Consumer Alert

Be a Savvy Consumer This Holiday Season

Six Must-Know Holiday Shopping Tips

As the holidays near, the Consumer Protection Unit urges you to be a savvy consumer by following these basic shopping guidelines.

  1. Know who you are buying from. One of the first questions to ask yourself before making any purchase is "what can I do if there is a problem with this product?" If you don't know the seller's reputation, or if the seller is operating from a temporary kiosk in the mall, you take some risk that you will have no place to go for a refund, service, or other relief if you have a problem. Some vendors only sell products during the holidays, and are gone very quickly when the rush is over. For a $10 trinket, this may not cause you any concern. But for any significant purchase, make sure you know and trust the seller. Sellers that have been around for a while and want to stay around will be here to help you after the holidays.
  2. Be very careful with internet sales. The Federal Trade Commission has a list of top ten tips you should know before venturing on the internet to buy your holiday treasures. Unless you know who you are buying from, it's risky making a purchase over the internet. Never wire transfer money for an internet sale (use your credit card) and make sure you understand the total delivered cost for the product, including shipping to Alaska.
  3. Check out the store's return policy. When you finally decide to bite the bullet and fork out $399 for the latest and greatest video gaming system, make sure you know what the store's return policy is, including time limits for making a return. Make sure the store's policy will let you return the product for a refund or replacement, and get a written copy of that policy! Sometimes this is on the back of the sales slip, which you will need for the return anyway, so don't throw those away.
  4. Is it really a good deal? You can't avoid the retail advertisements that pop up during the holiday season. Seems like everyone has a constant sale, and you are told you will "never find a better price." Except, of course, after the holidays when merchandise is reduced even more. There is no easy way to tell if that "deal" is really a good one. Do some quick internet searching to see what other retailers around the U.S. are selling the product for. Add on a little for shipping to Alaska, and you are in the ball park of what you should expect to pay here. Also, many stores will match, or even beat, their competitors' prices. Read the merchant's pricing policy carefully, however. It may not apply to all items.
  5. Don't over extend your finances! Do the math. Just because you have room on that credit card doesn't mean you should use all of it. Consider what your payments are going to be in January with that high balance, and make sensible decisions on what gifts to buy to stay within your budget. Pay cash when you can (this helps you stay within your budget) and when using plastic, use the card with the most favorable terms. Have a plan for paying off your bills that is realistic, and stick to it. There are several on-line credit card balance "calculators" you can use to figure out your expected monthly payments.
  6. Resist the urge to buy expensive service agreements. Extended warranties are often a bad deal for consumers because research shows that products seldom break within the extended-warranty window (typically around three years), and when they do break, repairs often cost about the same as the cost of the warranty.

Consumer Protection Unit
November/December 2007