Avoid “Pinkwashing” This October

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It might be autumn, but instead of being inundated with pumpkin spice tastes and smells, store shelves are lined with everything pink. Just this week I spotted a pink water bottles, pink ribbon earrings and even pink headphones.

That’s because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. This annual event is organized by multiple breast cancer charities to increase awareness about the disease. This usually involves events for the public to participate in and fundraisers to help fund cancer research.

According to Breastcancer.org, one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. An estimated 2,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer is expected to be diagnosed in men in 2016. But there is some good news. Cancer incident and death rates are declining. And that’s why awareness months —like the one taking place right now —are so important.

During this time many companies dedicate a portion of their proceeds to cancer awareness and research, even going as far as creating and selling pink versions of their products. It’s a way to let consumers know that their money is going toward a cancer charity. But just how much of that money is actually going toward helping cancer patients get better?

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There have been reports of companies selling their products with a new pink look in order to convince the buyer the money is going toward a good cause, but actually pocket all the money. This is known as “pinkwashing.”

To make sure donations go to the right place, Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest advises consumers to research pink product claims before making a purchase or getting caught up in the hype.

Take the following steps when purchasing a product for its charity claims:

Be a smart shopper

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Find out what percentage of the sale price will be donated. Most companies put this information on the packaging and even include a link to detail where their donation will go. Don’t assume every organization listed on the box is a tax exempt charity. You may have to dig deeper to determine their status.

Do some research.

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Look into the business you’re purchasing from and the charity they are donating too. There are numerous cancer research charities so do your homework to ensure your buck is being spent in the right place. Be sure to get the charities name and look them up on give.org to see whether they are a reputable charity.

Spend wisely.

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Think about the product you want. Is it something you actually need or do you simply like the pink design? Resist the urge to shop on the spot. Be considerate of your purchase, especially when it is solely to benefit a charity. If you don’t need the product, consider making a donation directly to the charity of your choice.

But, hey, if you really like those pink headphones and you’re sure the money is going toward a trustworthy charity —I say go for it!

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Naughty List No More! The Last Minute Shopper Is in Good Company

Written by Michelle Shaffer, BBB Oregon Regional Manager

Last Minute Shopping Blog

I am a last minute holiday shopper. If you are like me, you might have received recommendations for a good twelve step program after such an admission. “I haven’t done my holiday shopping yet” is a statement often met with a gasp if it’s already mid-December, followed by a guilt trip. One friend, and fellow late shopper, came to me, head hung in shame, after her neighbor boasted that every gift was purchased before Thanksgiving and the dough for her homemade holiday cookies was already prepared. Though your neighbors may subtly and not so subtly deem your delayed shopping behavior as deplorable, I urge you not to feel bad. First, you are not alone. (Really this isn’t a 12 step program in disguise) In fact, as of December 15th only 10 percent of holiday shoppers (22.6 million people) said they were finished, according to the National Retail Federation. That means 90 percent of holiday shoppers still have holiday items to buy. You no longer need to feel that this practice of waiting to shop is an affliction or that you are Scrooge. Retailers are actually responding with greater accommodations for this population of last minute shoppers with everything from greater discounts on merchandise late in the season, to staying open 24 hours a day through Christmas Eve, as is the case with Kohl’s this year. With perks like these, more and more consumers are wondering what the early holiday rush is all about. Here are some benefits to not getting the shopping done early:

  1. Stay Home. With cyber sales surpassing in-store sales in recent years, it’s clear that consumers aren’t in a rush to go Retailers are responding to our desire to avoid the store crowds by offering free, and same day shipping. Some online retailers like Amazon are providing free, same day shipping as late as December 24th.
  2. Less Stress. For those who are overwhelmed by options, late holiday shopping can be a solution. If time is of the essence, purchasing decisions have to be made rather quickly.  This can be a no brainer if you know the recipient well, but even if you don’t, the holidays are a perfect season for a quick, gift-worthy find.  Basic items are packaged in holiday flair that requires no additional wrapping!  Even a canister of nuts is made more attractive this time of year!  If you have multiple people to buy for, one stop shopping at stores like Target, allows you to focus your efforts in one place rather than traveling from store to store.
  3. No Buyers Remorse. When shopping early, there’s the potential an item you declined to purchase, due to price, will see a price slash later in December. Many retailers have adjusted inventory so items are not sold out before Christmas like consumers experienced years ago. Waiting until later to shop offers the peace of mind that there is little other option at this point; there’s no thinking ‘something better might come along’.
  4. Save Money. Many retailers are not retracting deals that were advertised much earlier in the season. Some early bird shoppers admit, the continuing holiday deals keep them spending, purchasing more merchandise weeks after they crossed the last name off their shopping list!

Eager to please retailers catering to later shoppers suggest the tradition is catching on. The day is coming when consumers will proudly proclaim “I will be doing my holiday shopping later” rather than sheepishly confessing “I haven’t started shopping yet.” Adjectives describing the late shopper may even change from “lazy” and “neglectful” to “patient” and “contentious.” Why not start today? No additional corrective steps necessary.

Be Safe When You Shop for the Holidays!

Written by Mary Lou Boles, Programs Assistant

The holidays are typically a joyful time of the year but unfortunately, there will always be thieves that try to take advantage of innocent shoppers during the holiday season.  One of my friends placed her holiday gift purchases in the back seat of her car, leaving them completely visible to anyone that walked by. She didn’t think that someone would be horrible enough to break in to her car and steal her gifts while she was out having dinner with her family. She came back to her car and saw that her rear window had been smashed and all of her purchases were gone. Don’t let this happen to you – here are some safety tips from your BBB to prevent con artists from making you their next victim:

  • Shop during the daylight hours whenever possible. If you must shop at night, go with a friend or family member.
  • Avoid carrying an excessive amount of bags so that you can stay alert to your surroundings. Thieves tend to go after people that look like they are not paying attention to what is happening around them.
  • Be extra cautious when carrying a wallet or purse. Crowded shopping areas make it very easy for thieves to reach into pockets and bags.
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. If you must carry cash, keep it in your front pocket. If possible, try to pay for purchases with a debit or credit card.
  • Always store your purchases in the trunk of your car so they are not visible to anyone that can see inside. Also, make sure that your car is always locked to prevent thieves from accessing your belongings.
  • Be wary of strangers that approach you while you are shopping. Criminals often work in pairs – one person distracts you while the other tries to steal from you while you are distracted.

Remember these tips when you are out shopping so that you have a safe and wonderful holiday season!

Can Black Friday Really Save You Money?

Over the years the “biggest shopping day” of the year has evolved into the “biggest shopping weekend” of the year; more recently the seven days around Thanksgiving are now deemed “Deal Week”. Retailers are capitalizing on Black Friday as a concept instead of an actual day. These Black Friday deals can be had, it seems, any day of the week, and for weeks prior to the actual date itself. So did those that still camp under dark skies in front of department store entrances on Thanksgiving night not get the tweet?  People are now getting holiday shopping done long before Thanksgiving Day and at holiday discount prices. Is there really any reward for those still facing crowds in malls across America on Black Friday?

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Apparently yes. According to Bankrate, the global financial services company, steep discounts can be found on Black Friday but typically on lesser quality models of merchandise.[i] This year, as in years past, electronics, the lead bait of several retailers, are expected to have huge discounts on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but on lesser models; high end electronics will see further discounts but not of the “doorbuster” variety their lower end counterparts will have.

Despite the National Retail Federation’s definition of the holiday shopping season as November and December (61 days), the biggest shopping day remains Black Friday, according to ShopperTrak, a business which tracks consumer foot traffic in malls. A quarter of the US population will be spending money on Black Friday in stores and online. With numbers like these, retailers will deliver steep discounts to keep consumers enticed and spending. The heavily discounted merchandise expected to lure holiday shoppers include tablets, TVs, DVDs and video games, cookware and kitchen gadgets, as well as household appliances both large and small (think washers/dryers and vacuum cleaners, especially refurbished models). Reeled in by steep discounts on big ticket items, shoppers can then expect to find themselves surrounded by merchandise that didn’t sell well earlier in the year – now heavily discounted. Retailers are banking on consumers walking away with merchandise even if its merchandise they wouldn’t have bought months ago. The commitment to Black Friday shopping almost requires money be spent to feel the experience it was worth it, by the consumer. These items may be marked so low that they are hard to turn down, but this is what retailers want. Black Friday on average makes up 20% of retailers entire annual revenue, for some businesses Black Friday sales are as much as 30% of their annual revenue.[ii] Retailers want people in the door this day, and great deals are what accomplishes that. It’s the most competitive shopping day of the year, not only for consumers but for retailers as well; price matching anyone?

Let’s face it, some simply love the sport of Black Friday shopping. After all, shouting matches and fistfights have become synonymous to Black (and Blue) Friday just as 7 layer dip is to Super Bowl. They go hand in hand. And of course there are the hours of holiday cocktail party storytelling these incidents provide were you ‘lucky’ enough to witness the altercations that a combination of sleep deprivation, limited merchandise and a massive crowd are sure to provide. Happy shopping!

[i] http://www.bankrate.com/finance/frugal/black-friday-1.aspx

[ii] https://nrf.com/resources/holiday-headquarters

 

10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Shopping

The holidays mean family, friends, parties and shopping. The more friends and relatives you have, the more shopping you are required to do. Not only do you have gift shopping to worry about, but there is also all of the shopping you have to do for the parties, dinners and other events you will be attending and hosting.

Holiday Shopping Blog
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The bottom line is that shopping is a big part of the holiday experience, and many people get stressed when it comes to holiday shopping. But there are several things you can do that will take the edge off your holiday shopping, and let you get back to enjoying the season with the people you love.

Get Organized

If you start your holiday shopping without lists of what you need to buy and for whom, then you are asking for trouble. Get on your computer, or grab a pen and a pad of paper, and make shopping lists for everything from gifts to Christmas dinner. When you start your shopping, all you need to do is satisfy your lists, and you are done.

Don’t Wait

Many of the most efficient holiday shoppers are usually done with their shopping before the holiday season even begins. These are the people who check online for great deals, and who spend a lot of time in stores comparing prices. Even if you don’t have the time to shop all year round, you can still get a jump start on the holiday season by starting your shopping in September and getting done before Halloween arrives.

Utilize the Internet

The ability of the Internet to reduce holiday shopping stress cannot be overstated. Some retail websites will have holiday promotions during the summer that offer prices better than you would find on Black Friday. There are plenty of apps you can use (and Internet programs that can be used on your desktop computer) that will let you know when the products you want are at their lowest price points. You should utilize these resources and save yourself a lot of money and time.

Develop Some Black Friday Tactics

When it comes to holiday shopping, avoiding Black Friday could turn out to be a mistake. Instead of getting crushed by the crowds in the retail stores, you should try to use some smart tactics to get the great deals without the stress. For example, try visiting major department stores in smaller towns to avoid the huge crowds. Some of those smaller stores still have Black Friday inventory later in the morning, so you can use those rural stores to sleep in and still get great deals.

Don’t Forget Cyber Monday

The Monday after Black Friday is known as Cyber Monday because many of the larger online retailers put up special deals that morning. Since Cyber Monday does not require you to find a parking spot or beat any crowds, you should consider teaming up with someone to expand your resources and take advantage of as many deals as possible.

Make Gifts

If you are a handy person who is good at arts and crafts, then consider making some of the gifts you will give away this holiday season. Some people enjoy good handmade gifts, and you can save a lot of time and money by being able to make your own presents.

Always Be Shopping

When you are out and about, you should always have your holiday shopping in mind. You can even carry your gift list with you and make a note when you see something in a store that you think a friend or relative would like. Window shopping throughout the year gives you specific items to look up when you start your holiday shopping, and can make the entire process much easier.

Make A Budget and Stick To It

A big source of stress for holiday shopping is spending money you do not have. If you have the option of starting a Christmas club at your job or your bank, then do so and put a little money away each week for holiday shopping. When it comes time to start buying for those lists you have, stick to the budget you have created and reduce your stress.

Spread Out Your Shopping

A large majority of holiday shopping stress comes when people try to do all of their shopping in one day. If you start early enough, then you have plenty of time to spread your shopping out and keep the stress level down.

Avoid the Traffic

If you want to avoid stress during holiday shopping, then do your shopping when the traffic is at its lightest. Weekday afternoons and weekend evenings are usually the best times to shop and avoid the traffic.

If you have the right plan, then holiday shopping can be fun instead of stressful. Take the time to be prepared, and don’t let the holidays get the best of you.

Stand Out on Small Business Saturday

shopsmallReposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

With Thanksgiving approaching, our minds are focused on two things: How am I going to cook the turkey this year, and where am I going to go shopping over the weekend?

For decades, Black Friday has signaled the start of the Christmas shopping season. Some consumers even get more excited about shopping the day after Thanksgiving than about the holiday itself!

The thought of scrambling through crowds at a giant department store at 5 a.m. to wrestle over the last Tickle-Me-Elmo gives me anxiety. At this time of year, I’d much rather focus on family, friends and community — and I’m not the only one.

In 2010, American Express created Small Business Saturday to encourage consumers to not just flock to the big box stores for their Christmas shopping needs, but to also visit local small businesses and support their hometown.

Buying local isn’t just a passing fad. The small business community is the backbone of America. It employs half of the workforce in our country and makes up 99% of all U.S. businesses, according to the Small Business Administration.

Now in its fifth year, Small Business Saturday has already become a holiday tradition. Consumers spent $5.7 billion on Small Business Saturday last year, according to American Express and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Make sure your business is on shoppers’ lists this year. The following suggestions can help you stand out on Small Business Saturday, taking place on Nov. 29, 2014.

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1. Have an online presence
Consumers are searching the Internet for local businesses, so now is the time to spruce up your website and social media pages. Make sure your site is search-friendly and clearly displays your location and hours.

Capture potential customers and have fun by engaging in conversations and posting about your best merchandise, especially what will be on sale. Create a photo album with images of your products so people can have a preview before coming to your shop. Be sure to use the hashtag #SmallBizSat on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

2. Promote yourself
American Express is offering free, personalized marketing materials that can help get more shoppers to stop by your business. Create online ads, utilize in-store promotional materials and even get listed on the Shop Small Map. Go to ShopSmall.com to get started.

3. Promote your neighbors
On your social media pages, highlight other great businesses in your neighborhood. They may return the favor, sending even more visitors your way, and making this a true community event.

Collaborate with other small business owners in your area to hold a mass “sidewalk sale.” Also put flyers or coupons for nearby businesses’ products or services into your customers’ shopping bags, and have them do the same for you.

4. Start a relationship
You may not be able to compete with giant retailers when it comes to price, but you can offer more value to customers with your knowledge, service and small touches.

Make an extra effort to deliver outstanding customer service this holiday season. One of the main reasons a customer will shop at an independent retailer rather than a big box store is because they’re seeking friendly, personalized service. A good impression will have a lasting effect, practically guaranteeing a return customer.

Offer free extras such as cookies or snacks, stocking stuffers, gift-wrapping service or home delivery.

Make your store kid-friendly by holding a holiday coloring contest or ornament-decorating station. This will help keep tired or fussy children occupied while their parents shop.

At the point of purchase, invite customers to sign up for your newsletter, visit your website or find your social media pages. Track their purchase history and keep in touch throughout the year, providing customized shopping recommendations and alerting them to sales they may be interested in. A personal relationship goes a long way toward gaining someone’s loyal business.

5. Get involved with a charity
Choose a charity that you and your customers care about, and donate a percentage of your profit to it. The value of a purchase then becomes even bigger than the product or service itself. You will not only inspire others to give to a greater good, but your generosity will ensure your shoppers do not forget about you once the holiday season is over.

Don’t Throw Your Money Away: Recognizing an Online Scam

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© Stephan Röhl / Wikimedia Commons / BY-SA 3.0

First guesses are usually right—just ask any student who has ever taken a multiple choice test and changed an answer halfway through. Not surprisingly, this logic also applies when making purchases, and Better Business Bureau can help determine if gut feelings are accurate.

When consumers check with BBB to research a company, sometimes there is no report. Most of the time this simply means BBB hasn’t had a reason to interact with the business, but occasionally, it means that it is not legitimate.

For example, I recently spoke with a consumer who called BBB to verify a company’s legitimacy before making a purchase. After I was unable to locate a BBB Business Review I analyzed the business’s website. Upon inspection I noticed several red flags that made me wary of the company’s intentions:

  1. There was no contact information available.
    There are no requirements for businesses to display their contact information on websites; however, honest and transparent businesses understand that the more contact information they provide the more at ease their customers, and potential customers, will be.
  2. Everything was marked at more than 50 percent off.
    Businesses have the authority to set their own prices as long as they stay within the limitations of the law; however, legitimate businesses will be unable to stay afloat while continually selling items at a loss. This particular store sold overstock at unrealistic discounts: $2,000 items were priced around $750.
  3. BBB Accreditation couldn’t be verified.
    Eligible BBB Accredited Businesses may display their accreditation online if certain criteria are met—like displaying the correct seal and having it link directly to the appropriate BBB Business Review. While reviewing the website in question, I noticed that every page advertised BBB Accreditation, but the seal was outdated, did not link to a review and could not be verified through the BBB national database.
  4. The only accepted payment method was prepaid debit or money cards.
    Businesses have the ability to decide how they want their customers to pay for merchandise, and may refuse certain types of payment. In this case, the website only accepted Green Dot cards. Prepaid debit cards are easy money for scammers and should only be used when handling personal funds.

Any one of these red flags alone wouldn’t necessarily mean that a company is trying to scam people, but all the factors together bring suspicion. Remember, never ignore your gut and report anything that gives you hesitation.

After seeing all of the red flags on one website I strongly advised the consumer to be cautious about doing business with the company. He was inclined to agree.

It’s satisfying to know that I was right. I checked the website a few weeks later and it had already been taken down. It’s likely that the “company” collected some money from unsuspecting shoppers, left them high-and-dry and then set up a new site somewhere else.

Full Disclosure: Green Dot Corporation is a BBB Accredited Business headquartered in Pasadena, California.