With Christmas over, many shoppers will be out and about trying to grab a bargain in the Boxing day and January sales.
The cost of living crisis means that consumers will be trying even harder to get the best value for money this year.
We’ve rounded up some top tips from consumer group Which? to help you navigate the sales successfully.
1. Make sure deals are genuine and do your research
Don’t assume a deal is worth it just because it claims to offer a big saving. Offers such as “was £100, now £50” often exaggerate the discount you’re actually getting.
Which? looked at products on special offer across major retailers and found that several items were actually listed at their lower price for longer than they were at their full price over the course of a year.
It is worth keeping a note of the price of the item that interests you in advance of the sale to make sure you’re getting a genuine bargain.
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There are useful web tools you can use to check how much a product has actually been sold for previously so you can work out whether the sale price really represents good value. For example, CamelCamelCamel provides price history for products sold on Amazon (AMZN), whereas PriceRunner has wider market coverage.
An item that’s discounted in one store could well be on sale for an even better price elsewhere, so it’s worth shopping around to find out where it’s cheapest. If you’re shopping in-store, just do a quick online check on your phone to check for better prices.
2. Avoid fake reviews
Shoppers should be wary of fake, paid-for or misleading user reviews when shopping online.
Don’t just go by the overall review score to make an impulse purchase. Read through the reviews, and keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
Red flags include multiple reviews being posted around the same time, overwhelming praise and the same phrases popping up in separate reviews. Check if reviewers are verified purchasers, though this alone will not guarantee authenticity.
One way to get a more balanced view of a product is to ignore the five star ratings and check the four, three and two star reviews, as it’s likely you’ll be getting more honest opinions.
3. Be wary of buying now, pay later
Online stores are increasingly promoting buy now, pay later (BNPL) options from firms such as Clearpay and Klarna.
Which? found that shoppers often aren’t fully aware of the potential consequences and that BNPL companies can encourage overspending and potentially land people in debt.
Take the time to read and understand the terms and conditions, and potential risks, before rushing ahead with a purchase.
4. Earn cash back as you shop
Shoppers can claim cashback on their purchases via sites such as Quidco and TopCashback.
Retailers may offer cashback as a fixed amount (up to £50 on fridges, for example) or a percentage of the purchase — anything from 0.5% to more than 20%.
However, be aware that you’ll need to use the cashback site’s link for your purchase to be counted. What’s more, cashback is not guaranteed and could take months to reach your account.
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It’s still important to compare upfront costs first, as even the most generous cashback offers may not compensate for a high headline price. Cashback is an added bonus if you’re set on buying an item anyway, but not necessarily worth basing your purchase decision on.
5. Watch out for unsafe products
When shopping via online marketplaces like AliExpress, Amazon, eBay (EBAY) or Wish, be aware of potentially unsafe products.
Which? Investigations have previously found problems with illegal Christmas lights that failed to meet the requirements of the Electrical Equipment (Safety) regulations, baby carriers that failed to meet basic safety standards and dangerous children’s toys being sold on online marketplaces.
Shoppers can check Which?’s advice on the best and worst retailers to find one they trust if they want an alternative to online marketplaces.
6.Know your rights
Some retailers extend their returns periods around the festive season to give people more time to take back unwanted gifts. Checking a store’s returns policy before you buy something means you’ll know exactly when you’ll need to take it back if you want to.
Bear in mind that you have more rights when you shop online than in-store.
7. Watch out for scams
Online scams are rife, with many people facing unsolicited texts, emails and calls from fraudsters trying to take advantage of uncertainty and the increase in online shopping.
Read more: Christmas sales lift UK business confidence amid fear of recession
Delivery text scams are common —some fraudsters claim you need to pay an “unpaid shipping fee” and include a link for you to follow from where they could steal your details.
Watch out for the warning signs of a scam and do all you can to check a message is authentic before you click on any links.