Black Friday and Cyber Monday: Shop Smarter Not Harder

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become the most popular holiday shopping days of the year for both sellers and consumers. In 2016, Adobe Digital Insights reported that Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales came in at $12.8 billion. As exciting as the holiday season may be, we also know how stressful it can be. To help you navigate this holiday shopping season successfully, consider these annual BBB Holiday Helper tips:

Top Tips for Black Friday Shoppers:

  • Create a budget and stick to it. Make a list, determine how much you can afford to spend on each person and stick to it!
  • Compare deals. There are many Black Friday websites claiming to capture the best deals around. Many times, companies boast “70 percent off,” but 70 percent off what? Similarly, if a company is advertising a “Going out of Business” sale, don’t automatically assume they are offering the best prices. Before you leave your house, do some comparative price shopping online to help make your Black Friday shopping more efficient.
  • Maximize advance alerts. Sign up for your favorite retailers’ email alerts and take advantage of opportunities on their social media sites. Many stores work to reward your loyalty, and you may get a jump on special offers.
  • Ask for gift receipts. Gift receipts generally include a description of the item purchased but do not disclose the price paid. Without proof-of-purchase, the recipient may be turned down for returning or exchanging the item, or risk receiving an exchange at a lower price.
  • Search for Black Friday ads ahead of time. Newspapers often have coupons that give discounts for Black Friday. Black Friday ads are also posted on the Internet, sometimes even before they are published.
  • Return policies, restocking fees and refunds. Ask for the store’s return policy before you make your purchase. Companies are not required to give you your money back, but they should post their return policy prominently near the cashier. Also, always ask about restocking fees, and save your receipts in one place so you don’t lose them. Many companies will require you to produce a receipt for a return.
  • Gift cards. Gift cards regularly top consumers’ wish lists. Federal rules govern gift card sales, and those rules state:
    • An inactivity fee cannot be charged until the card has not been used for 12 months.
    • Gift cards cannot expire for at least 5 years.
    • No more than one fee (of any kind) can be charged to the cardholder in a single month.
    • Information printed on the card must disclose fees and an expiration date and provide a toll-free phone number or website where you can get more information.
    • A one-time fee can be charged when you buy the card, though this generally only applies to gift cards purchased through your credit card company – not those purchased directly from stores and restaurants.

Note: These rules do not cover reloadable cards, such as prepaid phone cards or debit cards from the big credit card companies. Rebate and loyalty reward programs are also exempt. If you receive a gift card, you should redeem it promptly if possible.

Online Shopping Tips for Cyber Monday:

  • Check out the company first. Visit to obtain free Business Reviews.
  • Protect your personal information. Take the time to read the site’s privacy policy and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If there isn’t one posted, it should be taken as a red flag that personal information may be sold to others without permission.
  • Shop safely online. Whether you’re online-shopping on this day or any other day, be sure your computer has the most recent updates for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Only shop on trusted websites, and look for the BBB seal as well as the Ad Choices logo for sites that give you more control over whether advertisers can use your information for targeted advertising.
  • Confirm that your online purchase is secure. Shoppers should always look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site, right-click anywhere on the page and select “Properties.” This should let you see the actual URL (website address) and the dialog box will reveal whether or not the site is encrypted.
  • Pay with a credit card. Using a credit card is suggested because the shopper can dispute the charges if he/she doesn’t receive the item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card, and some card issuers have “zero liability” policies under which the cardholder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it. Check terms and conditions with your cardholder.
  • Keep documentation of your order. After completing the online order process, there may be a final confirmation page, or the shopper might receive confirmation by e-mail. We recommend that you save a copy of the web page and any e-mails for future reference and as a record of the purchase.
  • Know your rights. Whether shopping retail or online, know your rights. According to the FTC, orders made by mail, phone, fax, or online should be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods cannot be shipped on time, the shopper must be notified of the right to cancel and receive a refund. Consumers also have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or misrepresented; otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit. Be sure you understand return policies before you buy.

Source: BBB of North Alabama,, and

To report a scam, go to the BBB Scam Tracker. To find trustworthy businesses, go to