Buying Power

Plugging into savvy consumer shopping habits can add up to substantial savings over the long run .

most part, there is less pricing flexibility in department stores, discount stores and catalog showrooms. But the more expensive and widely available a product is, the more room you have to negotiate. You should feel good if you need the manager’s approval for a deal you’ve struck. It’s probably a good one.

  • Distinguish bargains from bogus offerings. Beware of lotteries, multilevel marketing and pyramid schemes, companies that require money before you receive the product or service (particularly employment or modeling agencies), credit repair ploys (see “Cleaning Up Your Credit,” July 1998) and easy-does-it loan or credit card offers. According to the Better Business Bureau’s Adkins, “If it sounds too good to be true, it may be a scam.”
    “If the retailer or manufacturer hasn’t taken any more money from you than you intended to give them, then you’re a winner,” Hunt declares. And if you’re happy with your purchase, you’re in great shape. So, share your good news with the manufacturer, retailer and your friends and family. Just be sure to save any manuals, sales receipts and written warranties that accompany your product or service.
    But what if your shopping experience was less than ideal? Here are some solutions:

    • Communicate any problems to the seller or manufacturer. Check the warranty to see who you should contact if you have questions. If your paperwork doesn’t specify, call the toll-free number listed on the product or start with the retailer. Youman advises that you “express your concerns in a calm, friendly tone and tell them what you would like them to do to resolve the matter.” If your phone calls don’t get results, follow up with a brief typewritten letter. It should include the date and place of purchase, the name of the retailer, product information (serial or model number, warranty terms), a description of the problem, how you’ve tried to resolve the issue, who you’ve spoken to in the past and how you want the company to respond. (Do you want a refund, repair or exchange?) Don’t forget to include copies of all relevant documents, such as the warranty, receipts and contract. Also, consider sending your letter certified so you know who signed for it.
    • Record your efforts to resolve the problem. Write down the dates and times of your phone calls, as well as the name of the contact person. Keep copies of any letters that you write to the company and save the letters it sends to you.
    • File a formal complaint. If you feel you’ve given the company ample time to respond and you still aren’t satisfied with the results, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau ( or regulatory agency. You can also consult the National Consumers League ( or your local consumer agency for guidance.

    To avoid this sometimes lengthy process, Slater says it’s best to buy from “retailers that don’t have any qualms about taking their merchandise back. Plus, if you do your homework at the onset, you’ll have a lot [fewer] returns.” For Slater, being happy with

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