Q. Retailers have been advertising Black Friday shopping deals for a few weeks. What advice may BBB provide on this annual promotion?
A. You are correct, Black Friday promotions are active; it will be interesting to see what deals may be more attractive the day after Thanksgiving. People are predicted to spend just under $1,000 this holiday season on friends and loved ones, according to the National Retail Federation, www.nrf.com. This amount is slightly less than what was spent during the 2019 holiday season. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most consumers are expected to do some or all of their holiday shopping online.
Retailers are advised to follow health department guidelines to keep shoppers and employees safe while in the store. The usual rush and crush of holiday crowds are expected to be greatly reduced due to requirements for social distancing. Financially, some shoppers may have a smaller holiday budget as many people continue to look for work, including applying for part-time holiday jobs.
Much of the 2020 holiday gift shopping will more than likely involve searching for online shopping, and as BBB reported recently, so will the prevalence of online purchase scams. Online purchase scams ranked among the top three riskiest scams for the last three years, according to the 2019 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report published in March 2020, shortly after COVID-19 shut down much of the economy.
Experts predict at least a 35% increase in e-commerce sales allowing retailers to enhance online offerings much earlier than the traditional Black Friday deals. For consumers, this also means more reading, researching and checking on both the products and the sellers.
BBB recommends the following tips to "Shop Safe, Shop Smart" this holiday season:
Research before you buy. Out of the 57 percent who did not research the website or business via an independent source (*like BBB.org) before making a purchase, 81 percent lost money.
If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. The top motivating factor for people who made a purchase, then lost money was price. Don't shop on price alone.
Beware of fake websites: Check the URL, watch for bad grammar, research the age of the domain, search for contact information, and read online reviews.
Professional photos do not mean it's a real offer. Respondents reported that website photos motivated them to engage with scammers, especially for pets/pet supplies, clothing/accessories, and vehicles.
Make sure the website is secure. Look for the "https" in the URL (the extra s is for "secure") and a small lock icon on the address bar. Never enter payment or personal information into a website with only "http" – it is NOT secure.
Be careful purchasing sought-after products, especially during the holiday season. The risk of online purchase scams rises during the holidays because more people are making online purchases, and scammers offer the most popular products for the season at great prices.
Beware of making quick purchases while scrolling through social media. Scammers have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering exactly what you want at enticingly low prices.
Look for the BBB seal. BBB Accredited Businesses pledge to uphold the BBB Standards for Trust and to deal fairly with consumers. If a business displays a BBB seal, verify it by going to BBB.org.
Use secure and traceable transactions and payment methods. According to BBB's research, those who paid with a credit card were less likely to lose money. Be cautious when paying by digital wallet apps, prepaid money cards, or other non-traditional payment methods. Shipment tracking information can be faked. Look closely to make sure it is a legitimate business. Avoid clicking on the tracking link; go to the 'shipper's website and type in the code to see if it is real.
Be aware of delivery scams. Some consumers have recently been getting text messages stating a major delivery carrier needs them to "update delivery preferences" on a package by clicking on a link. The problem? The text is a scam, and the link results in theft of personal information.
How to Avoid Delivery Scams
1. Take precautions to ensure a safe delivery: If you are having a valuable or fragile item delivered to your home, purchase shipping insurance. In addition, always get tracking numbers for your purchases and check the shipping progress periodically.
2. Watch out for texts, calls or emails about a missed delivery. Legitimate delivery services usually leave a "missed delivery" notice on your door. If you receive a missed delivery notice, examine the form carefully to make sure it is authentic and only then follow their instructions. Keep track of what you've ordered so you have a better idea of what is coming and when. Don't click on any links; go to the delivery carrier's website directly, or log in and use the retailer's tracking tools.
3. Request a Signature: Chances are this feature may come with a price tag, but it may be worth the extra fee. Requesting a signature means that a delivery service will not drop a package on your doorstep unless someone is available to sign for it.
4. Don't leave packages sitting on your doorstep. Packages left sitting outside are particularly vulnerable to theft. To ensure safe delivery, have your package delivered to your workplace or to a trusted friend or neighbor who will be home to accept delivery. Some delivery companies now have lockers where your packages can securely wait for you to pick them up using a one-time code to open the locker.
5. Open your delivery upon receipt to check for damage or signs of tampering. Contact the seller immediately if you believe something is wrong with the shipment or if it's not what you ordered. Also, be sure to review the seller's return policy for damaged or unwanted items.
Read more BBB holiday tips, www.bbb.org . Report unsatisfactory purchase experiences to BBB. If you are unhappy with a purchase, file a complaint at BBB.org/complaints. If you never got what you paid for, consider reporting it to BBB Scam Tracker (BBB.org/ScamTracker) to help other consumers avoid being scammed.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.