Tips for Consumers/Holiday Shopping Tips

from Nicholas Greaves
President, The Better Business Bureau


Again this year, as the holiday season approaches, we will be getting many calls from consumers in the Hagerstown area asking if we can help with their buying disputes. Here are some common complaints.

* “I want my money back!” Stores have every right to set their own policies on refunds, exchanges and layaways. Know in advance the store’s policy on returns. While many will give you a refund or exchange your merchandise, they also have the right to insist that goods by returned in salable condition with all packaging materials intact. Most stores insist that you have proof of purchase, so save all those receipts! And some have signs posted that “all sales are final.” This is legal.

* “The company ran the ad, but when I went to their store they were sold out!” No store can know the response each ad will have, and they can’t control slow shipments or weather delays. Shop early. Ask for a rain check or if they can give you the same savings on a similar item. Many retailers will do this.

* “I bought a gift from a TV home shopping service but they won’t let me return it.” When buying, be sure to tell them the gift is for Christmas so their return policies will begin Dec. 25. You may also have to pays shipping charges to return items.

* “Their ad said the prices were 75% off, but now I’ve found the same merchandise elsewhere at a lower price.” Big savings claims may indicate bargains, but you must still shop around. You may find the giant “discount” is actually off an inflated “manufacturer’s list price” which means nothing. Also, don’t be misled by ads that insist, “We have the lowest prices in town!” No seller can possibly know every other store’s price. Do they offer a price guarantee? How easy is it to use?

* “I mailed the company a check for a holiday purchase, but now they have lost my order (or gone out of business)!” When buying gifts by mail or over the Internet, paying by credit card is better. Order as early as possible and keep detailed records in case your order is lost.

* “The checkout line was too long!” Tell the store manager. In any case, please be courteous to the overworked sales clerks.

Always check BBB reports on companies before you buy. Visit our web site, www.baltimore.bbb.org. If you have a complaint, visit www.bbb.org or write us at: BBB, 2100 Huntingdon Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21211. Perhaps we can help. Our office serves Hagerstown and all of Washington County.