Savvy consumer tips offered for shoppers making Christmas purchases online

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Toi Degree for the Salisbury Post

Many consumers have not completed their holiday shopping list and will chose the on-line option this season.

The Federal Trade Commission encourages consumers to be wise and savvy shoppers. Whether you are looking for toys, trinkets or a travel deal, holiday shopping on the Internet can be fun, easy and practical.

The FTC cautions, however, that viewing a product on the screen can present different challenges than seeing it in the store. Whether you are buying from an online retailer or an auction Web site, the FTC offers the following shopping tips:

Shop wisely

Know who you’re dealing with. Confirm an address or phone number to contact if you have questions or problems.

Know exactly what you are buying. Read the seller’s description of the product closely, especially the fine print. Words like “refurbished,” “vintage” or “closeout” may indicate that the product is in less than mint condition, while name-brand items with “too good to be true” prices could be counterfeits.

Protect your privacy. When online, look for the company’s privacy policy or ask the customer service representative when on the phone.

While online, order only on a secure server and guard your online password.

Pay the safest way. A credit card offers the most consumer protection.

Know your rights

Check out refund and return policies before you buy.

Read the fine print. Take some time to review warranty or rebate information, additional costs or other key information. Reading the warranty before you buy can help you understand exactly what protection you will get if something goes wrong later.

Check delivery dates. Sellers are required to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date, when no specific date is promised.

Get the best deal

Compare prices. Don’t forget to factor shipping and handling fees into the order cost. Order early to allow plenty of time for shipment and delivery.

Keep good records

Track your purchases. Keep records of your order.

Keep receipts and Web site printouts. You may need them to return an item or reconcile your credit card statement. Ask for gift receipts to include with your gift. While the holidays are a joyous season and giving gifts is a big part of it, it’s important to not create unwanted debt.

If you are one of those consumers who will take the more traditional route and visit the local mall or shops, remember the holiday season is a time when busy people can become careless and vulnerable to theft and other holiday crime.

Taking a few preventive measures can help keep your holiday season joyous.

Here are some additional shopping tips:

Before leaving home: Plan your shopping trip carefully. Know where you are going and what routes you will take to get there.

If possible, arrange for a companion to go with you. There is safety in numbers.

Let someone know where you are going and what route you are taking. Additionally, let them know when you expect to return.

When parking: Park in a well-lit area. Always lock all your doors.

Remove all electronic items, such as calculators, radar detectors and all packages from your car. Place them in the trunk or glove compartment, out of sight.

Avoid parking near vans or other vehicles with covered cargo areas.

Look around the parking lot for suspicious persons before you get out of your car.

Don’t get out of your car until you are ready. If you don’t feel safe, stay in the car or drive away.

When returning to the car: Never leave the store with your arms full of packages. Use a courtesy cart.

Have your car key in hand, ready to unlock your door.

If you feel unsafe, always ask the store security to assist you to your car.

If you are parked near a van or other vehicle with a covered cargo area, it is a good idea to return to the store and ask a security officer to accompany you.

Check underneath the car and the seats in the front and back before you enter it.

Place all packages in the trunk compartment and out of sight.

I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season.

Contact Toi Degree, family and consumer education agent with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County, 704-216-8970 or