Five Steps to Better Back-to-School Shopping

Photo Credit: Better Business Bureau

Rebecca Harpster
Golden Gate Better Business Bureau

Another school year is quickly approaching, and now is the time to make sure your family is prepared! Back to school shopping is no small ordeal; a survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF) found that consumers are planning on spending $83.6 billion on back-to-school and back-to-college shopping in 2017 – up $7.8 billion from 2016. When spending such a large sum of money, it’s important to make sure you’re shopping wisely.

In 2016, BBB received over 15,600 complaints against retail stores and online retailers from consumers nationwide. Many complaints involved not receiving ordered items, misleading advertising, and issues with products. Look up every business you plan on interacting with at to see its BBB Business Profile, which includes a complaint history, reviews from past customers, and any advertising concerns.

Scams could also be lurking around during your shopping experience, especially online. In 2016, more than 2,750 online purchase scams were reported to BBB Scam Tracker. According to the BBB Risk Index, they’re the third riskiest scam to consumers – 74% of victims lost money and the median loss was $101! More than 45% of back-to-school shoppers plan to buy online (NRF), so make sure to only shop on secure, familiar sites.

Whether you’re shopping in advance, last-minute, in stores, or online, BBB offers the following five tips for smart back-to-school purchases:

  1. Be aware of form fraud: Back-to-school shopping involves filling out forms for supplies, books, enrollment – you name it.  While we can sometimes go into auto-pilot mode when filling out information, be careful what information you provide and to whom you provide it. Keep a copy of the forms you turn in that have sensitive information, including your child’s birthday, address, and Social Security Number. If you are throwing a paper away that has this information, make sure to shred it first. Be careful, consumers nationwide reported more than 350 identity theft scams to BBB Scam Tracker in 2016.
  2. Watch out for alluring ads: Whenever you see an ad, look at the fine print for restrictions and dates. Be wary of coupons you see online and receive through unsolicited emails. Don’t click on pop-ups and watch out for ads that lead to phishing websites. It’s better to visit a business’ website directly by locating it through an Internet search or its BBB Business Profile than by clicking on an ad. If an ad is from a retailer you’re unfamiliar with, look them up at Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you think an ad violates BBB’s Code of Advertising, let us know by emailing us at
  3. Ask around: To save money without coupons, leverage your community. Network with other parents – buying supplies in bulk and splitting them up can save money. Seek out or host a clothing swap online or in your neighborhood; this can be a great way to recycle your gently used items and cut costs.
  4. Be prepared for returns: Read the return policy twice just in case you need to take something back. Be aware of any restrictions on returns, such as materials you need to bring in, if you need to make returns within a specified period, whether you’ll receive cash or store credit, etc. Make sure to keep all original packaging and receipts.
  5. Before you leave the house: Create a shopping list and a budget; search online and do price comparisons beforehand to know what to expect in stores. Make sure to look around for any leftover supplies, and “shop at home” so that you don’t buy anything unnecessary. Be on the prowl for coupons: sign up for email alerts, coupon apps, and apps from your favorite stores. If you’re making a large purchase, like electronics or a dorm refrigerator, do a lot of research on features beforehand so you know exactly what you need.

Visit for tips on back-to-school shopping, hiring a tutor, avoiding child identity theft, and more. If you come across a scam while preparing for the school year, make sure to report it to BBB Scam Tracker at to help warn others!

You can reach your BBB at or (510) 844-2000, or by visiting