Mediamax Network Limited

Rules every smart shopper needs to know

If you’ve found yourself feeling like you’re being taken advantage of when shopping, you probably are. Here is consumer advice you should consider.

1. Know who you’re dealing with

You wouldn’t buy a watch from the sketchy guy on the corner — why entrust your bank card to a questionable website? The same goes for a flyer you get in the mail for a discount service, or an unsolicited e-mail offer.

Before you’re wooed by a low price:

• Google the name of the company or site plus the word “complaint” or “scam” and see what you get.

• If an online store is unfamiliar, check that the site offers a way to reach customer service by phone (not just by e-mail) — and check that you can actually speak to a person. Read the website’s privacy policy, so you know how they may use any information you give them.

• Carefully scrutinize any “free introductory offer” you receive. (Tip: If it requires a credit card number, you should be wary of how “free” it really is.)

2. Save receipts

No receipt means no proof of purchase. Without one, at best, you’ll be able to return unused, still-sealed, and still-tagged items for store credit. Keep receipts for minor purchases in a file for at least one month, particularly if you used your card to pay (so you can compare them to your monthly statement).

If an item comes with a warranty, staple the receipt to the owner’s manual or keep it in a separate “warranty file”. If you’re sending the receipt off to claim a rebate, make a copy of it first for your records.

3. Use a product as soon as you buy it

Return policies and warranties start from the date of purchase. Even if you don’t need to use the product, say an electric one, plug it in to be sure it starts and runs well. It’s also wise to check out gifts you plan to give at a later date — do they work properly, and are all the parts in the box?

4. Examine warranty policies

Right after you make a purchase, check the length of time of the warranty and what it covers: Parts only? Repairs? Replacement?

If you save your receipt, you usually don’t need to send in the warranty card (companies typically just use these to collect customer data); the main consumer benefit is that you’ll be alerted if the item is recalled.

When making a warranty claim:

• Gather all paperwork before you call or e-mail, including your sales receipt, the model number of the malfunctioning item, and a detailed description of what went wrong.

• Take careful notes on your phone call, including date, time, and full name or customer-service ID number of anyone you speak with (or print out any e-mail correspondence).

• Get concrete instructions, including expected dates or time frames, and follow up if they don’t follow through.

5. Read contracts carefully

When you sign up for cable or satellite TV service, gym membership, or a diet programme, you are most likely agreeing to pay a monthly fee for a specified length of time, and to owe a cancellation fee if you decide not to fulfill the terms of your contract.

Read all the fine print before signing anything (yes, really), and make sure anything the salesperson tells you is also listed in writing.

Ask plenty of questions. Are there any additional charges such as taxes or “service fees” above the quoted price? Can you freeze your plan if you go on vacation? Is there a pay-per-month plan at a slightly higher rate? It may be worth considering, if you’re not sure you’re in for the long haul.

6. Keep track of contract dates

Some services, such as cable TV offer “introductory” deals of a flat rate for the first year or two, and then jack up the price when the term is over. Make a note of when these contracts are up in your calendar, and be proactive. Call the company and ask to speak to the Retention Department. Tell them you’ve been offered an enticing price from a competitor, and you’ll likely be reoffered your old deal, or one that’s even better. —Good Housekeeping