With the cost of living crisis putting pressure on household budgets and Black Friday just around the corner, it’s likely many will be trying to be more savvy when shopping online.
With a bewildering array of websites and apps all claiming to offer the best products and services at knock-down prices, here are Which?’s top tips for saving money while shopping online.
1. Compare prices effectively
It’s worth checking multiple shops for the best price before making a purchase. Websites such as Google Shopping, PriceRunner, PriceSpy, Kelkoo and, for Amazon products, CamelCamelCamel, can help compare product prices. They work best if you’ve already narrowed down your search to specific items and models.
2. Get the most out of the sales
When bargain hunting in the sales, Which? suggests shoppers set a budget and keep a list of any particular items they’re after, and their current price. This means if they go on sale, shoppers will know exactly how much they’ll be saving, and whether it’s really a bargain. If items sell out quickly, it might be possible to sign up for alerts for restocks. For example, BackInStockAlerts.com monitors websites such as Amazon and Asos and sends an alert when a particular item is back in stock. It is also worth checking whether the retailer has an app or scheme you can sign up to, as many offer early access to sales. For example, those with the Zara app can often get early access to its sales.
3. Use discount codes
Many sites offer ‘exclusive’ and ‘verified’ voucher codes for popular retailers, but they’re not always as good as they first appear – so it’s worth checking the terms and conditions to ensure you’re getting a genuine deal. Browser extensions, such as Pouch and VoucherCodes DealFinder, can help by automatically searching for relevant vouchers as you shop, and applying them at checkout.
If you’ve got your eye on a particular purchase, it is worth signing up to the retailer’s mailing list for exclusive discounts – from introductory offers to personalised codes that appear in your inbox if you leave items in your shopping cart. You could even create a secondary email account so that your usual inbox doesn’t get full of offers. Plus, you can always unsubscribe from the marketing list after you have the discount code.
4. Pay with the right card
Shoppers could earn money back on some purchases using a cashback credit or debit card. They typically offer between 0.25 and 5 per cent on purchases, which might not seem like much initially, but it adds up over time. American Express Platinum Cashback and Platinum Cashback Everyday credit cards currently offer the highest cashback rates, but be aware that not all retailers accept Amex. Alternatives include the Lloyds Bank Cashback Credit Card, or Santander All-in-One Credit Card (this has a £3 monthly fee). Cashback credit cards can charge high interest rates for borrowing, so if you use one, make sure you pay off your full balance each month.
If you prefer to use a debit card, Chase’s current account offers 1 per cent cashback for the first 12 months. It is also worth checking for offers with your existing card providers – you might be eligible for rewards that you didn’t know about.
5. Look for second-hand options
Buying second-hand is an easy way to save money and doesn’t cost the planet. Not only can you find pre-loved clothing and shoes, but you can often find second-hand laptops, games consoles, furniture and home products, too. Sellers might be selling an unwanted gift or something they’ve barely used for cheaper than the market price. It is worth looking on online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon Refurbished, or apps such as Depop and Vinted. Shoppers could also sell their old clothes online to make up for the cost of buying new ones.
6. Snap up ex-display products
High street shoe chains Schuh and Office both have specialist websites that sell reduced, ex-display shoes that may have minor signs of wear-and-tear. Which? found big brands including Birkenstock, Adidas and Timberland available. Office Offcuts sells ‘end of line, ex-display and last pairs of shoes’ and all stock is new, while Schuh Imperfects says shoes may have scuffs, discoloration, and other ‘individual quirks’. Elsewhere, it’s also possible to buy ex-display furnishings and even kitchens and bathrooms. If you are thinking about buying a more expensive second-hand item it’s worth checking the product in person before purchasing, so you can make sure it isn’t damaged – as private sellers aren’t legally obligated to draw attention to defects.
7. Know your return rights
For online shopping, the Consumer Contracts Regulations give you 14 days from when you receive most purchases to decide whether to keep them or return them for a full purchase price refund. You then have a further 14 days to send the items back. There are exceptions, including personalised items and products bought from some non-UK sites. Even where the regulations apply, you may not get delivery charges refunded and returns may not be free. Retailers are always expected to refund standard delivery charges, but don’t have to refund express or nominated day charges.
Be aware of online retailers changing their return policies. Earlier this year, Zara introduced a £1.95 fee for online returns to designated drop-off points, having previously covered this for free. It still allows free returns in-store, as many high-street retailers do, but this isn’t always viable. Always check returns policies before buying online, to avoid pricey or impractical options. If an item is faulty or not as described, under the Consumer Rights Act you’re entitled to a full refund within 30 days of receipt, including delivery or return costs.
8. Earn while you spend
Shoppers might be able to claim cashback on their purchases via sites such as Quidco and TopCashback. Retailers may offer cashback as a fixed amount (up to £50 on fridges, for example) or a percentage of the purchase – anything from 0.5 to more than 20 per cent. However, be aware that you’ll need to use the cashback site’s link for your purchase to be counted. What’s more, cashback is not guaranteed, and could take months to reach your account. It’s still important to compare upfront costs first, as even the most generous cashback offers may not compensate for a high headline price. If you’re set on buying an item anyway,cashback is an added bonus.
Danielle Richardson, Which? Money Expert said:
“As autumn begins, many of us will be scrolling through online shops for winter wardrobe essentials, or even making a head start on Christmas shopping. No matter what you are in the market for, there are ways to keep costs down and earn money as you shop.
“It’s always worth checking a few retailers to make sure you have the best price, as well as searching for discount codes – you can often sign up to retailers’ mailing lists for exclusive offers. You could also see if the item you want to buy is available second-hand- it will often be the fraction of the price of buying brand new.”
Notes to editors
- Over the coming months, Which? is highlighting free and useful money-saving advice every Monday to help consumers manage the ongoing cost of living crisis.
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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