Christmas will be different for all of us this year, for obvious reasons.
More of us will be shopping for Christmas online, whether to avoid the shops or because we won’t be travelling and want to send items directly.
What do you need to know to make the festive shopping a success? Our columnist Helen Dewdney, aka The Complaining Cow, provides all you information, advice and tips you need to know about shopping online this Christmas.
Online shopping rocketed throughout lockdown and there are signs that the upward trend is continuing as we head towards Christmas
With the high street shopping experience still not as it was, retail outlets are not seeing pre-pandemic sales levels.
Non-essential shops are shut in England’s lockdown, which ends on 2 December, most of the country will then go into restrictive Tier 2 and Tier 3, but shops will reopen.
Nonetheless, online shopping rocketed throughout lockdown and there are signs that the upward trend is continuing. When buying offline or online it is important to keep your wits about you and know your rights
And remember Black Friday may be tempting and there are certainly some good deals out there this year, but be warned. Research undertaken by This Is Money last year showed Black Friday sale items can be more expensive on the day of the shopping event. So make sure you have carefully price checked items before leaping in.
The gift card market is now worth about £7 billion a year in total, according to trade body for the gift card and voucher industry, the Gift Card and Voucher Association.
A spokesperson for the Association said: ‘Shoppers are spending their gift cards quicker than ever, with 98.6 per cent of UK shoppers spending their gift cards within a year and 50.3 per cent redeeming them within a month of receipt.
‘Whilst it may be more tempting than ever before to give gift vouchers this Christmas there are a number of things to consider particularly this year.’
1) Often it is grandparents giving children gift cards. They don’t like the idea of just giving cash and sometimes feel that if they hand over money in a shop it is more of a present than cash. However, remember that those younger children go out shopping less often than adults and currently are even less likely to do so.
2) You may find gift cards on auction sites. Useful guidance can be found on eBay’s Buyers Guide to purchasing Gift Vouchers & Gift Cards but be extra careful about verifying the authenticity of what’s on offer before buying.
3) Remember, your consumer rights stay the same. If the item your recipient buys with the card is not of satisfactory quality, not as described or didn’t last a reasonable length of time, then under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 they can take it back within 30 days for a full refund.
After that time a repair or replacement may be offered. But they will get refunded using the method by which they paid, so the money will go back onto the gift card.
4) Give the receipt with the card and tell the recipient to keep it in a separate place to the card.
If they lose the card they will still have the details so that if they act quickly enough the store may be able to cancel the card. But in essence a gift card acts like cash. They can check the balance and with many companies also extend the expiry date.
5) It is a sad truth that we have seen many retail companies struggle this year and a number have gone into administration.
If your recipient has a gift card for a company that goes into administration it is unlikely that they will be able to use the card. They will at the bottom of a long list of creditors. Consider giving cash or an old-fashioned cheque.
And if your bank no longer issues cheque books, firstly complain and secondly find a creative way of giving the money. For example, transferring the money into your offspring’s account and asking them to put the cash in a card for your grandchild.
6) If you buy something online (or actually anywhere that’s not on the retailer’s premises) then under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, you can return the item(s) for a full refund. You have 14 days to notify the company and 14 days to return the item. Whether you pay return postage will depend on the company’s terms and conditions. (There are a few exemptions to this such as bespoke items). If it is in the company’s terms and conditions that you pay return postage this will be the case unless the item is in breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 as above, then it has to pay.
Consumer Fightback: How to get help with your problem
Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, writes This is Money’s Consumer Fight Back column.
Helen can help with your consumer complaints. She will explain how you can gain refunds, repairs, replacements or improved service with advice on how to complain and get results.
If you have a problem you need help solving, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with Consumer Fightback in the subject line, include a short paragraph about your issue – if we need more details we will get in touch.
Helen Dewdney, right, runs The Complaining Cow site and has written a best-selling book – she is here to help This is Money readers
If the company fails to act, she will then ask them why and what they plan to do.
Helen is the author of best-seller How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! and runs The Complaining Cow blog.
Find Helen on:
Youtube: Helen Dewdney
Online shopping and deliveries
As we expect another increase in online shopping, it is more important than ever to be aware of your rights regarding purchases and delivery when shopping for Christmas.
7) If you give the recipient a gift receipt then your rights of purchase transfer to the recipient. They can also use this to ensure their Consumer Rights Act rights if the item is faulty.
But this will need to be within 30 days of purchase, as after this time the retailer could offer a repair or replacement.
If the site states that you will receive the item by a certain date or you have paid for a delivery date and it arrives too late for to use, you can return it for no cost
8) Your contract is always with the trader. So, if the delivery does not arrive, or it arrives damaged, contact the trader not the courier and arrange for full refund and return at no cost to you.
9) Goods must be delivered within the time frame agreed with the seller. If one hasn’t been agreed (you have agreed a time frame if the listing supplies a time frame) the seller must deliver ‘without undue delay’ and at the very latest not more than 30 days from the day after the contract is made. After this time you are entitled to a full refund.
10) If the site states that you will receive the item by a certain date or you have paid for a delivery date and it arrives too late for to use, you can return it for no cost. This is because you did not receive the item with reasonable skill and care and you did not receive the service you paid for.
11) If the item is left in an insecure place which you didn’t nominate as a safe place to leave the item and it goes missing, then you are entitled to a full refund, as the service has not been provided with reasonable skill and care. A photo of the item on your door step is not sufficient evidence that you received the item.
12) Check where the item is being sent from. You will have the equivalent consumer rights if ordered from within the EU (at least until Brexit.) but not if it is ordered from outside the EU. A website domain name is not always an indication of where the company is based.
For example, a website address ending in ‘.co.uk’ doesn’t necessarily mean the company is based in the UK. There are tricks to spotting a non-UK site, even if it made to look like you are buying from the UK.
For example, if it only lists prices in US dollars or Euros. Check the quality of the English which may be poor and grammatically incorrect. Look at the terms and conditions for details of returns and the company’s registered address.
13) Check that the site is secure and bona fide to prevent any fraud. Don’t just click on the first site that comes up in a search engine query unless you’re sure where you’re going. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Paul Newton from Mental Theft is a magician and mind reader who helps consumers and business protect themselves from scammers. He says: ‘Check for https:// the s in there actually stands for secure.
If you click on the padlock you should be able to see their site certificate too’. Never click on a link in an email unless you are absolutely sure of where it has come from, as many scammers will send you to copycat sites that look the same as legitimate ones.
14) Research the company – check for online reviews and if you’re going to shop with a company that you already use offline then make sure you go to the same website address that they give out on their marketing materials.
Online shopping from an online marketplace
The modern version of flea markets, jumble and car boot sales? And just like anywhere else it is possible to fall foul of scams and sellers trying it on.
15) For any complaint regarding a marketplace purchase you will need to go through the platform’s process for complaining to an external seller. You may also find that the platform gives you additional protection but check the terms and conditions of any site.
Support independent retailers by seeing if you can use a service that buys from them. We explain how to buy online, support small shops and avoid Amazon this year here
16) If you are buying from an individual and not a business then the item needs only to be ‘as described’.
17) Use a payment system, such as PayPal, when purchasing items. This will give you cover if anything goes wrong with the purchase. Or use a credit card which will give you the ‘Section 75’ cover for items over £100.
18) Completing a credit card transaction through a third-party payment service means that the credit card provider and the seller are no longer in a direct relationship, so are not equally liable.
So, you do not have the credit card cover if you use a third-party payment service such as PayPal, Amazon Marketplace, Worldpay and Google Checkout.
Saving money when shopping
19) Use cashback sites such as TopCashback, Quidco and Kidstart (Kidstart cashback goes to your nominated child’s bank account). Sign up for free and use whichever one gives the biggest cashback. Be aware that some may not work with additional discounts, so don’t rely on this.
20) Make a list, even if it is just a list of names, budget and possible ideas. This will stop you panicking, overspending and buying unnecessary items.
21) Look out for discount vouchers and codes. There are numerous websites out there, just search for the store you are shopping from with the words ‘discount’ or ‘voucher code’ and look through a few.
But again, be wary of scam sites when searching in this way. For the bigger stores there’s usually something, even if it’s just a ‘free delivery’ code. Check This is Money sister website MailOnline’s discount code site here.
22) Support independent retailers by seeing if you can use a service that buys from them. We explain how to buy online, support small shops and avoid Amazon this year.
23) Look at the Google shopping tool to help you find other places which sell the items you are looking for.
24) For more tips when shopping in store on Black Friday see our Consumer Fightback guide to checking deals, returning items and what to do if something goes wrong
25) Use price comparison sites which aren’t just for financial products, such as Pricerunner and Idealo. These will cover the well-known and less known online stores for the prices being offered on the same item.
26) Sign up for emails to get the best offers first, many will email you early with discount codes, so you can use them before items go out of stock.
27) Don’t be tempted to buy the accessories with the item from the same place. When the pop up flashes ‘buy the batteries’ don’t do it just for ease. Any saving you make will get spent on the batteries, so buy them from somewhere else. Unless they are cheap, of course.
28) Keep an eye out for sites that are doing the research for you on where the bargains for Black Friday are likely to be. Put items in baskets. Go online and put things in baskets and don’t checkout.
Make a note of what stores you have done this with. Then, when Black Friday comes, take a look at all the online baskets and see who has what for the cheapest.
This way, not only will you have done all your research but you’ll be ahead of others shopping that day for popular items likely to go out of stock.
29) Check whether those Amazon deals are really deals. Use the Camel Camel Camel website which is a price tracker that provides ‘price drop’ alerts and price history for products sold by Amazon.
30) Remember Price Promises are not always all they are cracked up to be. John Lewis, for example, does not price match online prices.