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December 2002
’Tis the Season To Be Wary

The Holiday Season is here and your television, radio, newspaper, and mailbox are undoubtedly full of advertisements for the latest and greatest gifts. To prevent a headache—at least before your January credit card bill arrives—please keep the following shopping tips in mind.

What Should I Know About Catalog Ordering?

Catalog ordering is more popular every year. Unfortunately, catalog ordering could be more of a problem this year due to the recent West Coast port strike. A number of holiday gift items have not yet arrived and you may have problems getting the item delivered before December 24. What are your rights?
The Wisconsin mail order law requires a seller to tell you when you can expect the item to arrive. For example, the seller should tell you something like, “allow six weeks for delivery.” If you aren’t given the date, the seller must ship it to you within 30 days unless it notifies you that it cannot send the item within the promised time period. If this happens, you may then cancel the order. If you cancel, you must be promptly sent a refund. You may also write the seller and agree to a delayed delivery date. Finally, you could do nothing. The seller must then ship or refund your payment with the original 30-day time period.
Be sure to ask about the item’s warranty and return policy. Some retailers may take the item back and pay the postage. Most retailers, however, expect you to pay postage for the returned item and require you to insure the item as well.

Should I Order the Internet?

The Internet has made catalog purchasing even easier and often there is a discount for ordering over the Internet. However, security is still an important issue. Be careful. Look for a site that has a padlock icon at the bottom of the page or language telling you it is a secure site. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that even a “secure site” is 100-percent safe. If you are in doubt, find out the ordering information you need from the Internet and then order using the company’s toll-free telephone number.
You should also be careful not to hit the “send” or “order” icon more than once when ordering over the Internet. Otherwise, you may receive multiple orders. If you doubt the order has been successfully sent, call the company right away and find out the status of your order.
Finally, for Internet returns, ask whether the item can be returned to a store or whether it must be mailed back to the company.

Should I Believe the Sale Advertising?

You’ve seen the advertising promising 50–75 percent off the item’s regular price. Wow! Should you drive to the store right away? Not so fast. A little homework might be a good thing. Wisconsin, like many states, has a “price comparison” law prohibiting this kind of advertising unless the item was actually sold or offered for sale at the higher price within the past 90 days. Unfortunately, I know some stores mark up the item’s price before the “sale” to justify the advertised savings. Therefore, check the item’s price at other stores. You may find the item priced lower at a competitor even though it’s not on sale.

Should I Get a Gift Certificate?

As time runs out for buying gifts, many consumers turn to gift certificates. They are usually easy to purchase and they seem like money. Unfortunately, some consumers learn each year that they are not just like money because the merchant won’t honor them after six months or one year. Generally, Wisconsin law allows the merchant to set the expiration date and other limitations. Therefore, when buying a certificate, make sure whether there is an expiration date printed clearly on the certificate and whether there are any limitations. For example, will your gift recipient receive any money back if the item they purchase costs less than the face value of the gift certificate?

What If I Return an Item After It Goes On Sale?

Be careful. A number of chain stores, including Target and Shopko, are refunding less than the ticketed purchase price if you return a “seasonal” item after it has been marked down, even if it is within the store’s return date. This happened to me last year, and the clerk at a Stevens Point store agreed there was no prior notice. Fortunately, she gave me a full refund. I will be watching this year to see if these policies are disclosed up front.

Have a safe and happy Holiday Season!

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