How to Get the Best Holiday Deals

‘Tis the season to treat ourselves and our loved ones — and for retailers to pull out all the stops for holiday spenders. Here, tips to get the best deals.

However, it’s important to keep a cool head in the shopping mayhem and holiday hype or you might not get what you bargained for. Here, some tips from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to help you get the best deals during the holiday shopping season.

Make an actual list

Impulse buys can turn in to holiday budget busters. Keep your spending in check by creating a shopping list and staying on course. After all, you aren’t really saving if you’re buying something you don’t need and didn’t budget for. You’ll also be better able to resist high-pressure tactics and limited-time-only offers if you set boundaries ahead of time.

If you plan to shop at multiple places, a shopping list can also help you set priorities and figure out the timing — namely which store to hit when, and which route to take.

Sign up for alerts

Deals are everywhere this season, and you won’t just find them in flyers or on TV. Now’s the time to sign up for your favourite retailers’ newsletters, RSS Feeds and social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook.  (You can unsubscribe after the holidays if you choose.)

In addition, many stores like Best Buy allow you to create a wish list online and sign up for an alert when the price goes down.

Sign up for rewards programs too

If you aren’t already a member of your favourite retailers’ rewards programs, take some time to do it before you hit the sales. You might be entitled to additional discounts or perks, or double the rewards for using your card.

Already a member? Don’t forget to check your wallet before you go and have your card handy when you reach the checkout. Busy clerks might not remember to ask.

Take proof

Coupons aren’t the only things worth of collecting. The BBB recommends taking along any store flyers so you’ve got proof of the discounts. (You can print out any offers you see online too.)  When you hit the store, you’ll know exactly what was promised and you might be able to use competitors’ ads for price matching.

Try QR Codes

Got a smart phone or tablet? Load it up with a QR (“quick response”) reader so you can scan those funny looking square bar codes you see in ads, newspapers and magazines. (They’re even appearing in stores as well.) QR codes connect you to a website where you can find more information about an offer.

Comparison shop before you go

In a crowded store or with a limited time offer, it’s hard to take the time to really think about what you’re buying. Experts advise to do some comparison shopping online with other retailers before you dive in — even before you see a sale. Compare prices, features and quality and find the product that best suits your needs.

Comparing prices can also give you a sense for the regular price and market value of an item — a good benchmark from which you can evaluate the discounts.

Beware of false advertising

Is that advertised price really a good deal or just window-dressing? Don’t fall for tricks like inflated-then-discounted prices that sound better than they are. If the price is jacked up $100 higher than what the store normally sells it at, then a $150 discount isn’t so impressive.

Also, beware of the bait-and-switch — those big discounts on items that aren’t quite what you’re looking for. These deals are meant to get you through the door so you’ll buy something else — usually something more expensive. You might be better of knowing what you want and waiting for it to go on sale rather than jumping at a not-so-similar item.

Not sure what misleading tactics to watch out for? Take a few minutes to browse the Better Business Bureau’s Code Of Advertising.

Read the fine print

Are the offers good only during certain times? Are there a limited number of “door crasher” items? How — and for how long — can you return or exchange your purchases? Will you or your recipient be charged a re-stocking free? Save yourself some hassle (and some money!) by getting the answers to these questions before there’s a problem.

Also, be aware that big sales aren’t the only difference you’ll find on days like Black Friday and Boxing Day — store policies can change too. When in doubt, ask.

Shop with stores you trust

While many people prefer to stick with big name retailers, it’s okay to venture outside the box stores — if you know with whom you are dealing. If you aren’t familiar with the business, take time to do a little research first to find out about their policies and customer service record. You can look them up using the BBB’s Business Reviews database, check online reviews and do an internet search to see what other shoppers say about the company.

In addition, you’re right to be wary of “fly by night” stores and websites that appear just for the holidays. Again, research can be a boon.

Shop with a buddy

Sometimes two sets of eyes, ears and feet are better than one. Not only can a buddy be a sounding board for purchases, he or she can help in other ways. For instance, split up the shopping list and tackle different parts of the store, or take turns waiting in line. A shopping companion might spot a better deal, know what questions to ask and know when to say no.

Keep track of your receipts

We know it’s easy for them to get buried in bags or shoved in your wallet, but receipts are your protection when buyer’s remorse sinks in or there’s a problem with your item. If you’re buying a gift, make sure to ask for a gift receipt as well so recipients can return the item later on.

Beware the costs of shopping abroad

If you’re taking advantage of sales south of the border, don’t forget to factor in additional costs like travel, currency exchange rates, credit card fees and taxes and duties when you return. Remember, it could be a long way to go if you have to make a return or exchange. Also, many Canadian companies won’t honour warranties for items purchased outside the country.

Confused by all the shopping chaos? Don’t kick yourself too hard if you think you’ve missed out. After all, there are always going to be more sales — and isn’t a deal at all if you end up in debt.

For more information, read the BBB press release here.

For more tips, see Dodge common shopping traps.