Is it really a deal?

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Few holiday shoppers can resist a great deal. Whether it’s heavily discounted merchandise on Black Friday or last-minute sales for shoppers who procrastinate, there are deals to be had from the start of the holiday season until its unofficial end sometime around New Year’s Day.

But not all deals are what they seem. Many a shopper has swiped their card on a gift for a loved one only to find out later they overspent or didn’t read the fine print and subjected themselves or their friends and family members to potentially costly fees.

The following are a handful of things shoppers should consider before making any purchases this holiday season.

Restocking fees

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As thoughtful as holiday gifts may be, many are ultimately returned. Recipients may already have similar items at home or find a particular gift does not suit their personal styles. Because returns are so common, shoppers should read the fine print before buying gifts to ensure their purchases are not subject to restocking fees if they must be returned.

Restocking fees can apply to any product, but they are most often applied to electronics. A restocking fee is a charge the person returning the gift must repay upon bringing the gift back to the store or mailing it back to the warehouse.

Restocking fees often apply to items that are not returned in their original factory-sealed box, and these fees can be exorbitant, sometimes as much as 20 percent of the cost of the product. So before buying that big-ticket television or appliance, holiday shoppers should ensure the item’s recipient will not be subject to a considerable fee if he or she decides to return the gift.

Extended warranties

Many items come with manufacturer warranties that cover damaged items for a predetermined period of time. But many shoppers want to go the extra mile and buy extended warranties that protect the products for longer periods of time.

While that’s good in theory, studies from Consumer Reports have shown that products rarely break within the time period covered by extended warranties, meaning shoppers are simply buying a false sense of security they’re unlikely to ever use.

When considering an extended warranty, first research the product you want to buy by reading customer reviews of the product on popular sites such as Amazon.com. Such sites can offer valuable insight with regard to how reliable products are.

If multiple reviewers note that a given product has never given them a reason to reconsider their purchase, then you likely don’t need an extended warranty. If you still want the extra protection, read the fine print of the extended warranty so you know just what it does and does not cover.

Return policies

Because so many gifts are returned once the holidays have come and gone, it’s important to understand a retailer’s return policy before buying a gift for a friend or family member. In-store purchases may be subject to different return policies than items bought online, which may need to be returned via the mail, a potentially costly expense for the gift’s recipient depending on the size of the gift.

Try to shop only at stores with flexible, consumer-friendly return policies so your friend or family member does not have to jump through hoops just to return the gift. 

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