Holiday “sales creep” has changed retail landscape

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The fall shopping frenzy has already begun, giving consumers access to an unprecedented range of opportunities to look for holiday deals.

The busiest shopping period of the year typically begins at Thanksgiving, however, several large retailers already have rolled out discounted prices on popular items.

Consumers can expect many stores to open as of dinnertime on Thanksgiving Thursday, and continue through Black Friday’s blockbuster sales. Then, there’s Small Business Saturday, on which consumers are urged to support local businesses. And on Cyber Monday, retailers offer special sales exclusively online, for consumers who traveled over the holidays and were not able to get to physical store locations.

“You can be certain that consumers will also take advantage of early season specials on Sunday,” according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau Executive Communications Director Howard Schwartz.   “Retailers are trying their hardest to get consumers to start spending early, before their holiday budgets are used up.”

Consumer confidence continues to look good according to various polls, and low gas prices now may help a great deal in getting people out to brick and mortar stores.   From a marketing perspective, early November price cuts are aimed at making consumers believe that if they don’t buy now, they will miss their opportunity for big discounts.

Holiday “sales creep” helps businesses get consumers into their stores and pump up sales figures for the end of the year, and consumers benefit by being able to stagger their holiday purchases over two months.

Better Business Bureau has some tips for consumers as we head into the busy holiday sales period:

Start looking now - Check websites, online forums and social media, as retailers have shifted much of their marketing to web sales, promotional codes and web-price-matching.

Watch out for deals too good to be true - While many retailers offer door buster specials, some fly-by-night websites offer suspiciously low prices on sought-after goods in an effort to entice shoppers into turning over their credit card information.

Getting the real deal - Do you know if a sale is really a sale?  Many times companies boast “70 percent off,” but 70 percent off what? It always pays to comparison shop.

Pay with a credit card - Using a credit card enables you to dispute charges if there are problems with merchandise or delivery. Credit cards also protect you from unauthorized charges with “zero liability” policies, under which you pay nothing if someone steals your card number and uses it. Check terms and conditions with your cardholder.

Check return policies and fees -   Find out the store’s return policy before you make your purchase. Businesses are not required to give you your money back, but they are obliged to post their return policy prominently near the cashier. Also, ask about restocking fees if you want to return an item that has been opened and can no longer be sold as new.

Know your rights - According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), orders made by mail, phone, fax or online must be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days.  If the merchandise cannot be shipped on time, the seller is obligated to notify you of your right to cancel and receive a refund.  You also have the right to reject an item if it’s defective or has been misrepresented.

By Howard Schwartz, Executive Communications Director    CT Better Business Bureau

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