"Shop until you drop," but shop smart! BBB offers tips as holiday shopping season begins

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The holiday season is just around the corner and consumer trends suggest gift-givers are planning to "shop until they drop." In fact, one-quarter of U.S. consumers plan to spend more on holiday shopping this year and, according to Accenture's annual holiday shopping survey, spending on holiday gifts is expected to hit an average of $718 per shopper. While retailers may lure customers with online discounts, glitzy, in-store merchandising and upbeat music, Better Business Bureau serving Wisconsin offers tips to help you shop smart in step with 2014 holiday trends.

2014 Trend: The survey also found consumer enthusiasm for Black Friday shopping has reached its highest level in eight years. Two-thirds of the respondents said they are likely to shop on Black Friday. Plans to shop on Thanksgiving Day and evening rose to 45 percent.

BBB Tip: Experts agree that Black Friday hype is often exactly that - deals can still be had throughout the shopping season. Frenzied sales can create impulse buys. Make a list and stick to it.

2014 Trend: Even though they intend to spend more, holiday shoppers remain keenly focused on discounts and sales. Nearly all respondents said that discounts will be important to their purchasing decisions, and more than one in four said that it would take a discount of 50 percent or more to persuade them to make a purchase.

BBB Tip: Price isn't everything. Make sure you do your due diligence and compare the product's quality and the company's reliability. Check Consumer Reports, check with bbb.org for free Business Reviews, and talk to friends.

2014 Trend: Retailers could also see a shift in sales in the post-holiday season this year, as more than half (57 percent) of consumers plan to purchase gift cards (the top item on consumers' shopping lists) this year.

BBB Tip: Read the fine print before you buy. Is there a fee to buy the card? If you buy a card by phone or online, are there shipping and handling fees? If you don't like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere. Be wary of any offers for highly discounted cards and coupons through e-mail, social media links, online auctions and classified ad sites. Get a receipt of activation when buying in-store and hang onto it for your (and your recipient's) protection.

2014 Trend: Loyalty programs. When asked how likely they would be to share more of their personal information, such as contact details and preferences, in order for retailers to be able to provide them with personalized and customized offers during the holidays, one-third of consumers said that they would be likely to do so.

BBB Tip: Guard personal and financial information. Less is more. Be careful who you share with and watch your passwords. Watch online "free" subscriptions that may turn into monthly charges after an introductory period. Watch for "phishing" emails from "phony" retailers or shippers that try to trick you into exposing passwords or financial information.

2014 Trend: More than half of consumers surveyed (63 percent) indicated that they will use a laptop or home computer to make purchases or assist in their holiday shopping this season (up 16 percentage points from last year), and 24 percent plan to use a smartphone. In addition, 13 percent of respondents said they intend to use social networking sites to assist them in their holiday shopping.

BBB Tip: Never make purchases while on Wi-Fi. Only use secure, encrypted, "https," sites when buying online. Don't use the same password for shopping or for creation of "user accounts" that is used for your bank account.

2014 Trend: 71 percent of consumers plan to participate in "webrooming" - browsing online and then going into a store to make their purchase. While researching online offers consumers many conveniences, checking online to determine if a product is in stock was selected by respondents as their top reason for webrooming, followed by being able to touch and feel a product before purchase and the desire to avoid shipping costs.

Shipping shortfalls during last year's Christmas holiday season have raised concerns among consumers this year. In fact, nearly half of survey respondents (49 percent) are concerned about receiving deliveries from online purchases on time, and of those, nearly one out of five are "very" concerned.

BBB Tip: Place online orders early. For items and letters you wish to arrive by Dec. 24, the US Postal Service offers the following deadlines:

Dec. 15 - Anything to be sent Standard Post

Dec. 20 - Anything sent by First Class Mail or First Class Priority Mail

Dec. 23 - Anything sent Priority Mail Express

Additionally, to close the 'loophole' on shipping complaints against online merchants, the Federal Trade Commission has updated a longstanding rule governing mail- and phone-based retailers to explicitly include e-commerce vendors, meaning that online retailers now must abide by a 30-day shipping requirement or refund customers' payments if they can't.