6 mistakes to avoid while you shop the winter sales

The annual sales season is officially in full swing, with thousands of retailers across the country currently offering huge discounts on their products and services.

But don’t be easily swayed by flashy discount signs and too-good-to-be-true bargains. Navigating the winter sales period can be a minefield and could end up costing you more, or leaving you at risk of being scammed.

That’s where Which? can help. We’ve highlighted the most common shopping blunders to dodge, including purchasing at the wrong time, buying from dodgy retailers, and skipping over returns policies.

Read on to find out the pitfalls to avoid and how Which? can help you get the best deals in the Boxing Day and January sales.

Don’t miss us winter sales insider’s guide to help you navigate the sales this year

1. Shopping at the wrong time

Someone shopping sales

The changing seasons can affect more than just the weather. Deals on many products, such as headphones, TVs, and laptops, can follow trends depending on the time of year and when the products were launched.

To get the best price when shopping onlinefor most products you’ll want to avoid buying directly after their release, as this is when the prices tend to be highest.

Find out how to get the best value with these popular purchases, or click the links to head straight to our reviews to compare models and prices:

  • TVs Browse older models in the spring, as this is when new models tend to be released so prices of existing TVs drop.
  • Laptops – Deals on laptops can be found year-round and older models are usually available for a long time. Keep an eye out for new releases, which will likely knock the prices down on previous models. If you’re looking for an Apple laptop, these are more often cheaper when not buying directly from Apple.
  • Printers – New models are released between September and November, making this a good time to check out earlier models. Printers usually stay on the market for a while, so avoid buying at launch.
  • Headphones – Avoid buying at launch as prices almost always reduce over time, especially with the release of a new model.
  • Phones – Good deals can be found year-round, but pay close attention around Black Friday and Christmas for the best prices. If you’re after an iPhone, they tend to come down in price before new models are released in September. You’re likely to find good deals on older Androids when the new ones come out, too.
  • Soundbars – Models released from TV brands generally follow the same launch patterns as TVs, so older models are cheaper in the months following a new release (although, discounts may not be as significant). Brands such as Bose and Sonos generally have stable prices, which decrease over time.
  • Fitness trackers and smart watches These usually drop in price around a year after release, as that’s when new models launch. Ensure that you shop around for the best price.

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2. Buying from dodgy shop

It’s best to stick to familiar and reliable retailers to avoid a scam website.

However, if you want to buy from an unfamiliar retailer, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself:

  1. If a shop looks too good to be true, chances are it probably is. Scam websites often lure in customers with promises of extremely low prices for fake or potentially dangerous productsor even products that don’t exist.
  2. Be on the lookout for warning signs on the site. These include poor English, odd-sounding phrases or incomplete contact details for the retailer.
  3. Find out when the company was set up. For sellers based in the UK, you can use Companies House to see how established it is.
  4. Read reviews of the seller. Check reviews to make sure the seller is legitimate, established and gets good feedback. Find out how to spot a fake review and think twice about products with multiple over-the-top five-star reviews posted in a short timeframe.
  5. Avoid buying products with unfamiliar brand names. Research further into unfamiliar brands to check their legitimacy.

Don’t get reeled in by a dodgy seller – use our guide to the best and worst shops to find yourself a trustworthy retailer

3. Not watching out for scams

The winter sales period is a time often targeted by scammers. To keep yourself protected online, it’s essential that you know how to spot and protect yourself from scams.

Be cautious of ads for new companies or brands that appear in your social media feeds or a new account advertising a familiar brand. Adverts that look like they’re from official brands can easily be faked – the best way to check this is to make sure that the URL starts with the brand’s official domain name.

Be especially wary of suspicious texts, emails or pop-ups, as these are likely to be scams. Scammers may pretend to be a large company such as Amazon or Royal Mail to get you to click a link to a copycat website, usually under the guise of you owing them money or there’s a problem with your delivery.

It’s important that you don’t engage or click any links if you think a message you’ve received might be a scam. You can too report scams to warn others through organizations such as Action Fraud.

You can sign up to Which? Scam alerts to help you spot and avoid the latest scams

4. Paying more than you need to

Deals are cropping up everywhere, and with so many to choose from, it’s not always obvious which ones are the best.

Price comparison services such as CamelCamelCamel and PriceRunner can make finding bigger savings easier. You can also use Which.co.uk to view the lowest available prices for individual products via our reviews pages.

How CamelCamelCamel works:

  • It tracks prices on Amazon and can alert you when prices drop
  • No account required
  • You can access price history for new and used products.

How PriceRunner works:

  • It tracks the prices of more than 2.6m products from more than 6,100 retailers
  • Prices are updated daily to show you the best ones
  • Once you’ve signed up for a free account, you’ll have unrestricted access, and can search for, save and compare deals
  • You can check the price history of different products from all stores to see when the item was cheapest
  • You can also compare product tech specs.

How Which? reviews work:

We can help too, even if you haven’t yet signed up for Which?. You can view the ‘Lowest available prices’ at the top of our individual reviews to see a range of prices at different retailers, so you can check where’s cheapest or get a sense of whether the retailer you’ve chosen has your product on sale at a good price:

Which?  website, lowest prices available location

If you do have a subscribe to Which?use the filters on our main reviews page to see our Great Value options as these performed well in our tests and are great value for money.

Looking for the Best Boxing Day and January sales now? We’ve scoured the sales to find the best of the best, updated daily

5. Skipping over the T&Cs

An online survey of more than 1,000 Which? Connect Panel members revealed that 80% never or rarely read shops’ terms and conditions – and it’s not hard to see why. Many T&Cs are multiple pages long and filled with legal jargon.

We’re not saying you should read every document word-for-word, but it’s important to at least know you returns and refunds rights in case there’s an issue, especially if you’re buying a large or expensive product.

Retailers’ T&Cs when it comes to faulty products can vary and there’s often things they don’t mention specifically, such as:

  • If you discover a fault within the first six months, it’s presumed that it was there before you took ownership and it’s up to the retailer to prove otherwise. If a fault develops after six months, the burden is on you to prove it was faulty before you bought it.
  • You can seek replacement or repair beyond six months and up to six years (five in Scotland).
  • Occasionally, a retailer will offer an extended guarantee. However, you have the right to repair beyond this if you can prove a fault existed when you bought the product.

We can help you get a refund, repair or replacement on a faulty product

6. Not knowing your rights

Paying for shopping online

Your shopping rights are more protected if you buy online than if you buy in-store, as you’re relying on the seller accurately describing a product before you buy it as opposed to actually seeing it.

Our legal team often sees shops misinterpreting the law when it comes to how long you have to return a product bought online. For example, if it says 14 days, you have 14 days from when you receive it to cancel your contract and a further 14 days to return it. Many online retailers will have more generous returns policies, however, so check the T&Cs.

If you pay for an item or service that costs more than £100 but less than £30,000, you’ll get extra protection by paying for it with a credit card. This is because you’ll be able to get your money back from your credit card company if there is a problem and you can’t get it back from the retailer.

Never pay for something online via bank transfer as these transactions are usually scams and it can be harder to get your money back.

Know your rights and shop safely this season – see all our shopping advice guides

More sales help from Which?

  • Winter sales insider’s guide

Winter sales retailer deals:

Winter sales deals by product:

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