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How to be a smart shopper this holiday season

If you are among those with the foresight to have already started your holiday shopping, congratulations.

But remember that early shopping does not, by itself, make you a smart shopper. Using your head when you shop is even more important than getting a head start.

The Better Business Bureau urges careful consideration before making purchases either online or in stores. That way you can dive into the holiday shopping scramble and come up with gifts that will please and not disappoint.

Remember that the marketplace is always in a state of flux. New products, new services and new retailers are all vying for your attention, and, of course, your money.

FTC tips

The Federal Trade Commission has suggestions for smart shoppers on its website, consumer.ftc.gov. Here are some highlights of their recommendations:

▪ Calculate your budget and decide whether there is a particular brand or particular features that you are looking for in a product. Determine whether the desired product with those features can fit into your budget, or whether you can downsize your expectations to a less expensive model.

▪ Educate yourself about what products are out there by checking with manufacturers’ websites to learn the features of those products.

▪ Dig deeper by using an online search engine to research a company or product, especially if it is fairly new. Type the name into the search field and add terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”

▪ Read reviews skeptically. Fake reviews are out there. Websites that specialize in reviewing particular products can be helpful.

▪ Look for coupon savings. Some companies offer discounts to online shoppers through emails. Others have coupons online that you can use in a store. Some have codes on their sites for free shipping and other discounts.

Know that a coupon price may not necessarily be the best deal available. Search for discounts with a search engine by entering the company or product name and “discount,” “coupon” or “free shipping.”

Do not use sites that make you download software or require you to enter your financial information in order to get such codes.

Additional BBB tips

Most of these best practices apply to online shoppers:

▪ Consider shipping and handling fees carefully as they can vary considerably for the same item at different websites.

▪ Research retailers at bbb.org. There are more than 4 million reviews of BBB accredited and nonaccredited businesses in our database.

▪ When using online auction sites, verify the seller’s ratings to determine their reliability.

▪ Do not deal with any seller that requires wire money transfers or preloaded cards. Always pay with a credit card if possible, or a safe online payment service.

Read, read, read

It is no fun reading the fine print, but it can be vital.

Read the terms and conditions of the sale. Know whether your information will be shared and opt out of such shares when possible.

Read the order confirmation and save a copy of it. Be sure there are no obscured fees and charges that you did not expect. Read any emails about the transaction carefully and store them for future reference.

A shopping study by the firm Simon-Kucher reports that online shopping will surge 15 percent this holiday season. Retailers traditionally count on the holiday gift-buying season for 25 percent of their annual sales.

It all adds up to a busy time for all parties concerned and a time when shoppers need to be as brainy about their purchases as possible. Make yours a rewarding experience by shopping smart this year.

Denise Groene is the state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Contact the bureau at 800-856-2417 or bbbinc.org.

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