Better Business Bureau tips for safer and smart holiday shopping
November is typically the busiest shopping month of the year, with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and all the lead-up presales to the busiest week of the shopping season.
Despite the headwinds of an economy struggling with inflation, the National Retail Federation predicts healthy spending this year. Their forecast is for holiday retail to grow between 6% and 8% over 2021 to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion.
These numbers would represent a historical high for holiday shopping, surpassing last year's holiday sales, which grew 13.5% over 2020 and totaled $889.3 billion, shattering previous records.
Black Friday is traditionally the single busiest shopping day of the year and arrives a little earlier this year. Many stores are already advertising their specials, and very importantly, more and more shoppers are buying online -- especially when you include Cyber Monday.
It's an essential time for customers to use extra caution as shopping scams escalate significantly in online sales. BBB studies show online shopping has become the riskiest scam most years based on a formula of how many people are exposed to fraud, how many people fall victim and the amount of money lost.
Fake websites, pop-up ads, text and social media ads have all led to a continuing spike in money lost across all age groups, with younger demographics 18-49 being the most victimized.
There are some essential tips I would like to share to make your shopping during the holiday rush safer and more efficient both online and in person. The most important is to check out companies before you buy. A great place to start is with BBB.org to look up company ratings and reviews to better find businesses you can trust. Also, we recommend people research product reviews for any items they are considering.
To cut down on the lure of unsolicited offers, if you have a favorite store, you can sign up for its emails in-store or directly from the company website. Many stores release their best Black Friday deals and exclusive coupons to people who have subscribed to their emails.
For unfamiliar online companies, some red flags to watch for include lack of contact information, including addresses, working phone numbers or any track record showing they have been in business. Phony websites, sometimes pretending to be well-known brands, are often created. Please look for misspellings at the domain address to better understand to whom you are sending money.
Also, beware of unsolicited contacts or ads with very hard-to-get items at low prices. This is a tactic often used by scammers.
Whenever possible, use a credit card, even over a debit card. Some companies promote direct transfers from money apps, but once that money is sent, it can be impossible to get it back if there are issues.
Also, remember, in many cases of issues, the big print can giveth and the small print can taketh away. Read the fine print.
Some retailers may offer an additional percentage off the purchase but could exclude specific deals or items such as "doorbusters." Carefully check the price tags, terms and conditions.
Know the return policy and warranty information as refunds and exchanges are a privilege, not a right. Every store has its own policies. 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 can be returned before purchasing.
It can also be helpful for holiday shopping to start with a list of items and check online for deals, sales flyers and promotions to determine which store has the best price. Set a budget and stick with it before heading out.
And a final thought as you set out for what I hope is a great and enjoyable shopping season: the lowest price is not always the best deal. Working with companies you know and trust is invaluable.
• Steve J. Bernas is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago & Northern Illinois. He can be reached at email@example.com.