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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Get a Head Start on Gift Shopping While Relaxing at Home

LAS CRUCES -- Holiday shoppers who want to avoid crowds, long lines, sore feet and parking space competitors can buy gifts from the comfort of their home this year.

Around the holidays, mailboxes are often packed with catalogs, which offer great gifts and sometimes good bargains, said Susan Wright, consumer education specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. People also can take advantage of such items as records and books advertised on television.

"A mail-order catalog is really a boon to busy people because they don't have to go to the store to shop," Wright said. "They can do it right at home, and it saves them time and energy."

While home shopping is a sensible option, some catalog items may be misleading, Wright said. "You may not realize exactly what size something is. It may say jumbo, but jumbo to them may be miniature to you."

The most important rule to remember when shopping by mail or telephone is to order from a well-known company, Wright said. Sometimes the new-name catalogs are not as reliable as others.

"If you have a problem with a mail-order company, try to resolve it first by contacting that company," she said. "If no satisfaction is achieved, contact the postal inspector to determine if the postal service has jurisdiction over the situation. The Better Business Bureau and state attorney general's office also may be able to help you."

However, most firms are reliable and try to please the customer, she said. They depend on repeat business to stay in operation.

A special rule applies to mail orders shipped by parcel post or other special carriers, Wright said. Companies must deliver goods within the stated order time or within 30 days from the day they receive the order. If there is a delay, the company must alert the customer and get permission to send the merchandise later or cancel the order and give a refund.

"If a customer orders by telephone, even from a catalog, this rule does not apply," she said. "Other exceptions to the mail-order rule are photo finishing, magazine subscriptions, items not charged until shipped and seeds or growing plants."

Wright said to ensure satisfaction when ordering by mail or telephone, follow these tips:

* Be sure to order in plenty of time to receive the merchandise for the holidays.
* Read the description of the item carefully. Note specific measurements to get an idea of the exact size. Be sure the product is what you really want.
* Consider the color. Sometimes the color in the picture is not a true match to the item.
* Note the type of material from which the item is made. It's hard to determine the actual quality from a picture, but being familiar with the material can sometimes help.
* Know the catalog's return policy. It should be stated on the order form. If it's not, the company may not have a return policy. Look for terms like "full refund" and "refund all your money." Otherwise, the refund may be less than what was actually paid.
* Keep all receipts. If the merchandise is returned, receipts stating that the item was received should be kept until the customer gets a refund or the charge account has been credited.
* If the company says it may have to substitute a product, make sure the replacement is of equal value and quality, and is acceptable.