This time last year the nation was beginning to enjoy Christmas outdoor markets and the High Street’s festive lights. But this Christmas is likely to be very different.
The pandemic has forced us inside and online — and many of us will have to do our shopping on the internet for the first time.
To help you get started, here’s Money Mail’s step-by-step guide to buying online…
Online shopper: The pandemic has forced us inside – and many of us will have to do our Christmas shopping on the internet for the first time
Anyone with a laptop, tablet, PC or smartphone can shop online. You need an email address and a bank card. Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook all offer free email services.
A strong password should contain at least ten characters and include numbers, symbols, and upper and lower-case letters.
Ensure you have up-to-date antivirus software installed on your computer. Free programmes include Microsoft Defender Antivirus and Kaspersky Security Cloud.
You can shop online with almost all major High Street retailers such as Argos, Boots and Marks & Spencer.
Set up an account by registering your contact details and address. Then click on the items you want and add them to your basket. When you are finished, look for the checkout button, which is often a basket or trolley icon.
Register for email alerts with price-tracking sites such as pricespy.co.uk and alertr.co.uk, which notify you when items go down in price.
You can also check price history to see if a discount is as good as it claims to be. Camelcamelcamel.com monitors prices on Amazon, for instance.
Cashback websites such as topcashback.co.uk and quidco.com, meanwhile, reward you for shopping via them. TopCashback is currently offering up to 25 per cent cashback at Currys PC World. You should also check if there are any discount codes available using, say, vouchercodes.co.uk.
Deal radar: Register for email alerts with price-tracking sites such as pricespy.co.uk and alertr.co.uk, which notify you when items go down in price
If you pay for goods that cost more than £100 with your credit card you are protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This means that your lender will refund you if goods are not as described or the retailer goes bust.
If you use a debit card you have cover from your bank on any sum under chargeback rules, but this is not guaranteed.
Never pay by bank transfer, as it will be more difficult to get your money back.
Many shops will let you use free payment services such as PayPal, so you do not need to share your payment details with the retailer.
PayPal also promises to refund you if your order fails to arrive or is not as described.
For security purposes, you may need to enter a six-digit code before the payment will go through. This will usually be sent to you via email or texted to your mobile phone.
Be a High Street hero
Struggling smaller retailers have been forced to adapt since the pandemic, and many have set up new websites.
To find out if a local business has an online offering, just type the shop name into the Google search engine. Some regions even have their own online directories, such as support yourlocalleeds.com, which list Leeds businesses, or support localbrighton.co.uk, which does the same for Brighton.
It’s also worth checking out neighbourhood groups on nextdoor.co.uk and Facebook for recommendations.
When ordering books, try websites such as hive.co.uk and uk.bookshop.org, which support local bookshops.
You can also try etsy.com for handmade presents from independent sellers.
For plant gifts for the greenfingered, visit Plantera (plantera.com), which was set up to sell plants that were about to be binned after garden centres closed. It delivers to Zones 1 to 5 in London.
Alternatively, check other reputable suppliers of the plants you are looking for via the Royal Horticultural Society: rhs.org. uk/plants/search-form. You can also buy gifts directly from the RHS’s website.
However, you lose the Section 75 protection when you buy goods using a third party agent such as PayPal.
Standard delivery is usually cheapest. John Lewis charges £3.50 for orders under £50, for example. But it can take up to seven working days for goods to arrive. For quicker orders you’ll have to pay more.
Some retailers, including Ikea, Sainsbury’s and John Lewis, run a ‘Click and Collect’ service. This lets you order goods online and pick them up from a store.
If you change your mind about an online order, you have 14 days to inform the seller as per the Consumer Contracts Regulations. You then have another 14 days to return the item.
You should be refunded the cost of the item plus standard delivery charges. You usually need to pay postage to send it back unless the item was faulty, though some retailers offer free returns labels.
When shopping via marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay, where many sellers are based overseas, it could prove very expensive if you need to return something.
The 14-day cooling-off period does not apply to goods bought from individuals, such as private sellers on eBay. Perishables, personalised and digital items are also typically exempt.
If goods arrive faulty or damaged, you have 30 days to return them for a full refund. If you find a fault within the first six months, the retailer should offer you a repair or a replacement.
Stick to retailers you know. The City of London Police takes down almost 1,700 fraudulent websites every month, and warns that fraudsters ramp up their activity ahead of busy shopping times such as the lead-up to Christmas.
If the price is too good to be true, it usually is. Genuine websites will have reviews from past customers. But these can also be faked.
Watch out for consistent spelling errors or reviews that sound like an advert. And check there is a UK address and returns policy, too.
Standard delivery is usually cheapest. John Lewis charges £3.50 for orders under £50, for example. But it can take up to seven working days for goods to arrive
Some retailers allow customers to order by telephone, although lines could be busy ahead of Christmas.
John Lewis says shoppers can call 03456 049 049. The Body Shop also accepts orders by phone on 0800 092 90 90, but says some products may not be available.
Jewellery retailer Pandora is taking orders on 0808 234 5431, while Angling Direct is running a ‘Call and Collect’ service at 30 of its stores.
Post from home
If you want to wrap and send your gifts from home, Royal Mail will now collect up to five parcels from your doorstep. The service costs 72p on top of normal postage costs. You must book before midnight for pick-up the next day.
Other couriers offer similar services — you can compare costs at myparceldelivery.com and worldwide-parcelservices.com.