BBB offers tips, guidance for making the most of shopping, avoiding scams

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Everything has looked different since March this year and that includes the Christmas holiday shopping season. Black Friday deals have been going on for weeks in some cases and will keep building.

To help consumers get the most of their holiday experience — both financially and health and safety — the Better Business Bureau is offering some tips.

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BLACK FRIDAY

Black Friday, traditionally, the single busiest shopping day of the year, is going to look a bit different in 2020. Instead of setting an alarm to brave crowds for deeply discounted items, dedicated shoppers will be looking for deals online.

People are predicted to spend just under $1,000 this holiday season on gifts, according to the National Retail Federation. With the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, this amount is slightly less than the 2019 holiday season.

For those who decide to shop on Black Friday, Better Business Bureau offers these tips to make shopping experience productive and maybe even enjoyable:

  • Make the most of Black Friday deals. Start with a list of items and use sale flyers and promotions to determine which store has the best price. Set a budget and stick with it.
  • Read the fine print. Some retailers may offer an additional percentage off the purchase, but could exclude certain deals or items such as “door busters.” Watch for companies boasting a high percentage off; the item may be “75% off,” but the original price could be inflated. Carefully check the price tags, terms, and conditions. Research online using a secure wifi connection to see if competitors have the item at a better price.
  • Plan out the excursion. Retailers often will release Black Friday flyers weeks ahead of time, so consumers can plan out their shopping. Some retailers only honor sale ads during a certain time frame, or on certain days, and could limit the amount of deeply discounted items available for 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, and then unsubscribe afterwards if needed.
  • Do your research. Read product reviews on extremely discounted items. It could be a cheaper model or brand advertised, and not what was expected. Check BBB.org for Business Profiles of the stores and read what other customers’ have experienced.
  • Know the return policy and warranty information. 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.

LOOKING FOR SEASON’S “HOT TOY?” BEWARE OF SCAMS

Every year, there’s always a few “must-have” toys on most kids’ holiday wish list. The toy sells out fast, and becomes expensive and hard to find. This year’s hot picks are Star Wars The Child Animatronic Edition (aka Baby Yoda) and a realistic toy dog. Scammers are using the toy’s popularity to trick parents out of their money.

How the Scam Works

You are looking for these toys, but they are sold out at every store you visit, so you decide to look online. A quick search takes you to a page that miraculously has the toy in stock. The site may look professional and have original images of the product. It may even offer the product at discounted prices, claiming a “last-minute deal” or “flash sale.”

Unfortunately, many such offers are fake. In many cases reported to BBB.org/ScamTracker, buyers thought they were ordering a high-quality, animatronic toy. Instead, they received a cheap counterfeit version. When the dissatisified customers tried to follow up with the company, they found that the staff either didn’t respond or refused to provide a refund.

For example, one shopper told BBB.org/ScamTracker she thought she ordered a high-quality, animatronic puppy. “It was supposed to move and act like a real little dog. I wanted to get it for one of my great grand-daughters. When I received the dog in the mail it was a small stuffed animal that you could get out of a machine at an arcade.”

Another consumer reported paying $59.99 for a Baby Yoda toy that fell far short of their expectations.  “It was supposed to be animated and make sound… When I finally got it, it is an ugly plastic hand puppet. I contacted them for a refund and an address to send it back. They say I have to pay for shipping, and it will be $20.00. And they will give me a 10% refund.”

Tips to Avoid Toy Scams

  • Only buy toys from reputable stores and websites.The best way to avoid getting scammed when purchasing toys is to buy them directly from a seller you know and trust.
  • Don’t be fooled by extra-low prices.Unreasonably low prices are a red flag for a scam on many products. Avoid making a purchase from a retailer you aren’t familiar with just because the price sounds too good to be true – it probably is!
  • Research before you buy.If a company seems legitimate but you aren’t familiar with it, be extra careful with your personal information. Before offering up your name, address, and credit card information, make sure the company has a working customer service number

SHOP SAFE, SHOP SMART THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

People are predicted to spend just under $1,000 this holiday season on friends and loved ones, according to the National Retail Federation. This amount is slightly less than what was spent during the 2019 holiday season. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most consumers are expected to do some or all of their holiday shopping online.

Retailers are advised to follow health department guidelines to keep shoppers and employees safe while in the store. The usual rush and crush of holiday crowds are expected to be greatly reduced due to requirements for social distancing. Financially, some shoppers may have a smaller holiday budget as many people continue to look for work, including applying for part-time holiday jobs.

Much of the 2020 holiday gift shopping will more than likely involve searching for online shopping, and as BBB reported recently, so will the prevalence of online purchase scams. Online purchase scams ranked among the top three riskiest scams for the last three years, according to the 2019 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report published in March 2020, shortly after COVID-19 shut down much of the economy.

Experts predict at least a 35 percent increase in e-commerce sales allowing retailers to enhance online offerings much earlier than the traditional Black Friday deals. For consumers, this also means more reading, researching, and checking on both the products and the sellers.

BBB recommends the following tips to “Shop Safe, Shop Smart” this holiday season:

  • Research before you buy. Out of the 57 percent who did not research the website or business via an independent source (*like BBB.org) before making a purchase, 81 percent lost money.
  • If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. The top motivating factor for people who made a purchase, then lost money, was price. Don’t shop on price alone.
  • Beware of fake websites: Check the URL, watch for bad grammar, research the age of the domain, search for contact information, and read online reviews.
  • Professional photos do not mean it’s a real offer. Respondents reported that website photos motivated them to engage with scammers, especially for pets/pet supplies, clothing/accessories, and vehicles.
  • Make sure the website is secure. Look for the “https” in the URL (the extra s is for “secure”) and a small lock icon on the address bar. Never enter payment or personal information into a website with only “http” – it is NOT secure.
  • Be careful purchasing sought-after products, especially during the holiday season. The risk of online purchase scams rises during the holidays because more people are making online purchases, and scammers offer the most popular products for the season at great prices.
  • Beware of making quick purchases while scrolling through social media. Scammers have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering exactly what you want at enticingly low prices.
  • Look for the BBB seal. BBB Accredited Businesses pledge to uphold the BBB Standards for Trust and to deal fairly with consumers. If a business displays a BBB seal, verify it by going to BBB.org.
  • Use secure and traceable transactions and payment methods. According to BBB’s research, those who paid with a credit card were less likely to lose money. Be cautious when paying by digital wallet apps, prepaid money cards, or other non-traditional payment methods.
  • Shipment tracking information can be faked. Look closely to make sure it is a legitimate business. Avoid clicking on the tracking link; go to the ‘shipper’s website and type in the code to see if it is real.

For a complete guide to BBB Holiday Tips, visit www.bbb.org/holiday-tips