Although few want to think about summer’s impending end, back to school season is quickly approaching! With many schools’ first day falling in mid to late August, now is the time to make sure your family is prepared. Back to school shopping is no small ordeal; it’s considered the second largest shopping season, and a survey from the National Retail Federation found that in 2015 the average family with children in grades K-12 was planning to spend over $630 on school needs – exceeding $24.9 billion overall. Furthermore, these numbers are only expected to increase in 2016. When spending such a large sum of money, it’s important to make sure you’re shopping wisely.
In 2015, BBB received over 1,000 complaints about retail stores nationwide. These included problems with returns, customer service issues, and misleading advertising. Look up every business you plan on interacting with at bbb.org to see its BBB Business Review, which includes Customer Reviews, complaint details, and if the business has had ad concerns.
Scams could also be lurking around during your shopping experience, especially online. As of August 2016, 1,125 online purchase scams have been reported to BBB Scam Tracker nationwide – and 70% of victims lost money. Consult BBB’s guide to savvy online shopping before making any purchases.
Whether you’re shopping in advance, last-minute, in stores, or online, Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California offers the following five tips on back-to-school purchases:
- Be aware of form fraud: Back-to-school shopping involves filling out forms for supplies, books, enrollment – you name it. While we can sometimes fall into an auto-haze of filling out information, be careful what information you provide to who. Additionally, keep a copy of the forms you turn in that have sensitive information, including your child’s birthday, address, and social security number. If you are throwing a paper away that has this information, make sure to shred it first. Be careful, consumers have reported 306 counts of attempted identity theft to BBB Scam Tracker as of August 2016.
- Beware of alluring ads: Whenever you see an ad, look at the fine print for restrictions and dates. Be wary of coupons you see online and unsolicited emails, and don’t click on pop-ups. If an ad is from a retailer you’re unfamiliar with, look them up at bbb.org. Beware of ads that lead to phishing websites. It’s better to visit a business’ website by locating it through an Internet search or its BBB Business Review than by clicking on an ad. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you think an ad violates BBB’s Code of Advertising, let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ask around: To save money without coupons, leverage your community. Network with other parents – buying supplies in bulk and splitting them up can save money. Seek out or host a clothing swap online or in your neighborhood; this can be a great way to recycle your gently used items and save money.
- Be prepared for returns: Read the return policy twice just in case you need to take something back. Be aware of any restrictions on returns, such as materials you need to bring in, if you need to make returns within a specified period, whether you’ll receive cash or store credit, etc. Make sure to keep all original packaging and receipts.
- Before you leave the house: Create a shopping list and a budget; search online and do price comparisons beforehand to know what to expect in stores. Make sure to look around for any leftover supplies, and “shop at home” so that you don’t buy anything unnecessary. Be on the prowl for coupons: sign up for email alerts, coupon apps, and apps from your favorite stores. If you’re making a large purchase, like electronics or a dorm refrigerator, do a lot of research on features beforehand so you know exactly what you need.