Thanksgiving weekend marks the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, but many Carbon County consumers do not wait for Black Friday to begin the search for gifts, food, clothing and holiday-related purchases.
Many local residents are already using the Internet to decide where, when and how to get the best deals for their money.
Jupiter Research projects that online holiday retail sales will hit $32 billion in 2006.
For local residents who will be among the 114 million Web users expected to purchase holiday gifts online in November and December, the Utah Better Business Bureau offers several recommendations for successful shopping expeditions.
"Savvy online shoppers who look for merchants and Web sites they can trust, who take steps to protect their privacy and the security of their financial transactions and who heed their instincts will reap the many benefits of online shopping," explained Jane Driggs, president and chief executive officer of the Utah Better Business Bureau.
Dealing with reputable merchants is particularly important when people are purchasing items "from afar," added the Utah BBB representative.
To help shoppers find merchants they can trust, the United States and Utah BBB offers a searchable online database at www.bbb.org.
The database includes reliability reports on more than two million retailers and businesses operating at locations across the United States and Canada.
Carbon County consumers may also search for Web sites that display a BBBOnLine trustmark.
The trustmark indicates that the retailer meets high standards for good online business practices, explained the Utah Better Business Bureau president.
To help consumers experience a safe online shopping experience, the BBB offers a list of questions to keep handy when looking for electronics, toys, apparel and other popular categories of gifts for the holiday season.
Carbon County residents planning to shop online for the upcoming holidays are advised to:
Make certain computers are equipped with updated spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.
Internet shoppers should check for and install any new security updates for the programs on personal computers and the equipment's operating systems.
Shop only when in the right frame of mind.
People can shop with speed and ease on the Internet. But local consumers still need to shop smart.
Tired or distracted consumers may want to postpone online shopping expedition until they can be fully cyber-"aware," pointed out the BBB Utah chief executive officer.
Check out the credibility and trustworthiness of online merchants.
To check on the seller's reputation, people may look for feedback comments from other customers or conduct Web searches.
Consumers may visit www.bbb.org) for a report about the retailer's marketplace record.
Consumers may look for a trustmark from BBBOnLine or another reputable organization and "click" on that seal to confirm that it's valid.
Shoppers can search for BBBOnLine merchants by gift category or other key words at www.bbbonline.org.
Get all of the details.
People should not do business with any retailer that does not provide its physical address and a contact telephone number for customers.
Consumers should find out exactly how much the product or service will cost.
Online purchasers should print copies of confirmation pages in the event the information is needed in the future, noted the BBB Utah chief executive officer.
Make certain online purchases are secure.
Holiday shoppers should look in the address box for the S in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the lock symbol before paying for purchases.
Shoppers should not be fooled by spoofed sites that feature convincing security measures.
Consumers who have doubts about a site should right-click anywhere on the page and select "properties."
Exercising the properties option will permit people to see the real URL or Web site address and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted, explained the BBB Utah president.
Decide how to pay for Internet purchases.
Federal laws limit a consumer's liability for credit card fraud to $50, indicated the BBB Utah chief executive officer.
However, debit cards have no such protection.
Make sure personal information will be protected.
If one is not posted on the merchant's Web site, Carbon County consumers should consider the lack of a policy as a warning that personal information may be sold to different retailers without the consumers' permission.
Pay attention to gut feelings.
Shoppers who are dubious about a merchant or a Web site or who may think an offer seems too good to be true should trust their instincts and check with the state or national BBB.
Determine whether an unsolicited e-mail is legitimate. When consumers receive unexpected e-mail asking for personal information, they should be extremely suspicious, emphasized the BBB Utah president.
Legitimate businesses do not send unexpected e-mails claiming problems with an order or consumers into revealing personal financial information.
Local residents who receive unexpected e-mails should call the contact number on the Web site where they made the purchases and ask if there were problems with the transactions.
To learn more about shopping safely online contact, Carbon County residents may contact the Utah Better Business Bureau.
Residents may also visit www.bbb.org or www.bbbonline.org for additional information about shopping on the Internet.