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“Black Friday” this year is on November 29. However, many businesses have already begun their special pricing, some have been offering Black Friday promotions all month long, and some are even carrying it to the middle of December.

For those who don’t live on this continent or in today’s world, Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, often regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. In recent years, most major retailers have opened extremely early and offered promotional sales to kick off the holiday shopping season, similar to Boxing Day sales in many Commonwealth Nations.

Black Friday is not a holiday.

More recently, Black Friday has been exported to nations outside the United States and Canada. Costa Rica is one of those countries embracing the North American cultural trend.

In 2012, after disappointing results of the previous year, the success of Black Friday allowed retailers in Costa Rica  to more than doubled their sales in comparison to the previous year.

But there were problems. Consumers did not understand the nature of the sale and retailers not quick to explain the restrictions and conditions unless pressed.

Pricing and conditions must be clear.
Pricing and conditions must be clear.

This year, to avoid the problems of last year, that included riots in some stores (like the Walmart store in San Sebastian), the Oficina de Defensa y Apoyo al Consumidor del Ministerio de Economía y Comercio (MEIC) – Office of Consumer Advocacy and Support for the Ministry of Economy and Trade –  is warning retailers with respect to the Black Friday promotions.

Cinthya Zapata, spokesperson for the government consumer protection agency, said one of the first issues is that retailers must be forthcoming in the quantity of items available at the special price.

“Consumers cannot be misled into thinking there is plenty of stock when in fact there is only one or two items available at the discounted price”, says Zapata.

“Retailers must be clear if there is a limited supply and spell which stores actually have the items in stock. It is not enough to advertise, say a rice cooker for ¢5.000 colones and then have only one at that price”, explains Zapata.

The phrase “while stocks last” and “restrictions apply” is not valid, according to Zapata. Retailers must spell out the conditions of the sale in their advertising, in the stores and at the time of the sale.

Zapata said her office will be doing inspections to ensure that retailers comply and to aovid problems with consumers. The agency also will be manning its 800 line to receive complaints.

To get the best out of this Black Friday, experts recommend to “walk and compare“, review the different offers fully before committing and to make a list of things that are really needed, and not to be led by impulse buying.

Using a “cost-benefit” analysis to purchases, especially it comes to purchases on credit. Buying on credit may make it affordable today, but in the end the cost of the item can be two or three times the original price if the credit is not paid off in full in one payment.

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With respect to plastic (credit or debit cards), in Costa Rica retailers cannot have one price for cash and another for plastic. Retailers often will discount a price by 5-7% – the cost of the card processing fee – if the consumers pays with cash. A larger discount may even be offered for cash payments without a receipt. Zapata reminds us that in Costa Rica it is illegal to discriminate between cash and card purchases, that is the price of the item must be the same no matter what method of payment is used.

Also, all retail purchases with a receipt come with a 30 business day guarantee, even if the retailer says it is a final sale and no guarantee is offered.

The receipt is the key, for retailers must spell out the 30 day guarantee on the receipt. So, if no receipt is available (as in a cash sale) the consumer is out of luck. Keep the receipt.

Happy shopping!


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