Ray Martin's Holiday Shopping Tips

Ray Martin CBS/The Early Show

Consumer confidence is on the rise as the recent pullback in gas prices and a strong job market are helping consumers feel good about their disposable income.

According to the National Retail Federations annual Holiday Consumer Intentions Survey, more retailers will be giving shoppers incentives to spend some of their disposable income and have begun holiday promotions early this year.

The National Retail Federation reports that the average consumer plans to spend $791 this season, up from $738 last year, according to its survey. About 40 percent have already begun their shopping and, with the increased shopping and spending activity during the holidays, it's more important to be a safe and smart shopper.

SHOP SMART

Everyone loves to save a few bucks when shopping, so here are my favorite three tips from power shoppers this year:

Shop after 6 p.m. the day before the big sale: Usually special discounts get logged into the retailer's computer system after 6 p.m. the day before the advertised sale begins. Although not all large stores follow this practice, you can try this at your favorite store to beat the crowds.

Get promotional code before you click "buy": One insider turned me on to this little trick to save money. When you are at the point of checkout on the retailer's Web site and you are prompted to enter a coupon or promotional code, this is a signal that there is a special discount available for the product. Before you click "buy," open another browser and search Google by entering the phrase used by the merchant (such as "promotional code") and the name of the merchant — doing this will quickly lead you the codes you need to save you money.

Also, log on to CouponCabin.com and FatWallet.com to look up promotion and coupon codes for many retailers and their products. Using these codes can qualify you for additional discounts or free shipping on your purchases.

Save on shipping fees: Let's say you are shopping at a store and find that they are out of the merchandise you want to buy and ship. Many retailers offer free shipping if you place a catalogue order at the store. Some retailers have special phones in the store just for this purpose. Pick up this special phone and you are automatically connected to a service rep that will place your order and ship it for free. At other stores, you can ask a salesperson to place the order for you and it will be shipped for free. It's worth asking your favorite retailer if they offer this service.

SHOP SAFE

A whopping 47 percent of those surveyed said they plan to purchase some of their holiday gifts on the Internet this year, up from 36 percent three years ago. With all the concerns over shopping online, fraudulent charges and unscrupulous merchants who provide no service after the sale, consumers need to know the two most important things to do when shopping online:

Use a credit card: When doing your holiday shopping, you should use a credit card, especially for all of your purchases online. There are several reasons why:

  • Only credit cards provide consumers protections under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, your liability for fraudulent or disputed charges on credit cards is limited to $50 and you have the right to dispute charges and withhold payment while the charge is investigated. Also, if the merchandise delivered is defective or not in the condition "as agreed," you have the right send it back to the merchant and deny the payment to them. Try getting your money back from a difficult merchant when you've paid by a check.

  • Even though some banks advertise that their debit cards provide comparable protection, they are not required under the law to do so. Your liability for fraudulent charges on a debit card can be as high as all the money in your account and your credit line, depending on when you report the fraudulent or disputed charge.

  • Many credit cards also provide benefits such as requiring merchants to exchange or replace defective or damaged merchandise, protection against no return policies and extension of manufacturers warranty — this is particularly valuable when buying and shipping fragile gifts (such as a digital camera or a DVD player) to your family across the country.

    Keep a paper trail: Print or keep an electronic copy, such as a .pdf, of all of your online transactions, including product descriptions, price, the online receipt and copies of any e-mails you exchange with the online seller. Also, online orders are protected under the federal Mail/Telephone Merchandise Rule, which means that, unless otherwise stated, your merchandise must be delivered in 30 days.

    Since reports across the country tell us that crime increases during the holiday season, here are a few more tips to help make your shopping as safe as possible:

    Lower your profile: Thieves know that holiday shoppers are carrying more cash, spending more money, and bringing home bags of expensive merchandise. This is the time of year to take extra caution when shopping — don't flaunt your money, don't carry around armloads of packages, don't leave packages in a visible spot in your car.

    Lighten your wallet: When heading to the mall, only take the identification and credit cards you actually need to make your purchases. Leave other cards, your Social Security card and other personal information at home. That way, if your wallet is lost or stolen, you will have less to replace and the risk of identity theft will be lower.

    List your accounts: Create a list of every credit/debit/ATM card you will carry with you on your shopping trips. Include each card's account number, expiration date and the phone number listed on the back of the card. Leave this list at home. If you lose your wallet/purse it will be easy to quickly close all of your cards and ask for new ones.

    Keep cards in sight: When you hand your credit card to a clerk to pay for your purchase, keep an eye on it. If the sales person has to "run to the back" or otherwise leave the register, don't let them take your card along. You don't want to run the risk of someone taking an imprint of your card so they can help themselves with their purchases on it later.

    Review account activity: You are probably making more purchases than usual right now. Keep all of your receipts and be sure to match them promptly to your bank statements. If you can access your statements online, you should check account activity more frequently over the next few weeks. Early detection and reporting of a problem (such as reporting unauthorized charges on your charge card) will stop the fraudsters and limit your liability. This is a shopper's single best defense against fraudulent charges and identity theft.

    Use only bank ATMs: If you must get cash while out shopping, use only ATMs provided by your bank — preferably those in the bank's lobby. Avoid stand-alone ATMs. These do not have security cameras and are much more susceptible to being fitted with "skimmers" — electronic devices that allow thieves to record account numbers and PINs of unsuspecting users.
    • Caitlin Johnson

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