It Pays To Be A Smart Consumer During The Holiday Shopping Season

December 12, 2010

The holiday shopping season is now officially in full swing, and those of us who would rather spend this time of the year having fun than being stressed out should consider reviewing our legal rights as consumers.

State Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell, Jr. recently offered his advice for enjoying the holiday season in a press release he titled “The Savvy Shopper’s Essential Holiday List”, basically a primer of what Connecticut residents should know before visiting the stores or buying online.

I suggest that everyone with internet access take the time to read Consumer Protection Commissioner Farrell’s excellent advice on the state Department of Consumer Protection website at www.ct.gov/dcp. Meanwhile, here are a few things the Commissioner suggests you keep in mind when shopping.

  • Gift cards sold in Connecticut do not expire, even if an expiration date is printed on the card. Also, gift cards do not accrue inactivity fees or penalties if not used by a certain date. However, the “general purpose” gift cards offered by some malls and financial institutions often have monthly fees attached after the first six months. Also, unlike most of the gift cards offered by restaurants and stores, these “general purpose” cards often cost something beyond the stated gift value.
  • In Connecticut, refund and exchange policies must be conspicuously posted at store entrances, where items are displayed for sale, or at checkout counters. If there is no posted policy, shoppers have seven days to return most new, unused items with their original packaging and sales receipt. There are exceptions, including plants, custom-made or custom-ordered merchandise, and clearance items or those sold “as is”. Be aware of the store’s policy before purchasing, and hold on to sales receipts. Also, stores that charge “re-stocking fees” on returned merchandise must conspicuously post that information. If the store you are buying from offers extended holiday return policies, make sure these policies are printed on your sales receipt or in the store flyer. Otherwise, get it in writing – preferably from a store manager.
  • If you prefer to shop online or by mail, it is best to deal only with well-known retailers whose reputation you trust. Read all the terms of the sale, including delivery dates, return policies and warranties. When buying online, look for privacy and security seals which indicate that their security and privacy measures have been verified.
  • Know the difference between warranties, which provide buyers with the legal right to return defective merchandise for replacement or refund, and so-called “extended warranties, which are really service contracts. If you choose to purchase one of these service contracts, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions of what you are buying. Many extended warranties contain loopholes, and the expense of buying some of them offset the cost of repairing or replacing the item.
  • Stores must provide the terms of lay-away services in writing. Know all of the terms of any price-matching promises.

Of course, reliable consumer protection information is always good to have – even when not buying gifts for the holidays! The state Department of Consumer Protection provides a great deal of useful information on its website – all helpfully filed under subject headings, such as “automobiles,” “identity theft,” “verify a license,” “frauds and scams” and even “money saving tips”. I strongly suggest taking a look.

As always, I urge constituents to contact me with their questions and concerns, or to discuss issues that are important to Connecticut. I can be reached at my legislative office in Hartford at 1-800-842-1421 or via e-mail to [email protected]

Senator Rob Kane represents the 32nd Senatorial District, which includes the communities of Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Middlebury, Oxford, Seymour, Southbury, Thomaston, Roxbury, Watertown and Woodbury.