7 tips to use to get deals, make returns
Ely Portillo / Charlotte Observer
With Christmas and gift-giving one day behind us, it’s time to hit the stores again.
This time, shoppers are searching for day-after-Christmas bargains and trying to quietly return that unwanted gift – maybe the sweater their mother-in-law gave them.
We talked with three retail experts – Christine Frietchen, editor of Consumersearch.com; retail consultant Jeff Green; and Joel Evans, a professor who studies retail at Hofstra University – to bring their insight for shopping after the holidays.
Tips for post-holiday shopping and returns:
Be careful with the packaging
If you have an electronic or packaged gift you want to return, the best way to avoid restocking fees that some stores and online retailers impose is to leave the packaging intact, Evans said.
“Consumers need to be very careful,” he said. “Mostly, they just rip it up.”
Restocking fees can commonly reach 15 percent, Evans said, and that’s money gone unless you can argue the merchant out of the fee.
“Once you open something like a camera, computer or television set, it can be 15 percent unless you can persuade them it was defective or missing a part,” Evans said.
Look for deals on winter apparel
With retailers needing to clear space for spring inventories, Frietchen is expecting to see plenty of good deals on coats, boots and other winter wear even though we’re still in the cold season.
“This is sort of the sweet spot for buying winter clothes and boots,” she said.
But buy those items soon, Frietchen warned, because retailers won’t be restocking them for a while. “In another month, you’ll still be able to find stuff, but mostly only in unusual sizes.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for price-matching
Many stores that offer to match their competitor’s prices will still do so up to 30 days after you make a purchase and give you the difference, Evans said. But in many cases, consumers either don’t know or are too timid to ask.
“Most of the stores that do the price matching are banking on the fact that we’re not informed,” he said. “If they see it cheaper, they should go back with the ad and their receipt. It could be a significant amount of money.”
If you finance something, pay it off early
Buy now, pay no interest for a full year! That may sound like a great deal for a big purchase such as appliances or furniture, and if you pay off your purchase before the interest kicks in, it may be.
But if you don’t, you’ll probably get hit with interest as high as 25 percent, and interest starts accruing from your purchase date, not the date interest payments kick in, Evans said.
“They don’t realize that the interest rolls back to the time they bought,” Evans said. “People have to think of this logically: No one’s getting anything for free.”
After weeks of office parties, mall-hopping and Christmas movie reruns, the last thing you might want to do is buy more things for the holidays. But this is the perfect time, Frietchen said.
“Anything that’s remotely seasonal – most people are still so sick of Christmas after it’s over, they can’t look at home decorations and other Christmas things,” she said. “If you can stomach it, it will be really cheap.”
Get there soon
Retailers have gotten better at not overbuying for the holiday season since 2008’s disastrous year, when consumer spending dropped off more than 3 percent.
And while there will likely be fewer goods on the shelves, Green said he expects even more aggressive discounting than usual as retailers seek to clear their shelves quickly.
“The amount of merchandise will be minimal, and cheaper,” he said. “It kind of defies the law of supply and demand.”
And those who ignore his advice? “They’ll find discounted stuff, but they may not find their size or exactly what they’re looking for,” he said.
Or just don’t go, especially for returns
With the day after Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, malls and stores are likely to be even more packed than usual, Frietchen said. Unless you’ve got something specific in mind to buy, she says to save yourself the hassle and shop online or wait till later in the week.
“Depending on your toleration for crowds, shopping on Dec. 26 is going to be really hard,” she said.
And with a return you’ve probably got weeks or even months to make, don’t bother trying to fight the crowds the day after Christmas.
“If you need to make returns, go Monday,” Frietchen said. “I realize your tolerance for bad sweaters might be pretty low, but wait.”