Rome, December 31 - The countdown to the winter sales season has begun and consumer rights organizations suggest doing the following: - 1) Check the prices of products you are planning on buying prior to the beginning of the sales, and if possible take a photo of the price on your cell phone to assess the real difference in prices. - 2) Check different retail outlets to compare prices before deciding what you really need - 3) Be wary of prices that have been marked down by over 50%, a ruse often used for merchandise that is either not entirely new or that has had its original price marked-up for the sales period to encourage customers to think they are getting a better deal. Except for haute couture, shopkeepers would have to sell at below cost if they were to mark it down by that much (good mark-downs are usually around 40%). - 4) Carefully check the tag, which should have the original price and the new one as well as the percentage it has been marked down. - 5 ) Beginning in June 2014, shopkeepers must accept credit and debit cards for purchases over 30 euros. - 6) The sales must be to sell off what is left of the season's merchandise and not just leftovers from the warehouse. Stay away from shops with shelves that were almost empty just before the sales and that 'magically' filled as they started. It is highly improbable that a shop would have all sizes and colors of an item at the end of the season. - 7) Even if shops can decide whether or not items can be exchanged after they are purchased, keep receipts as proof of purchase as they are essential in case of faulty products, for which shops must give a refund or replacement for (if brought back within two months from the date of purchase). - 8) Shops are not obliged to allow customers to try on clothing, but it is advisable to avoid shops that do not allow you to do so. - 9) Make use of shops you trust or buy merchandise that you already know the price or quality of in order to be able to assess whether it is a good deal or not. - 10) In the case of problems, take the issue to the traffic police, the municipal offices for commerce or a consumer rights association.