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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > November 2013 > Holiday Shopping Tips

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Holiday Shopping Tips

Stores are already advertising seasonal d├ęcor and gift ideas, spurring the beginnings of holiday spirit among many of us. But before making all those purchases on your shopping list, be sure to read advertisements closely and review your consumer rights.
  • Evaluate advertisements: All exclusions and limitations must clearly be disclosed in advertisements. For example, a supplier cannot advertise "20 percent off all shoes" if only children’s shoes are reduced. In addition, if an advertisement includes a picture of an item that is not included in the advertised offer, the exclusion must be stated.
  • Rain checks: If a store runs out of an advertised product or service, you may have the right to a rain check. Rain checks allow consumers to buy the advertised good for the sale price at a later date. Sellers do not have to issue rain checks if the advertisement mentions the limited number of goods available; that the merchandise is seasonal or clearance; or that no rain checks will be given. They also are not required to issue a rain check if the consumer agrees to buy a similar item at the same price or if the seller proves it had a reasonably sufficient supply.
  • Return policies: Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act doesn’t require businesses to have any particular return policy, but it does require businesses to clearly post their return policy — including any conditions or restrictions or if they do not accept returns for any reason. Before making a purchase, be sure to ask about a business’ refund and cancellation policy and keep your receipt. A store disclosing its return policy only on the back of a purchase receipt does meet Ohio law requirements. Also, pay attention to return policies around the holidays, as they may differ from a store’s normal return policy.
  • Gift cards: Under Ohio and federal law, businesses must honor most single-store gift cards for at least five years from their issue date and generally they may not charge fees that reduce the card’s value for at least two years. However, gift cards received as result of awards, loyalty, or promotional programs may not be subject to gift card laws. For example, if you purchase two gift cards and receive one gift card “free” as part of a promotional program, the “free” gift card may be subject to a different expiration date.
  • Credit card vs. debit card: Consumers who pay with credit cards have added protection if something goes wrong. Federal law allows consumers to dispute unauthorized credit card charges within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed. Debit card providers are not required to provide the same protections. Regardless of your payment method, carefully review your statements for errors.
  • Layaway: If you use layaway to make a purchase, make sure you understand all the terms and conditions, especially the store’s policy regarding fees and late payments. Find out what would happen if you fail to keep up with the payments. Consider whether layaway is your best purchase option.
  • Rebates: Follow rebate directions closely and make sure you complete all the requirements within the specified timeframe.
  • Online purchases: Shop carefully. Research the seller’s reputation, and make sure the website is secure by looking for the “s” in “https” before you enter payment information such as a credit card number. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
If you suspect an unfair or deceptive business practice, report it to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.