Q: How can I avoid sales traps this holiday season when buying gifts, especially on a strict budget? -- Chip Challenged
A: Dear Mr. Challenged: Consumer Reports tells us your "challenge" is recognized; finding the right gift at the right price is, for sure, a test for many of us. Unfortunately, our job often seems harder because some retailers are downright sneaky, and it's important we recognize these gimmicks and shop accordingly.
Here are some "dos" and "don'ts:"
• Deep discount come-ons, door busters and big promises are sometimes just that: come-ons. Research shows that sales prices sometimes exceed the manufacturer's suggested retail price. Comparison shop before you buy and include shipping and handling charges when shopping online. Believe me, if you miss out on one "deal," another will surely come along before the gift-giving season expires.
• Extended warranty pushes are prevalent around the holidays. Many retailers get to keep 50 percent (or more) of the charge. Give these a second and third look before even considering this type of warranty purchase. Some repairs are already covered by the standard warranty and Consumer Reports studies show that "breaks" rarely occur during the extended-warranty time. In fact, when a repair becomes necessary, it's normally the cost of the warranty itself.
Check your credit cards to see which one automatically extends the manufacturer's warranty on anything you purchase with that particular card.
• Return-policy limitations seem to be getting more numerous.
Companies have varying returns rules for items bought in-store, on their website or in their catalog. Don't automatically think it's all for one and one for all so keep not only the receipt but also the packing box and the enclosed mailing labels and info.
Give the receipt along with the gift (many stores place a gift receipt with the purchase so the "giftee" doesn't know what you spent on him or her), and make sure the recipient knows the gift's return policy.
• Restocking fees can range from 10 percent to 25 percent if goods are not returned in a factory-sealed box. (And who doesn't break the seal on a gift box, puleeze).
Many electronics aren't returnable. Realize if and when the item is defective, you don't have to pay the restocking fee, and sometimes you can negotiate a partial refund of the fee.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.