Shop Safe, Shop Smart: Valuable tips for buying locally online

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the country continues to battle the coronavirus, many Americans may

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the country continues to battle the coronavirus, many Americans may choose to do their holiday shopping from home.

Because of that, the Better Business Bureau is advising people to do some research before making purchases, especially if you’re looking to support local businesses.

As of early November, 59% of Americans have already started their holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. And now, the push to shop small is more important than ever.

“I can tell you for this Better Business Bureau, we’ve had hundreds of businesses reach out that they are either in the midst of closing or they are barely open,” said Paula Fleming, the BBB’s local chief marketing and sales officer.

Since local businesses rely on social media to promote items, services and sales, Fleming warned that scammers can try to take advantage of that.

“It’s happening here in New England,” she said. “People are seeing great offers and the product they receive isn’t exactly what they thought it was … or they’re not receiving the product at all.”

Fleming encouraged shoppers to dig a bit deeper before clicking on an ad or virtual holiday event.

“Do a little bit of research on the business, on the product, read reviews,” she said.

Fleming also suggested reaching out to a business before making a purchase online.

“Contact the business directly, find out what they’re offering, find out the deals that are going on,” she explained.

The BBB’s website is a good resource for finding out if a certain business is legitimate, Fleming said, but a simple online search can also be helpful.

“We’re not trying to scare people away from holiday shopping online,” Fleming added. “We just want them to be educated consumers when doing it and protect themselves.”

She advised not just using a credit card to make purchases, but using the same credit card so it’s easier to monitor for additional charges.

Fleming also stressed the importance of keeping your receipts and being aware of businesses’ return policies.

“That’s going to play a huge role this year,” she said. “If everyone is online shopping, what exactly does the return policy entail?”

Below are more tips from the BBB so you can “Shop Safe, Shop Smart” this year:

  • Research before you buy. Out of 57%of people who did not research the website or business via an independent source (like before making a purchase, 81% lost money.
  • If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. The top motivating factor for people who made a purchase, then lost money was price. Don’t shop on price alone.
  • Beware of fake websites: Check the URL, watch for bad grammar, research the age of the domain, search for contact information, and read online reviews.
  • Professional photos do not mean it’s a real offer. Respondents reported that website photos motivated them to engage with scammers, especially for pets/pet supplies, clothing/accessories, and vehicles.
  • Make sure the website is secure. Look for the “https” in the URL (the extra s is for “secure”) and a small lock icon on the address bar. Never enter payment or personal information into a website with only “http” – it is NOT secure.
  • Be careful purchasing sought-after products, especially during the holiday season. The risk of online purchase scams rises during the holidays because more people are making online purchases, and scammers offer the most popular products for the season at great prices.
  • Beware of making quick purchases while scrolling through social media. Scammers have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering exactly what you want at enticingly low prices.
  • Look for the BBB seal. BBB Accredited Businesses pledge to uphold the BBB Standards for Trust and to deal fairly with consumers. If a business displays a BBB seal, verify it by going to
  • Use secure and traceable transactions and payment methods. According to BBB’s research, those paid with a credit card were less likely to lose money. Be cautious when paying by digital wallet apps, prepaid money cards, or other non-traditional payment methods.
  • Shipment tracking information can be faked. Look closely to make sure it is a legitimate business. Avoid clicking on the tracking link; go to the ‘shipper’s website and type in the code to see if it is real.
  • Count on BBB to help you “Shop Safe, Shop Smart.” More tips are available at
  • Report unsatisfactory purchase experiences to BBB. If you are unhappy with a purchase, file a complaint at If you never got what you paid for, consider reporting it to BBB Scam Tracker ( to help other consumers avoid being scammed.

To help make it easier to connect Southern New Englanders with local small businesses, 12 news is putting together a 12 Local Gift Guide. If you’re a retailer and would like to be included, email [email protected]!

This year’s Small Business Saturday is on Nov. 28 and there are several online directories available to help you find local stores, including and

A new website was also launched this summer to support Black-owned businesses in Southeastern Massachusetts:

Providence also has Open Air Saturdays, which were recently extended through December. Every Saturday in November and December, from 12 to 6 p.m., sections of Westminster and Union streets are closed to make more room for pedestrians.

Additionally, free two-hour parking has been extended in the city’s shopping districts through Jan. 1, 2021.

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