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You Better Watch Out: Tips for Black Friday, Cyber Monday Shoppers

Don’t let the hype of ‘official’ shopping days send common sense out the window.

Minnesota consumer advocates and state officials have two words for shoppers who can’t wait for Black Friday and Cyber Monday: Be careful.

“For people trying to find holiday deals, Black Friday and Cyber Monday hold a lot of allure,” says Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Minnesota and North Dakota.

“What we’re aiming to do is remind people to think ahead, make a budget, be aware of store policies—particularly return policies—and not get so focused on potential bargains [that] they fall victim to scams or fraudulent websites.”

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is traditionally known as the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season. The term Cyber Monday was coined in 2005 after online retailers began reporting substantial increases in sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving, often the first day back at the office for employees after Thanksgiving.

The number of shoppers who do their holiday shopping online increases each year. A recent National Retail Federation survey found that respondents plan to do 36 percent of their shopping online this year, up from 33 percent a year ago.

For many, all the hype helps build to a kind of fever-pitch excitement, which sometimes replaces common sense, experts say.

“I think every year the hype gets built up a bit more,” says Dan Hendrickson, communications coordinator for the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “We don’t want people to get lost in that hype. We want them to take a step back and decide what’s in their best interests and what’s the best deal.”

This year, big retailers are opening earlier than ever: Target stores will open at midnight, and others are following a trend that Kmart started years ago, opening on Thanksgiving Day itself.

“Every year, I think [Black Friday] can’t possibly become bigger,” Hendrickson says. “And every year it does.”
More and more websites spring up every year, posting Black Friday ads in advance to help shoppers prepare battle plans. Many retailers, including those online, are offering what they call advance Black Friday deals, hoping to get a jump on the competition.

Among the websites posting ads in advance are BFAds.net, BlackFriday2011.comTheBlackFriday.com and BlackFriday.us. DealsCyberMonday.org also posts sale information.            

Being wary of deals that are too good to be true is difficult under ordinary circumstances. In the excitement of Black Friday, tantalized by fabulous deals on everything from high-end electronics to  diamond jewelry to Lego sets, it’s even harder for shoppers to exercise caution.

“People truly want to get a good deal, and so they might be less rational,” Kenneth Manning, a marketing professor at Colorado State University, told LiveScience.com last year. “The decision-making can be somewhat emotional.”   

Shoppers should pay particular attention to a store’s return policy, both the BBB and the Minnesota attorney general’s office advise.

“In general, if you’re shopping in person, always make certain the store you’re in has their return policy posted,” says Rebecca Spartz, a spokeswoman for Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. “Otherwise, you can ask for the return policy, because they are supposed to be posting it.”

And both advise being especially careful about deals that seem too good to be true.
“If it looks too good to be true, you really need to question the quality,” Spartz says. “Don’t just grab it and go, and then find out you haven’t checked  on the return policy.

“People get really excited to have found a bargain, but sometimes they need to step back and use common sense.”

Shoppers should also make sure they know the policies and conditions on their credit and debit cards, Spartz advises. And if they’re shopping online, make sure the website is legitimate.

“Be sure of the site,” she says. “Double-check it. Don’t put your credit card number in unless you’re certain.”

She recommends using PayPal, which is increasingly available on online retailer sites.

The BBB has compiled a list of suggestions and tips for Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers. To find it, click here.

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