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Q. The holiday shopping season has arrived. What consumer advice does BBB offer for making wise buying decisions and shopping safely?

A. Black Friday is the single busiest shopping day of the year. Some retailers even offer "door busters" that begin shortly after Thanksgiving dinner. Undeterred by the lines and crowds, millions of consumers get excited to nab unbeatable deals on the hottest new toys and popular electronics. Some retailers are getting a jump start and selling bargains early.

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers spent an average of $313.29 on gifts and other holiday items over the five-day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday last year. The most popular items are apparel, toys, books, and video games.

Better Business Bureau offers these tips to make your Black Friday shopping experience productive and maybe even enjoyable:

Make the most of Black Friday deals. Start with a list of items you are looking for and use sale flyers and promotions to determine which store has the best price. Also, figure out how much you can afford to spend and stick to it!

Read the fine print. Some retailers may offer an additional percentage off your purchase, but could exclude certain deals or items such as "door busters." Also, be cautious of companies that boast a high percentage off, the item may be "75% off" but the original price could be inflated.

Plan your approach. In many cases, you no longer have to wait to see what deals will be offered on Black Friday. Retailers now release their Black Friday flyers weeks ahead of time so consumers can plan out their shopping spree. Make a map of the stores you plan to visit and what items are at which store. Some retailers only honor sale ads during a certain time frame, or on certain days, and could limit the amount of deeply discounted items you purchase.

Sign-up for email alerts. Many stores release their best Black Friday deals and exclusive coupons to people who have subscribed to their emails. Sign up ahead of the holiday season but be cautious of what information you have to provide in order to receive such alerts.

Do your research. Read product reviews on extremely discounted items. It could be a cheaper model or brand advertised, and not what you initially think you're getting. As you are looking through the sales flyers and ads, check BBB.org for Business Profiles of the stores you want to visit, and read what other customers' have experienced.

Know the return policy and warranty information. Be sure to 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, but make sure the item is able to be returned before purchasing.

You can always visit BBB.org to look up a business, file a complaint, write a customer review, report a scam, read tips, follow us on social media, and more!

 

Small Business Saturday

Stay and Shop Local: Check the Small Business Saturday website americanexpress.com/us/small- business/shop-small for a list of shops in this area that is participating. The holiday season is critical to small business; your support is important and appreciated. Local dollars reinvested in our marketplace.

According to the SBS Consumer Insights Survey, approximately 108 million people shopped with small business on SBS in 2018.

 

Tips for Holiday Shopping

Gift receipts: Always ask for a gift receipt. This way the recipient can return or exchange a gift if it's not just right.

Warranty information: Inquire about the store's return policy and warranty information before purchasing. Also, be sure to pass along any information about returns, exchanges, repairs, and warranties to the person who will use the item.

Research: Read product reviews, check BBB.org Business Profiles, look at the sales flyers and ads, compare prices, look for early promotions and "flash sales." For tips on searching online, check out BBB's Digital IQ.

Mobile security: With so many shoppers using their mobile devices to research and make purchases, it's important to have a secure device. Be sure you're using up to date version of apps and operating system on your phone. Also, actively manage your location services, Bluetooth, microphone and camera — make sure apps use them appropriately as well. Check the app settings to make sure all apps have appropriate access to your information.

Public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi is vulnerable to thieves and fraudsters looking to steal your information. When in stores or restaurants, avoid using banking or other apps that access your sensitive personal information.

Email phishing: With all the promotional emails sent during the holidays, scammers will be out in full force. It's best not to click on links from senders you don't recognize. Don't forget to hover your mouse over links without clicking to see if the address is really authentic. Also, check the reply email address. The address should be on a company domain. Beware of Look-alike domains.

Interest-based advertising: As you browse the web or use your favorite store's app, you might notice ads personalized to you, sometimes based on your previous web searches. This is called Interest-Based Advertising, which is often signaled by Ad Choices in the corners of ads. If you want to opt out of receiving this type of advertising, download the AppChoices app or visit youradchoices.com for information on how to opt-in and out of certain ads.

Back up your data: Have an online backup option in case your device is attacked by hackers. You do not want to lose all your family's information and memories.

Look out for scams: If you suspect a scam, check out BBB Scam Tips to learn more (bbb.org/scamtips) or report scams to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker).

some text Jim Winsett of the BBB.

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.

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