Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and Black Friday, which falls on November 24, promises to be a bonanza for retailers and consumers. The recent trend of stores closing for Thanksgiving or offering limited shopping hours could boost traffic on the Friday after Thanksgiving. No matter how hectic things get, Better Business Bureau® of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) offers helpful advice to holiday shoppers.
“We know Black Friday, for some, is an integral part of an enjoyable holiday weekend,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “It’s a day associated with deals and savings.”
The National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday sales will increase between 3.6 and 4% this year, to nearly $679 billion dollars. If you’re planning on doing your holiday shopping on Black Friday or beyond, be sure to keep these tips in mind to help ensure a satisfactory shopping experience:
- Do your research. Visit bbb.org or call 800-646-6222 to obtain free Business Profiles on retailers – both for brick and mortar stores and online retailers.
- Search for Black Friday Ads Ahead of Time. Many retailers roll out their Black Friday specials well in advance of the shopping holiday. Newspapers publish circulars and coupons that outline store discounts for Black Friday, and other specials are posted online on retailers’ websites.
- Ask the right questions. Be sure you’re clear on the store’s return policy before you make your purchase. Companies are not required to give you your money back, but they need to post their return policy prominently near the cashier. Also, always ask about restocking fees, and ask for gift receipts.
- Watch out for online deals too good to be true. While many retailers offer ‘doorbusters’ – specials designed to bring customers into stores – some websites offer suspiciously low prices on in-demand goods in an effort to entice shoppers into turning over their credit card information. Stick to trustworthy websites and look for BBB’s seal and other recognized “trust marks.” Click on the seals to confirm they are valid. Don’t enter terms like ‘best deals’ into search engines, as they may take you to illegitimate websites.
- Make sure you’re getting a real deal. Do you know if a sale is really a sale? Many times companies boast “70 percent off,” but 70 percent off of what? It always pays to comparison shop leading up to the holiday. If a company is advertising a “Going out of Business” sale, don’t automatically assume they are offering the best prices in town. Take the time to check prices on the same items at other stores.
- Gift cards. Gift cards regularly top consumers’ wish lists. Federal rules govern gift card sales, and those rules state:
- An inactivity fee cannot be charged until the card has not been used for 12 months. However, you may be charged to replace a lost or stolen card.
- Gift cards cannot expire for at least five years or five years from the last date additional money was loaded onto the card. No more than one fee (of any kind) can be charged to the cardholder in a single month.
- The expiration date must be clearly disclosed on the card, and any fees must be disclosed as well. You should also see a toll-free phone number or website where you can get more information.
- A one-time fee can be charged when you buy the card, though this generally only applies to gift cards purchased through your credit card company – not those purchased directly from stores and restaurants.
- If you receive a gift card, redeem it promptly if, possible. Doing so reduces the chance it will get lost – and you will get the value out of it should the store or restaurant later close unexpectedly.
Finally, consumers should keep in mind that even if they miss a sale there will be many more opportunities for savings as we go through the long holiday shopping season. For more fun facts and shopping tips, visit bbb.org/council/holiday-helper.