Some retailers say they contribute a portion of every sale to charity. Called “cause marketing,” this practice can be profitable if it brings business from shoppers who might otherwise spend elsewhere. But for a consumer, it can be hard to know whether the retailer is contributing to a charity as generously as it wants you to think it is.

Before buying from a retailer that says it donates to charity, look on its website for information about its giving policy. While there’s no “right” amount to give, be dubious (and consider shopping elsewhere) if the retailer says it donates “a portion” of the proceeds without naming a figure.

But even if the retailer’s donation policy satisfies you, don’t give it your business just because part of the sale supports a good cause. The service, price, convenience, and quality should be equal to what you get elsewhere, according to Daniel Borochoff, president of the charity watchdog group CharityWatch.


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Consider AmazonSmile. The website promises the same prices, products, and service as its sister retailer Amazon.com, except that it donates 0.5 percent of eligible products you buy to the participating charity of your choice. But Amazon isn’t always the lowest-priced retailer.

For example, though the same Samsung Blu-ray player was $228 at both AmazonSmile and Walmart.com recently, Walmart was throwing in a $50 Walmart gift card. It probably doesn’t make much sense to pay $50 more at AmazonSmile to make a $1.14 charitable contribution. You could have a bigger impact by making a small charitable donation on your own. And Walmart’s return policy is 90 days, three times longer than Amazon’s.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the December 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.