Christmas shopping season can often lead to scenes of panic buying on the high street, as shelves are raided and items thrown into trollies.

The pandemic means things are different this year though, and much more of our festive spending may take place online.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still potential Christmas shopping pitfalls – which could blow a hole in our wallets, according to consumer rights expert Martyn James from Resolver.co.uk.

Christmas shopping pitfalls to avoid

So what do you need to know? Here, James outlines the Christmas shopping pitfalls to keep in mind this season, and how to avoid them…

1. Unexpected costs could blow your budget – so leave extra margins

Once you have an idea about how much cash you currently have left over, factoring in food, bills and other costs, make sure you put at least an extra 10% of what remains to one side for unexpected Christmas bills.

Also bear in mind items you’ve already bought online might not have been debited from your account just yet, so factor in those purchases in too.

2. Remember orders could take longer than expected to arrive – so leave yourself time

Focus early on the important gifts, so they’ve got plenty of time to arrive. You can always leave decorations and food until nearer the time.

3. ‘Bargains’ may not be all they seem – so be cynical

It can be very difficult to work out what’s actually a bargain or what’s just on sale these days, as shops’ prices often fluctuate.

 

For key gifts, go onto the manufacturer’s website and check out their recommended retail price (RRP). These prices are sometimes a little higher than the goods usually sell for, but it’s a good measure for comparing prices online.

Next up, have a look at some of the retailer price comparison websites online. These fall in to two categories. Firstly, there are price comparison websites, which generally compare which retailer is offering the best price right now.

There are also price tracker websites, which track the price of specific goods over time, so you can see how prices now compare with what they were previously and if they’re cheaper or more expensive.

4. Some firms or items may also be fake – so make sure you know who you’re buying from

James says he’s been inundated with complaints from people during 2020 about fake firms and dodgy retailers. To avoid being ripped off with goods that are fake or non-existent, check you’re on a genuine website, not a fake one. Watch out for bad spelling, addresses that don’t seem UK-based and very little legal or contact information on the website.

Also, be aware if items are priced in foreign currency. This doesn’t mean the firm is dodgy, but it does indicate the goods will be coming from abroad, which could mean long delivery times and potential delays, as well as issues if you want to return items that aren’t up to scratch.

 

Even with legitimate retailers, always check the ‘contact us’ page to see how easy it would be to get in touch if there’s a problem, and make sure you’ve read the returns policy before you buy too.

5. Putting Christmas on credit may be tempting – but it could bring added stress in 2021

It may be particularly tempting to borrow money for a memorable Christmas, given how volatile 2020 has been. But it may only increase the stress and pressure you may find yourself under in 2021.

Buy now, pay later deals are huge right now. These deals allow you pay in instalments, often at a set rate of interest. But think carefully about whether the stress and pressure of the debt will really be worth it.

Bear in mind that if you fail to return goods in time, or miss payments you can find yourself with a big debt. James has also been hearing some businesses have been quick to pass on debts to debt collectors too – so be very cautious.

 

Credit cards can be useful because if you spend over £100, you have added consumer protections if something goes wrong with a business. However, interest rates have been creeping up and it’s easy to get trapped.

If you use a credit card this Christmas, make sure you’ve got enough cash to pay the bill in full straight away before being charged interest – and don’t be tempted to wait.

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