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Managing Your Money

Warding off those annoying sales tactics

By Michelle Singletary
Washington Post / November 26, 2009

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Given the stakes involved, I would encourage retailers to pay attention to a holiday shopping survey recently released by Consumer Reports.

In its latest public-education campaign, the magazine is highlighting holiday retail practices that drive consumers bonkers.

“Shoppers are fed up with pushy retailing practices, and it is further magnified during the holiday season,’’ said Tod Marks, senior projects editor for Consumer Reports. “Consumers are sick and tired of having to be bombarded with questions and offers when all they want to do is pay and leave the register.’’

Every complaint listed by Consumer Reports registered with me. And they may be true for you, too. Here are some of the annoyances and my solution for how to deal with each one:

■ Stores that don’t open all of the checkout lanes. With unemployment at double digits, why can’t the stores hire enough cashiers to man the registers, at least during the busy times? At any rate, when I’m in a store and this happens, I search for a store manager and complain about the lack of cashiers. About 50 percent of the time, the manager opens up a lane or two.

■ Fake sales. This steams me. Again, be aggressive. If you have proof that an item is selling for its normal retail price when it’s supposed to be on sale, point it out to a manager and negotiate for a price reduction. If you don’t get satisfaction from the manager, write to the headquarters and complain about the deception. You should also report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission. To file a complaint go to www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 877-382-4357.

■ Coupons that exclude almost everything in the store. There is not much you can do about this practice. However, if you find the exclusions are a regular thing, point it out to the manager before taking your business elsewhere.

■ Being pestered with an extended warranty sales pitch. I’ve found a firm no, along with that look your mama gave you when she wanted to stop you in your tracks, ends the hounding.

■ In-store prices that do not match the company’s online prices. If you want to take advantage of the online price but avoid shipping fees, many retailers allow in-store pickups.

■ Employees up-selling at checkout. Up-selling means they try to get you to buy more stuff. If you go to the store with a list and a vow to stick to it, you can resist this tactic. Be strong.

■ Pushing a store credit card. On this one you definitely need to be strong. In this economy, the typical 10 percent discount offered when opening an account can be tempting. Resist. Applying for the card will trigger an inquiry to a credit bureau, and that in turn lowers your credit score. So it’s important you limit the opening of new credit. High credit scores often translate into better rates on the money you borrow.

■ Mail-in rebates. It’s frustrating to get excited about an item only to realize the discount is tied to a rebate. As soon as you get home from the store, mail in the rebate.

■ Store personnel checking your receipt as you exit the store. It just makes you feel like you’re a thief. Still, I understand the reasons for the practice. The retail industry will lose an estimated $2.7 billion in fraudulent returns this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation. Ninety-three percent of retailers said stolen items have been returned to their stores in the past year, up from 88.9 percent in 2008.

For more shopping advice, go to www.consumerreports.org or visit www.consumerist.com.

I know there are hard-working, often underpaid people staffing stores doing their best to serve with a smile. Nonetheless, we’re spending our hard-earned dollars, and retailers should do what they can to avoid annoying us.

Michelle Singletary writes The Color of Money column for The Washington Post.