Tis’ the season for shopping and retailers big and small are enticing customers with their best deals of the year. According to TIME, this year also represented an important shift: sales in brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday dropped from $11.6 billion to $10.4 billion, while online sales jumped 14% to $2.72 billion.
“Brick and mortar stores will never go away because there are some items that you just have to see in person before you buy them,” says Jeff Bell, CEO of LegalShield. “But the world is shifting rapidly in the direction of online sales and consumers need to know how to protect themselves.” While there are many great deals available to consumers, it is important to do your homework to protect your holiday budget. The following tips will help you to focus on holiday fun rather than legal disputes with retailers or losing money to scammers.
1. Set a Budget
Understand your finances before going to the store or shopping online. It is easy to throw your budget or financial planning out the window when confronted by the newest gadget or a great sale, but it is important to set and follow a strict budget for your holiday shopping. Do not let eager sales staff or your own excitement sell you on products that are outside of your budget.
2. Say No to Financing
Beware of retail credit cards or quick loan offers you cannot afford. Many lenders use the holiday cash crunch to attract borrowers. Do not sign up for any new credit cards or loans without reviewing the rates and terms carefully. Call your LegalShield provider law firm if you need any assistance.
3. Avoid Sweet Deals
Beware of pricing that is too good to be true. Check reviews on greatly discounted items to make sure they do not have major problems. A $250 TV might not seem like such a good deal if it does not make it to 2016. Online scammers often set up dummy websites, auction listings, or ads that offer popular items far below market value. Trust your instincts and beware of scam sales.
4. Check Return Policies
Read and save a dated copy of the retailer’s return policy. Many sales disputes stem from misunderstandings over return or refund policies. Make sure you read and understand the return policies before making a purchase. Some returns will require costly restocking fees and some sale items may not be eligible for return. Also, find out if you are responsible for shipping costs on a returned item, as larger items could be costly to ship.
5. Ensure Proper Warranties
Do your homework on extended warranties. Many products already come with a manufacturer’s warranty. In addition, your credit card company may already offer protection. Make sure you understand what the warranty covers and what is excluded. Consider the cost of the warranty versus the potential benefit.
6. Monitor Your Accounts
Check your bank account frequently. Incorrect or fraudulent charges are easier to miss when spending increases around the holidays. Save all of your receipts and review them along with your bank and credit card statements to make sure everything is accurate. Contact your bank or credit card company immediately if you notice any irregularities
7. Verify Web Addresses
When shopping online, use trusted retailers. It is important to make sure you are on the correct website by checking the domain name in the browser. Sometimes emails or online ads promising great deals will actually direct you to scam sites designed to look like a trusted retailer. The domain name at the top of your browser should contain a secure URL, which is prefaced with an https:// instead of just https://. Use unique and secure passwords when setting up online accounts.
8. Read Reviews
Review marketplace seller rating information and negative feedback from previous buyers. Marketplace websites allow a wide range of individual sellers to offer products to a large audience. Many of these sites allow previous customers to rate their experience with a particular seller. Exercise caution when dealing with sellers who have an excess of poor feedback. Check the specific feedback to see what those who complained had to say.
9. Protect Your Privacy
Keep payment information secure. Never pay for items purchased online with wire transfers, money orders, or cash. These types of payment offer no tracking or protection in the event of a scam. When making an online payment for goods use a credit card, PayPal, Google Checkout, or another secure online payment system. Some payment systems offer additional dispute resolution options.
LegalShield provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to LegalShield Members through member-based participation. Neither LegalShield nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation or advice. See a plan contract at legalshield.com for specific state of residence for complete terms, coverage, amounts, and conditions. This is not intended to be legal or medical advice. Please contact a medical professional for medical advice or assistance and an attorney for legal advice or assistance.