It’s that time of year again – when people prepare to roll up their sleeves and take part in shopping frenzies such as Black Friday. This year is different. With the impact of Covid-19, many shoppers are heading online. But with the UK leaving lockdown in December, expect a socially distanced rush to the high street – and that’s where our Christmas shopping tips to save money can come in handy.

For many of us it can also be hard to plan due to economic and financial uncertainty. This Christmas could see belts tightened as everyone looks to cut the cost of festive cheer while still enjoying the Christmas season.

So before you start shelling out, pause for a moment and consider whether you could be a little savvier with your cash. Are you really going after the best bargains? Will you regret splashing out too much come January?

Christmas shopping tips to save money

Here are 12 things you need to know before starting your Christmas shopping…

1. Falling victim to an online fraud

Over 15,000 shoppers across the UK were conned out of more than £11-million over the Christmas period in 2017, according to figures from Action Fraud and City of London Police. With online shopping even more prevalent due to Covid-19, you need to pay extra attention when buying online.

As people search for bargains and gifts for loved ones, fraudsters see this as an opportunity to trick people with the promise of great deals and big cash savings. Victims may find themselves defrauded on popular social media and online auction websites.

Mobile phones are a common item fraudsters use to hook victims in – with ‘bargain’ deals on some of the most popular models of smartphones, only for the phone to never actually arrive – leaving victims without gifts to give on Christmas Day. Games consoles, computers and household items have also featured in many reports.

Be careful when shopping online.
Be careful when shopping online.

In 2017, more than 30% of reports were made by women aged between 20 and 29 – but anyone can fall victim to Christmas shopping fraudsters. Remember, if something seems too much of a bargain, it’s probably poor quality, fake or doesn’t exist. Tony Neate, chief executive of Get Safe Online says: “Really simple steps, such a paying via a credit card over a bank transfer or only using reputable shopping sites, can make a big difference towards protecting yourself online this Christmas.”

2. Buying goods which turn out to be dangerous

The charity Electrical Safety First warns that fake electrical items can be virtually impossible to spot, with online shoppers misled by imagery taken from official product websites, fake official safety marks, glowing reviews and believable pricing. They’re often retailing for just a few pounds below recommended retail value to avoid arousing suspicion – and at a time of year when genuine products are sold at bargain prices, it’s even harder to tell the difference.

The charity says people should look for the seller’s contact details – and if they are not supplied in full, shoppers should be wary. Many fake electrical goods are manufactured overseas, where they are produced as quickly and cheaply as possible. Look out for packaging which could provide telltale signs that goods are fake – if there are spelling mistakes or it’s flimsy quality, or if the printing is poor. Also, fake products may not include supplementary materials, such as a manual or a product registration card or even all the parts!

If you suspect you have purchased a fake, stop using it immediately as it could be dangerous. For more advice, visit electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/spotthefake.

3. Check the website you’re buying from is genuine

Myles Dawson, UK country manager at Adyen, which processes payments, says with many limited-period deals on offer, shoppers may be tempted to let their guard down. “It helps to stick to retailers you know are reputable. That is not to say that any online retailer you haven’t heard of should be on the blacklist, but take the time to do a little research and look for reviews,” he says.

“Checking your emails carefully is also crucial. Fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated at mimicking legitimate retailers. They know it’s easy for you to get caught in the moment when a great offer lands in your inbox. Take a few moments to check the email address of the sender is legitimate and look closely at the destination of a link, before clicking it. This helps avoid ending up on a spoofed website and mistakenly providing your card details and personal information to fraudsters.”

4. Check that you’re getting a genuine bargain

Just because an online store is advertising ‘mega discounts’ and many shops are pushing sales to boost business after a dismal 2020, is the item you’re after really cheaper than it would be at another time of year? Do some homework now, when you’re less under pressure to have Christmas all wrapped up – and you’ll have a better idea later on if you’re really getting a great deal.

5. Can you take it back?

Swot up on your consumer rights. While there are general rules, it’s worth asking stores about their individual policies when it comes to ‘goodwill’ returns if you simply change your mind. The Consumer Rights Act spells out consumers’ rights to refunds on faulty items and makes it easier to challenge hidden fees and charges.

Can you take back Christmas gifts
Read up on what you can return in case of overspending.

Many online stores have extended returns running until the end of January, both to help people who need to stay at home and can’t easily get to the post office, but also in case a loved one doesn’t like your gift. Check before ordering.

6. Christmas consumer rights

Consumer group Which? explains that under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, your credit card company is jointly liable if something goes wrong with a product or a service you’ve paid for with that card.

If you’ve spent more than £100 and less than £30,000 on something, you can claim in this way if something goes wrong. You don’t have to have paid the full amount on your credit card, either. Which? says to qualify for the protection, it’s the value of the goods you’re buying that is key, not the amount paid on the card.

7. Don’t forget delivery charges

Two-thirds (67%) of shoppers say they would not be willing to buy online if the delivery costs are too high, according to a survey by delivery management company Whistl.

Some online stores offer free delivery for shoppers who spend over a certain amount when making a purchase. And while it may be considered quite cheeky, a third of the shoppers surveyed admitted they will overspend – knowing they will later send some items back – just to qualify for free delivery.

Patience can help cut delivery costs. Half (50%) of those surveyed would be willing to wait an extra two to three days in exchange for free delivery – while more than a quarter (28%) would wait four to five days longer.

8. Keep out of debt with Christmas shopping

Make sure the thrill of a bargain doesn’t lead to a debt hangover. Set a budget, and if you’re paying by credit card, pay it off in full before any charges apply.

Keep track of your account balance – busting an overdraft limit could also make a purchase very expensive, once you factor in those bank charges.

9. Save with cashback and voucher code sites

Voucher and cashback websites can help trim back costs. And if you don’t mind risking someone else snapping it up, try leaving your item in your online shopping basket and see if the store tries to nudge you by emailing a discount code. It does happen!

10. Watch out for fake reviews

Many of us will search online to see what other buyers thought before making a purchasing decision – but watch out for fake reviews, which could potentially mislead you into buying something which isn’t as good as you were led to believe. Which? says the signs of fake reviews could include them being repetitive, the language not sounding natural, such as sounding too much like an advert, or being too short or too long.

11. Don’t be swayed by ‘influencers’

A recent survey of 15-24-year-olds from Barclays found a third (30%) regularly look at celebrity or influencer social media accounts for shopping inspiration. While it’s great to get ideas, just remember you may not have the bank balance to match the lifestyle you’re trying to emulate.

Clare Francis, savings and investments director at Barclays, suggests asking yourself: “Can I afford this right now?” Or, “Are there other items that I need more?” And if all else fails, consider turning social media notifications off for a while.

12. Remember what you’ve already purchased

It’s easy to get carried away when you’re rushing around the shops with Christmas songs being blasted into your ears, while stores’ special offers and bargain bins can also prove a distraction, making it easy to forget what you were looking for in the first place.

To stay focused, try setting out with a shopping list – and only sticking to the items that are on it.

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