase. Be sure to save your receipts just in case you have to return the item later.
» Shop safely online. When shopping from an online website the first step is to make sure the URL starts with "https" and includes a lock symbol. The "s" in "https" stands for secure, that way you know your information is being protected.
» Do your research. An unknown website may offer a similar product at a lower price. The lowest price isn't always the best route. Check for user reviews and badges for consumer protection agencies.
Be sure to use your credit card instead of your debit card, as credit cards not only provide additional protection, but it's also easier to dispute a fraudulent charge.
Be extremely wary of any website or store that asks for your child's personal information in order to access special deals.
If you're buying supplies through a website like Craigslist, make sure you don't wire money to someone you've not met. Use PayPal if possible, but if you are using cash, make sure you meet in a public place and bring a friend.
If you use Facebook you know banner ads are all over the place and many ads are targeted to what you like. Some of them, however, are just click bait ads to drive you to a different website where you could potentially be asked to input personal information. Take note of the ad and go to the store's website directly.
Other Tips for Shopping Online:
» Know the advertiser. Some of the best deals are only available online, but be careful. It's easy for a fake site to mimic a famous retailer's website, so make sure you are shopping with a legitimate site. If the site is missing contact information, that is a red flag. Check out retailers at bbb.org before you shop.
» Think before your click. Be especially cautious about email solicitations and online ads on social media sites. Many sketchy retailers advertise great deals or trendy clothing that doesn't measure up to the promotional hype.
» Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals. Offers on websites and in unsolicited emails may offer free or very low prices on hard-to-find items. There may be hidden costs or your purchase may sign you up for a monthly charge. Look for and read the fine print.
» Beware of phishing. Phishing emails can look like a message from a well-known brand, but clicking on unfamiliar links can place you at risk for malware and/or identity theft. One popular scam claims to be from a package-delivery company with links to "tracking information" on an order you don't remember making. Don't click!
» Keep documentation of your order. Save a copy of the confirmation page or email confirmation until you receive the item and are satisfied. Be sure to know and understand the return policy and keep this documented with your purchase records.
» Keep a clean machine. Install a firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software. Check for and install the latest updates and run virus scans regularly on your computer, tablet, and smart phone.
Visit bbb.org for additional consumer tips.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.