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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Know When Shopping by Telephone is a Good Deal

LAS CRUCES -- Telephone shopping is a growing trend. It's easy and convenient. But ordering by telephone or mail is different from shopping in a store, said a New Mexico State University consumer education specialist.

Many products that are not available locally can be ordered by making a telephone call, said Susan Wright with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. But catalog or television ads may not truly depict what a product looks like. Consumers can't see the actual product until they receive it.

"Telephone shopping is great for busy consumers," she said. "You can shop 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If a product is unsatisfactory, it can be returned. But most companies do not refund shipping fees nor pay to ship items back to them."

The Federal Trade Commission's Fair Credit Billing Act helps consumers solve problems they may have with companies, Wright said. It also ensures fair handling of credit card accounts when purchases are made by telephone.

When ordering by telephone, consumers can follow these tips to help ensure satisfaction.

* Read the product description before ordering. Do not rely on catalog pictures to determine the quality of the item.
* Beware of exaggerated claims or unrealistically low prices.
* If the same kind of product is available locally, compare prices to find out who has the best deal. Include shipping and handling costs when making comparisons.
* Check refund and return policies, product availability and total order cost.
* Look at the cut-off date for orders, after which delivery will not be guaranteed.
* Call the Better Business Bureau to find out mpany is reliable.
* Pay attention to the telephone number. The charge for an 800 number is paid by the company, but a 900 number call is usually charged to the consumer.
* Pay for the item with a check, money order or credit card. Never send cash.
* Keep a record of the order -- the method of payment, the name and address of the company and the date the item was ordered. Also, keep any product warranties in the same file.
* When the product arrives, check it immediately to make sure it's satisfactory. If something is wrong, notify the company.

"Companies are required to provide a refund within seven business days if you return merchandise and request a refund," Wright said. "They must also let you know if the merchandise will not be delivered in a reasonable time."