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Online shopping: Which? tried and tested tips to save money

Written by: Danielle Richardson
Households are feeling the effects of the cost-of-living crisis, but with Black Friday and Christmas fast approaching, shoppers may feel pressured to spend. Here are eight online shopping tips from consumer champion Which?

1) Compare prices effectively

Check multiple shops for the best price before buying anything. Websites such as Google Shopping, PriceRunner, PriceSpy, Kelkoo and, for Amazon products, CamelCamelCamel, can help you compare prices on products.

2) Sale shopping

When bargain hunting in the sales, set a budget and keep a list of any particular items you’re after, as well as the current price. This means if they go on sale, you’ll know exactly how much you will be saving, and whether it’s really a bargain.

If items sell out quickly, consider signing up for stock alerts. For example, 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 a retailer has an app or scheme you can sign up to, as many offer early access to sales, such as with Zara.

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.

You could create a separate email account so your usual inbox doesn’t get full of offers. Plus, you can always unsubscribe from marketing lists after you’ve received the discount code.

4) Use the right plastic

Consider using a cashback credit or debit card which typically offer between 0.25-5% on purchases, which might not seem like much initially, but it adds up over time.

As an example, the American Express Platinum Cashback and Platinum Cashback Everyday credit cards currently offer the highest cashback rates. However, not all retailers accept Amex. Alternatives include the Lloyds Bank Cashback Credit Card, or Santander All-in-One Credit Card (£3 monthly fee).

One thing to watch is that cashback credit cards can charge high interest rates for borrowing, so make sure you pay off your balance in full each month.

If you prefer to stick to debit cards, Chase’s current account offers 1% cashback for the first 12 months. Or check for offers with your existing card providers – you might be eligible for rewards that you didn’t know about. As an example, Santander currently offers up to 15% cashback when spending at a host of retailers, by switching on deals via online or mobile banking then spending on debit or credit card as normal.

5) Second-hand options

Buying second-hand is an easy way to save money. It is worth looking on online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon Refurbished, or apps such as Depop and Vinted.

6) 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 possible to buy ex-display furnishings and even kitchens and bathrooms. However, if you’re thinking about buying a more expensive second-hand item, it’s worth checking the product in person 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 14 days from when you receive most purchases to decide whether to keep them or return them for a full 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 may be able to claim cashback on 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%-20%.

However, be aware you’ll need to use the cashback site’s link for your purchase to be counted and remember cashback isn’t 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, think of cashback as an added bonus.

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