For those holiday shoppers who were leery of the dreaded madness of Black Friday or are still trying to recuperate after all that turkey on Thanksgiving and decided to hold off on holiday shopping for one more day, there are plenty of holiday shopping tips from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on all kinds of shopping and buying.
According to The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch, mall traffic was up 1.7 percent from last year on Black Friday and the weekend following. This rise was most likely due to the turbulent economy and people rushing in to take advantage of Black Friday bargains to be scrupulous with their money.
According to the BBB Web site, http://us.bbb.org, "With major declines across many sectors of the economy, overall household wealth in the U.S. is down nearly $8 trillion in 2008."
"Given the daily roller-coaster effect taking place in the U.S. stock market, and with credit card companies lowering maximum credit lines and raising interest rates, the economic future for many households is uncertain heading into the holidays," Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson said. "With the sobering effect of the economy looming over this holiday season, consumers are going to have to be creative with their dollar and be more conscious of their spending in order to avoid a holiday hangover."
But if there are shoppers out there who happened to miss out on Black Friday and even Cyber Monday, they still have ways to save money on their holiday shopping.
According to the BBB, creating a list and sticking to it is a good way to keep up with holiday expenses. This budget should include everything a family plans to eat and do over the holidays. Frugal people can even set a price limit for each person on their shopping list.
The BBB also suggests sizing up the gift list. People can give smaller, less expensive gifts to everyone on their list or limit gift giving to the immediate family only.
Arts and crafts are also fun gifts to give to people. The BBB suggests do-it-yourself projects because it is a way to get the family together working on one or several gifts at the same time.
The BBB also recommends not spending as much or foregoing the little things that add up on the credit card bill. That includes decorations and wrapping paper. They suggest using last year's decorations and using alternative wrapping, such as newspaper or using shopping bags.
Areawide Media, based in Salem, sells end rolls of newspaper reels to support the Fulton County Relay for Life. These end rolls are useful for wrapping presents and for craft projects. They are sold at Areawide Media's offices in Highland, Salem and Thayer, Mo., for $1 per roll or for a donation.
Being a smart shopper is also helpful. During the holiday shopping season, many retailers will be competing for sales and the consumer will be stuck in the middle. Savvy consumers should try finding deals at both stores and online. The BBB advises all shoppers to check the record of each store and Web site with them at www.bbb.org.
Traversing a Web site for good bargains is very different from going from store to store in a mall to find a good deal on a particular gift. Many would say shopping for gifts online is much easier to do. Others, however, are intimidated by buying online. The truth is that even those who are comfortable shopping online are sometimes disgruntled with some of the hassles that might arise.
Cyber Monday, the kickoff for online holiday shopping, started off with a bang Dec. 1 as people got back to work and back to their high-speed Internet connections on their work computers to go shopping. According to Integra Telecom Inc., a large Internet supplier, Internet traffic rocketed up by 30 percent on Dec. 1 compared to the weeks before that date.
Buyers beware, the wolves of the Internet world, scammers, are out there and they are hungry. Scammers are everywhere throughout the Web, and according to the BBB, "With more shoppers expected to head to the Internet this season, scammers know they can take advantage of consumers who are looking for bargains."
The BBB is trying to protect consumers from getting scammed this Christmas by giving shoppers the "Top 10 Online Shopping Tips" on their Web site, http://us.bbb.org. This list has been provided for readers' convenience below:
1. Protect your computer -- A computer should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a secure firewall.
2. Use trustworthy Web sites -- Shoppers should start with BBB to check on the seller's reputation and record for customer satisfaction. Always look for a "trustmark" from BBBOnLine and click on that seal to confirm that it's valid.
4. Trust your gut -- Offers on Web sites and in unsolicited e-mails can often sound too good to be true. Consumers should always go with their instincts and not be afraid to pass up a "deal" that might cost them dearly in the end.
5. Beware of phishing -- Legitimate businesses do not send e-mails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure the "buyer" into revealing financial information. If a consumer receives such an e-mail, BBB recommends picking up the phone and calling the contact number on the Web site where the purchase was made to confirm that there really is a problem with the transaction.
6. Confirm your online purchase is secure -- Shoppers should always look in the address box for the "s" in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the "lock" symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site, BBB recommends right-clicking anywhere on the page and select "Properties." This will let you see the real URL (Web site address) and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted.
7. Pay with a credit card -- It's best to use a credit card, because under federal law the shopper can dispute the charges if he or she doesn't receive the item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card, and many card issuers have "zero liability" policies under which the card holder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it.
8. Keep documentation of your order -- After completing the online order process, there may be a final confirmation page or the shopper might receive confirmation by e-mail -- BBB recommends saving a copy of the Web page and any e-mails for future reference and as a record of the purchase.
9. Check your credit card statements often -- Don't wait for paper statements; BBB recommends consumers check their credit card statements for suspicious activity by either calling credit card companies or by checking statements online regularly.
10. Know your rights -- Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren't shipped on time, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but consumers do have the right to reject merchandise if it's defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it's the company's policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit.
There always seems to be that one person, or several, on the holiday shopping list that a shopper cannot find the right gift for. These kinds of dilemmas call for gift cards.
Gift cards can be found in almost any store and can be used at one particular store, at any store or online. Some gift cards are even reloadable. They can be the perfect gift for someone a holiday shopper cannot find the right gift for.
However, there is at least one e-mail rumor that has been spreading about purchasing gift cards. This e-mail hoax warns consumers not to buy gift cards from a list of retail stores. The list includes Ann Taylor, Bombay, Circuit City, Dillard's, Disney, Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Lowes and Macys along with several other well-known retail stores.
"We always give gift card for gifts at Christmas but not this year," the e-mail states. "It seems there are a lot of stores that are closing due to the 'recession' and the fact that people are not shopping. If you have any 'gift cards' from these stores, make sure you use them, or you will lose them."
The e-mail goes on to say that some of the retail stores were being shut down between October and January. According to several of the retailers, this statement is not true.
"J.C. Penney is opening stores, not closing them," the company's corporate communication team said in an e-mailed response. "The information circulating on the Internet about J.C. Penney 'closing stores after January' is completely false. Gift cards remain a smart and convenient option for customers and our customers love them, particularly for (the holidays). J.C. Penney gift cards never expire and are redeemable for any J.C. Penney purchase. Additionally, customers can feel safe giving or receiving a gift card from a dependable, well-financed retail company like J.C. Penney."
Though gift cards might be a good buy, the FTC advises that buyers and receivers of gift cards be aware of the terms and conditions attached to the cards. Some cards have an expiration date and others can only be used at one particular retailer. Other cards might charge a dormancy fee if the card hasn't been used in a long period of time.
When purchasing a gift card the FTC advises that shoppers buy from trusted stores and be cautious when buying a gift card on an online auction. These could be obtain illegally or turn out to be fake.
The FTC also advises to, read the fine print before you buy. If you don't like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.
"When you're buying a card, ask about expiration dates and fees. This information may appear on the card itself, on the accompanying sleeve or envelope, or on the issuer's Web site. If you don't see it, ask. If the information is separate from the gift card, give it to the recipient with the card to help protect the value of the card."
Another FTC suggestion is giving the recipient of the gift card the original receipt, not only to verify the purchase of the card, but in case the card is lost or stolen. If the card is lost, it can be replaced at the store where it was bought.
According to the Arkansas' Attorney General's Office, Arkansas has its own set of rules regarding gift cards, and Arkansas consumers need to be made aware of them.
"Gift cards make great presents but if you plan to buy some this holiday season, you should know that many stores and companies attach restrictions to them," Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said. "Consumers should take an extra few minutes at the store to make sure they are getting what they pay for."
According to the attorney general's office, gift card sales are going to be the gift of choice for shoppers for the fifth year in a row. However, in 2006, consumers lost about $8 billion in gift cards both received and bought.
Arkansas laws on gift card restrictions are as follows, according to the attorney general's office:
"If the card has an expiration date, it cannot be within the first two years of issuance; fees cannot be imposed on the card during this two year period; and any fees and/or an expiration date must be denoted on the actual gift card."
This law, however, does not affect all gift cards. "While this law applies to retail store gift cards, it does not apply to all bank-issued gift cards," according to the attorney general's office. "Some bank gift cards are governed by federal banking regulators and are subject to an independent, albeit less stringent, set of rules. If you plan to give a bank-issued gift card, inquire about those rules when you purchase it, and be sure to pass that information on to the recipient of the gift."
Those who have questions about the Arkansas laws regarding gift cards can contact the Public Protection Department of the attorney generals office by logging onto www.ArkansasAG.gov or calling 1-800-482-8982.
For more holiday shopping tips or to report a complaint go to the BBB Web site at http://us.bbb.org. Complaints and questions can also be made at the Arkansas State's BBB office at 501-664-4888.