Consumer Law

Black Friday Tis The Season To Be Shopping

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It's a tradition almost as old as Thanksgiving turkey itself: Black Friday. It's the biggest shopping day of the year. This holiday season, and especially on Black Friday, there are some things you can do to help you protect yourself and your budget.

Why "Black" Friday?

It's really quite simple. It's "black" because it's the day most retailers expect to start tuning a profit for the entire past year. It's their chance to get "into the black." That's an accounting term meaning that profits, which traditionally are recorded in the accounting books in black ink, are greater than losses or debts, which are recorded in red ink on the books.

It's "Friday" because it always falls the day after Thanksgiving, which is always the last Thursday of November.

There may be some connection to another famous Black Friday. On Friday, September 24, 1869, the stock market crashed.

Either way you look at it, the driving force behind today's Black Friday is money, plain and simple. It's the biggest shopping day of the year. Millions of US consumers wake up hours before sunrise and head out to the stores to cash in on all kinds of bargains and savings. Retailers go on huge media and advertising blitzes and often drop prices drastically as they compete for your shopping dollars.

They all want you to spend your money in their stores. Retailers have been gearing up for this for some time now. In fact, some stores, like retail giants Wal-Mart and Meijer, have released some of their Black Friday ads or specials already.

Be Prepared

Here are some tips to help you get through the holiday shopping season and Black Friday with your personal safety and budget intact:

Be patient. One year ago on Black Friday, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death when shoppers rushed into the store when the doors opened early that morning. Some stores, including Wal-Mart, will try to avoid having a throng of anxious shoppers rush into the store by keeping many of its stores open on Thanksgiving and through Friday. If the store you're heading to doesn't open its doors early, watch out for yourself and others by waiting patiently for the doors to open.

How much will you spend? Make a list of the gifts you need. This will help you avoid "impulse" buying. Also, know exactly where the money will come from. It's best to pay cash, that way you don't pay high interest rates on your credit cards. If you're using a credit card, make sure you use the one with the lowest monthly interest rate.

You may also wish to put your items on layaway. This is a popular way to set items aside and pay for them over time, but not on a credit card. Each store's policy differs so be sure to check with them. Be careful about extra fees and charges for the service.

Make a plan. Save yourself some time, aggravation and gas. Before you leave the house, know exactly which stores have the items you want. Have a back-up plan, too. Know of at least one other store that has the item you want at or near the same price as your first store choice. That way, if the first store sells out before you can get the item, you know where to go. Also, take the store ads with you just in case the price on the shelf is different than the advertised price. If it is, go to the customer service desk and ask. Be nice, its not their favorite day!

Because this is a popular day for shopping, the item you want may be out of stock. Also ask the customer service person if they give out rain checks when they get more stock.

Keep receipts and make sure you get gift receipts. If a gift is the wrong size or color, you can save yourself and the person you gave it to a lot of frustration - and money - by having a receipt. Many stores have strict return and exchange policies. They may not let you do either without a receipt, in which case you're out of the money you spent.

Gift cards. These are a popular gift because they're easy for you buy, you don't have to come up with the "perfect gift" for the hard-to-buy-for friend, and she gets the chance to pick out something she likes or needs. Everyone wins. That is, unless the card expires or loses value.

Some gift cards have an expiration date, usually up to one year. After that, the card's no good and the money's gone. Other cards start to lose value if goes unused for a period of time, like six months or a year. So, that $50 gift card may only be worth $35 by the time it's finally used. Make sure you ask about these dates before you buy a card.

Bogus "bargains." Be on the lookout for counterfeit, knock-off, and fake goods. This is a big time of the year for scammers who try to make a buck by selling fake "designer" goods at ridiculously low prices.

The best defenses to being taken are to be familiar with the item you're in the market for, and know what the going price is. For example, have a good idea of what the front and back of Rolex watch looks like, and understand that one being offered for $100 probably isn't a real Rolex.
Whether you're a seasoned pro who loves to shop or someone who dreads shopping but loves to save money, you can make Black Friday and other holiday shopping much more enjoyable and cost effective by following these tips.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can a store charge more than the price stated in their newspaper ad? Even if it's a printing error, I thought they had to sell the item for the price that made me come to the store in the first place.
  • Do stores have to have a certain number of advertised items in stock? They can't advertise televisions sets for $200 but have only one in stock at that price, can they?
  • Is a store responsible for keeping me safe while I'm in the store and walking to and from my car? Robberies and thefts always go up at this time of year, so don't they have to take steps to protect the hoppers?
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