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Sales pricing secrets: we reveal the best and worst times to buy

Which? tracked the prices of popular products across major retailers for a year to find the best time to bag a bargain

A year-long Which? investigation tracking the prices of 32 popular products at five leading retailers has found that prices varied by as much as 50% – and often outside popular sales times such as Black Friday.

We wanted to expose the secrets behind the pricing of popular tech and home gadgets to find out if consumers can trust the sales, and whether Black Friday really is the best time to buy.

Although our investigation shows that it’s right to take some sales with a pinch of salt, it also reveals that there are ways for even the most cynical of shoppers to make savings.

Find out more about how to shop smartly in the sales.

What’s the best time of the year to buy popular products?

Sales pricing is dynamic and fluctuates year-round. It’s worth looking out for genuine discounts at any time, but our investigation did point out some trends for popular products. Buying at this time doesn’t guarantee that you’ll pay the lowest price, but does mean you’re more likely to pick up a real bargain.

Best products to buy on Black Friday

Our investigation tracked prices at Amazon, AO.com, Argos, Currys PC World and John Lewis, from June 2017 to June 2018. We found that some products followed clear patterns, some were good bets to buy during popular sales such as Black Friday and the pricing of others fluctuated more unpredictably.

Here, we reveal some of the best home appliances and tech gadgets to look out for this Black Friday on 23 November.

TVs

All three TVs in our investigation showed a downward price trend across the year. Most new TVs are launched between April and June, and tend to reach their lowest price around eight months afterwards, which conveniently fits into the Black Friday and Christmas sales. And prices can drop rapidly and significantly. Take the LG 43UJ630V. Its price varied between £549 and £319 across the year at Amazon alone. At Currys PC World, it dropped from a maximum of £629 to £328. The biggest drops were during the summer, so you may want to avoid buying a newly launched model during this time. See our Best Buy television reviews to make sure you’re shopping for a top-notch model.

Apple AirPod headphones

These maintained a consistent price of £159 at all the retailers we had data for, except for a short period around Black Friday where they dropped in price before returning back to the original price soon afterwards. Generally, people buying Apple products don’t shop around, because Apple products are typically not discounted as frequently or heavily as other brands, and are known for fairly consistent pricing across the year. Experts speculate this is likely to be because of low retailer margins and that Apple products are usually so popular they don’t need discounting. See our Best Buy headphones to see if Apple makes the grade.

Smart speakers

Promotional periods such as Black Friday, Christmas and the January sales seemed quite significant in triggering price drops for smart speakers. Our data covered the Amazon Echo Dot (2nd generation) at Amazon and Currys PC World, and the prices we analysed for the Echo Dot indicated evidence of price-matching between the two retailers. Similarly, the Google Home appears to have been price matched between the two retailers we had price data for: AO.com and Currys PC World. Check your purchase against our list of Best Buy speakers.

What should I be wary of buying in the sales?

We found many examples of products where pricing was far more unpredictable and didn’t seem affected by major sales periods.

Fridge freezers

Fridge freezers are often ‘distress purchases’, bought in a hurry after a breakdown. If you’re not in a rush, most new models are launched in the spring or summer, so this can be a good time to buy an older model. The three popular fridge freezers we looked at showed large fluctuations in price. Argos, Currys PC World and John Lewis each had the lowest mean and the lowest minimum price for one of the three fridge freezers we had pricing data for. Just make sure your purchase appears on our list of Best Buy fridge freezers.

Printers

The spring months were a good time to buy the three popular printers whose prices we followed in our investigation. All three reached the cheapest price between April and June. This is most probably down to the school/academic year coming to a close, but also that older models are being phased out in time for the upcoming releases in manufacturers’ ranges. Amazon is a good retailer to turn to for buying a popular printer. It had the lowest mean price for two of the three models we looked at. See all our Best Buy printers.

Vacuum cleaners

Prices of the three cordless vacuum cleaners we looked varied between higher prices and lower prices on a fairly regular basis, and they are often ‘on sale’. While the popular sales periods of Black Friday, Boxing Day and they new year weren’t a bad time to buy, they weren’t always the best and, indeed, the spring was as good a time as any to buy. Browse our Best Buy cordless vacuum cleaners.

How do prices vary between shops?

We found that Amazon adjusted its prices much more frequently than any of the other retailers we looked at. It also offered the lowest prices more often than other retailers for products in our investigation.

John Lewis came in second place for the highest number of cheapest products. In our investigation, Amazon was the most competitive on pricing for consumer electronics such as cameras, fitness trackers, kettles, electric toothbrushes and TVs; John Lewis was generally cheapest for household appliances such as cordless vacuum cleaners and ovens.

Our investigation showed that Currys PC World had the highest number of the most expensive prices. It’s worth noting that our sample size was relatively small and selective. There were occasions where our data source, PriceRunner, couldn’t supply prices for every day of the year. And, of course, it’s not just about price. We ask thousands of shoppers every year about the shops they use, so find out more about the best and worst shops.

Savvy sales shopping tips

So how can you successfully navigate the complexity of pricing and know when an item on sale is worth buying?

  • Shop around: But also bear in mind that it’s not price alone that you should factor in to your decision. Check the overall level of service you get from the retailer, from delivery to the after-sales service and product guarantees.
  • Don’t rush: Don’t feel pressured to rush to the sales.
  • Do your research: Check prices across two or three retailers before you make a purchase, look for the ‘Where to buy’ tab on our online product review pages for detailed pricing information, or use a comparison site such as PriceRunner.
  • Check product reviews: Read around before buying. And while it can pay to wait for discounts, remember that prices can also move in the other direction.

Not happy with a purchase? Read our guide to your consumer rights for returns and refunds

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