LABELLE, FL. -- With the holiday shopping season getting under way, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is encouraging consumers to shop wisely, know their rights and keep track of purchases.
"Whether you shop by telephone, catalog, in retail stores or online, it pays to be a savvy consumer," Bronson said. "Being smart about shopping and exercising a little care can be the difference between having a happy holiday season and a disastrous one."
Among the tips for shopping wisely:
-- Get the best deal. Comparison shop and research merchants' pricing policies, as some will match, or even beat, a competitor's price. Where applicable, check shipping and handling fees and don't forget to factor those into the cost of the item.
-- Can you get your money back? Check out a merchant's refund and return policy before you buy.
-- Check delivery dates. When shopping by phone, from a catalog or online, find out how long it takes for the item to be delivered. Be sure to order merchandise early enough to make sure that it arrives on time.
-- Protect your privacy and know who you are dealing with. Provide personal information, such as a credit card number, home address or telephone number, only when necessary and make sure that you know the merchant with whom you are dealing. If you have never heard of the seller, check out the company with your local Better Business Bureau or with the Division of Consumer Services at 1-800-HELPFLA before you decide to make a purchase.
-- Track your purchases. When shopping online, keep printouts of the web pages with details about the transaction, including any warranties, or return and refund policies. When shopping by phone or from a catalog, keep records of your order, including the company's name, address, telephone number, date of your order, and item number or description of the merchandise you ordered.
-- Keep receipts. You might need them to return an item or reconcile a credit card statement. When purchasing a gift, ask for a separate gift receipt.
Gift cards are becoming an increasingly popular choice for holiday gifts as they enable the recipient to choose whatever he or she wants and eliminate the guesswork about sizes, styles and colors of merchandise. In 2007, the Florida Legislature enacted a law that prohibits gift cards from a retail store from having an expiration date or imposing monthly service charges, dormancy fees or account maintenance fees. However, those restrictions do not apply to general-purpose gift cards, including ones from American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa, which are also sold at stores and honored by establishments that accept those forms of payment. Therefore, consumers should carefully examine the terms and conditions of such cards and weigh whatever fees, if any, they impose against the flexibility of giving a gift card that is widely accepted by retailers throughout the country.
For additional consumer information or to file a complaint against a business, Floridians can visit the department's Division of Consumer Services web site at http://www.800helpfla.com or call 1-800-HELPFLA (1-800-435-7352).