Holiday Shopping Tips

The most important tip: pay by credit card, which will protect you if things go wrong.

Problems with Christmas mail-order purchases—including Internet sales—are a persistent complaint in Wisconsin.

Here are tips to help you avoid problems:

Order early!

Know how much you’ll be charged for shipping and handling. Consumer Protection has received complaints about charges that go as high as $10 for each item ordered.

Ask about the return policy. Some mail-order houses don’t refund shipping costs.

Deal with familiar companies when Internet shopping.

Never give out your credit card number to someone calling you.

Merchants are required to ship within 30 days of receiving an order unless they advertise a longer time.

Tips for buying gift cards

Store cards sold by retailers usually are issued free of charge. But banks often charge a fee to buy their cards. Some bank gift cards come with a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that lets the user withdraw cash from an ATM. Other things you should know before you buy a gift card:

Read the fine print before you buy. If you don’t like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.

Remember that you are trading cash you can use anywhere for a piece of plastic with restrictions and may not work where the gift card recipient wants to shop.

When you’re buying a card, ask about expiration dates and fees. Consider purchase fees: Is there a fee to buy the card or activate it? If you buy the card online or on the phone, is there a fee for shipping and handling? Does expedited delivery cost more?

Consider fees for the recipient. It might be embarrassing to give a $50 gift card to someone if much of the amount gets gobbled up in fees.

Return policies

Found the perfect gift for someone, but are unsure if it's the correct size, color or style? Or maybe you're interested in a special purchase, but can't afford to pay cash and don't want to buy on credit. In Wisconsin, there are no state laws regulating store return and layaway policies. The store may set its own policy.

Take the time to check out the policies before you buy

Misunderstandings about refund policies abound and many problems could be prevented if consumers had a clear understanding of a store's policies before making a purchase.

With layaway, ask about fees, maximum number of payments allowed, time limits between each payment, and cancellation penalties or privileges. If you don't bother to check, you could lose your money.

What to do if you have a problem

If you experience problems, we recommend that you first contact the retailer to resolve the problem. If that does not work, contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at:

Phone: (800) 422-7128
FAX: (608) 224-4939

For more information, click on the link below.