Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Are you a savvy shopper? Find out here

"The Savvy Shopper’s Essential Holiday List," provided by the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection

The Department of Consumer Protection has a “shopper’s list,” a list of facts you should know before you hit the stores (or catalogs).

1. REFUNDS: The shopping complaint that tops our list each year is one that can be easily avoided. In Connecticut, retailers can impose any refund and exchange policy they wish, but it must be conspicuously posted at the store entrance, where the items are displayed for sale, or at the checkout counter. Look for it before you buy and keep all sales receipts! If there is no posted policy, you have seven (7) days to return almost any new, unused item, with its original packaging and the sales receipt. Exceptions include custom-ordered or custom-made items, plants, clearance, “as-is” or anything otherwise prohibited by law.

2. HOLIDAY RETURN POLICIES: Some stores offer extended holiday return policies. Look for this, and if it’s not printed on your receipt or on a store flyer, get it in writing, preferably from the manager. This is particularly important for big ticket items.

3. DEFECTIVE MERCHANDISE: If an item you buy is defective, you have the right to return the item for a replacement or a refund. If the new hairdryer won’t heat up, or the new toaster won’t toast, you should return the item for a replacement or a refund. You’re protected under the implied warranty of merchantability law, which states that a new consumer product must do what it is supposed to do. According to the law, merchant means seller; so it’s the seller (retailer) – not the manufacturer – that is responsible for making things right. Speak to the manager if you need to.

4. RE-STOCKING FEES: Some stores charge you if you return an item. They are allowed to do it, provided they post a notice of their restocking fees in a conspicuous place in the store.

5. PRICE MATCHING: Stores often promise to match their competitor’s advertised price, and on smaller items like games, toys, and name-brand clothing, these can be a timesaver. But for electronics, entertainment systems and appliances, you could have difficulty finding the exact same model in competing stores, so the price match won’t apply. Or you may find that the terms of sale at one store, such as delivery charges and financing, more than compensate for a slightly higher cost. If you see an ad for the exact same item at a lower price, check all the conditions in the ad before you shop. Call ahead to save time and energy.

6. LAY-A-WAY: This helpful service is making a comeback of sorts, as shoppers try to reduce credit spending. Lay-a-way allows you to shop now while the selection is still good, and delay full payment until it’s time to pick up the merchandise, usually 30 days. Connecticut stores must give you a lay-a-way statement that includes the amount of your deposit, length of time the items will be held, total purchase price, a description of each item, and a notice of cancellation policy. Pay attention to the terms or you could forfeit your deposit.

7. EXTENDED WARRANTIES: These are not warranties at all. A warranty is something you get free with the product. These are service contracts that you pay for. Store salespeople are encouraged to sell these plans; the profit margin is often greater than that for the merchandise. Usually not recommended, since service contracts often overlap the warranty period that comes with the product (when most repair problems occur). Many contracts are full of loopholes, and some are so expensive that they offset the cost of repairing or replacing the item.

8. SHOPPING ONLINE: Online shopping provides lots of anonymity for fraudulent marketers, making it much harder for enforcement authorities to help you should something go wrong. Use only well-known online retailers. Also look for privacy and security seals, which indicate that their security and privacy measures have been verified. Read all the terms, including delivery date, return policy, and warranties.

9. SHOPPING BY MAIL: Only use tried and true retailers for shopping by mail. Otherwise, you may not get what you ordered, may not get it in time, or worse, may not get it at all. Read all the terms, including delivery date, return policy, and warranties.

10. GIFT CARDS: Still a holiday favorite, and with careful purchasing and use, this is a gift that can’t miss. Under State law, gift cards sold in Connecticut do not expire, even if an expiration date is printed on the card, nor can they accrue inactivity fees or penalties if not used by a certain date. Local store and restaurant cards usually cost nothing to buy, have no monthly fees, and often allow the user to carry over a balance if not used all at once. “General purpose” gift cards offered by some malls or financial institutions (like those offered by Visa and American Express) can be purchased nearly anywhere, cost a few dollars to buy, and often have monthly fees attached after the first six months.

Editor's note: The information in this post was prodived wholly by the Department of Consumer Protection. It is reprinted here as a service to Connecticut consumers.

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