BBB Tips for Smart Holiday Shopping



As the holiday season kicks off, your Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to shop with care, whether in store or online. According to the National Retail Federation, holiday retail sales are anticipated to increase between 3.6 and 4 percent for a total of $678.75 billion in spending. In addition, 23 percent of respondents indicated that they begin their holiday shopping over Thanksgiving weekend, consisting of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

 “The holiday season can be hectic, but smart shoppers should plan ahead and familiarize themselves with retailer policies in advance,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “When shopping online, it’s equally as important for consumers to be mindful of shipping time frames and ensure that their purchases are being made from secure, legitimate websites.”

When shopping for the holidays, follow this BBB advice:

  • Comparison shop. Shop around for the best deals, but watch out for too good to be true pricing. Fake retailers advertise cheap prices on high demand products as a way to attract and encourage consumers to "make a purchase" and provide sensitive information. In many cases, either the items do not exist or are counterfeit and are of poorer quality than official merchandise. Factor in shipping costs when comparing online retailers to physical storefronts and don’t forget to “shop small” and consider purchasing from local merchants.

  • Check ad terms and conditions. Some stores only honor sale ads during a certain time frame or on certain days and may limit quantities available for purchase. Pay close attention to phrases like “beat competitors’ prices” or “free with purchase,” that require careful examination of terms and conditions. Watch for “asterisks” next to words or phrases, indicating there are special conditions to the offer. Challenge or report a local ad to BBB here.

  • Ask about return and exchange policies. Keep in mind that returning or exchanging items is a privilege, not a right, and laws vary from state to state. In PA, stores must clearly post their return policy and follow it, but there is no law that says a store must accept returns, offer cash back, store credit or even take exchanges, except in instances that a product was misrepresented or defective. It is important to ask about return and exchange policies before making a purchase and request gift receipts to provide to the recipient in case they want to and are able to make a return.

  • Confirm online purchases are secure. Only shop when using a secure internet connection. Before making an online purchase, check the URL of the page you're entering contact and financial information. A security enabled web page will begin with "https" and will have a lock symbol that displays as green. If you are shopping through an online app, make sure you are on the retailer’s verified app, as scammers will setup fake apps to trick shoppers around the holidays.

  • Pay by credit card and keep documentation. Credit cards offer consumer protections you can’t get when paying with cash or even debit card. Under federal law, you can dispute the charges if you don't receive an item or unauthorized charges appear on your account. However, it’s important to be mindful of only charging what you can pay off in full and on-time. After placing an order, print out the confirmation or save it electronically until it arrives.

  • Be aware of shipping time frames and delivery thieves. Federal law requires that orders made by phone, mail or online be shipped by the date promised or within 30 days if no delivery time was stated. If goods aren't shipped on time, shoppers can cancel and demand a refund. The US Postal Service also offers specific deadlines to keep in mind if you want a shipment to arrive by a specific date. Obtain tracking information and arrange for shipments to be delivered to a secure location to help prevent delivery fraud. 

For more smart shopping tips for the holiday season, visit BBB’s Holiday Resource Center at and research companies through BBB Search. Track and report scams you encounter to BBB Scam Tracker.

ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 167 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including your BBB Serving Western Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1931 and serves the 28 counties of Western PA.