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Early elf or last-minute Santa: how late do you leave Christmas shopping?

Almost three in five people delay Christmas shopping for presents to a month before the holiday, according to new Which? research.

Early elf or last-minute Santa: how late do you leave Christmas shopping?

One in four only start buying their Christmas presents a few weeks before the big day but most people don’t have a preference between buying gifts online or in-store.

And one in 10 don’t buy Christmas presents at all.

We asked more than 1,300 Which? members about their Christmas shopping habits and found most people started shopping about a month before at the end of November – potentially making the most of Black Friday sales and a long leeway for online deliveries.

Almost one in 10 buy their Christmas presents throughout the year.

How many of your Christmas shopping rights do you know? Put your knowledge to the test.

Christmas shopping online or in-store?

In the survey of Which? members, we also asked about where people preferred to shop – online or braving the crowds and queues in-store.

Across the age groups we surveyed – except those aged 45 to 54 years old – most people didn’t have a favourite between shopping on the high street or online.

For those in the 45-54 year old age bracket, the preferred shopping method was online (42%).

Why online?

We asked what people liked about gifts online and found 59% liked getting the presents delivered right to their door, 54% enjoyed avoiding the crowds and 53% found there were more options.

People told us they liked shopping online because:

‘I have a problem doing much walking and online helps.’

‘I’m elderly in a rural area with no shops or public transport.’

‘I like to have them delivered directly to the recipients.’

‘I can’t stand ‘Christmas music’ being played from Guy Fawkes night onwards.’

‘Online is good for ideas and price comparisons to give me confidence I’m getting a good deal.’

Which online shops are the best and worst rated? Find out the results of our survey.

Why in-store?

We also asked what people preferred about shopping in-store and found 84% liked to see the items in person, 51% liked touching the items and 43% liked visiting independent retailers.

People told us they liked shopping in-store because:

‘I like to help small local businesses rather than large international web based companies.’

‘I holiday every year in Hong Kong and buy high-priced gifts there for my family.’

‘It gives me ideas as I walk round.’

‘I don’t use online shopping if I can possibly avoid it. On the whole it is bad for the environment and for jobs.’

‘If you buy from a national chain, those receiving the present can return them easily at their local store if they don’t like it.’

Early elf or last minute Santa? Pros and cons of shopping late vs early

Hunting for presents closer to Christmas can sometimes mean more stress battling crowds, not having a full choice of options and dealing with late deliveries.

But it also has its advantages – especially when it comes to exercising your consumer rights if something goes wrong with your purchase.

Which? managing director of Home Products and Services, Alex Neill, said: ‘There are pros and cons to leaving your Christmas shopping until the last minute.

‘While shopping early means avoiding the crowds,those who leave things later or make purchases online may enjoy better return rights.

‘Retailers will be pulling out all the stops this Christmas so consumers should make sure they know their return and refund rights to avoid losing out.’

The extremely early elf – more than six months before – 1%


  • You can take your time and find what you want for the best price.
  • You can take advantage of end of Christmas sales, but make sure the retailer is following the sale rules, for example it has to show how much you’re saving – a sign can’t just say ‘Sale £10’.
  • You spent the money so long ago, come Christmas it will almost feel like they’re free!


  • As you’ve bought the gift more than six months’ before Christmas, if the recipient opens it and finds a fault has developed you’ll have to prove it was faulty when it was you bought it (which shouldn’t be hard if it’s just been sitting unused in its box hidden on a shelf).
  • The retailer can make a deduction from any refund for fair use after the first six months of ownership if an attempt at a repair or replacement is unsuccessful.

Your rights if your Christmas present is faulty.

The summer shopper – four to six months before – 2%


  • You can take advantage of any summer sales on winter goods.
  • Your gift will definitely have been delivered in time!
  • You’ll have lots of time to return it if it’s not what you expected.


  • When you gift the item at Christmas, you’ll still be within the faulty goods window of six months when it’s easier to get it sorted. But you’ll have to give the retailer the opportunity to repair or replace the faulty gift – you can choose which option you’d prefer. If that’s unsuccessful, you can then opt for a refund.

The autumn organiser – 2 or 3 months before – 22%


  • You’re still within the six month faulty goods window.
  • You’ll keep your stress levels low by being organised.
  • You can use free shipping and still have your presents delivered in time.


  • You might see the item at a lower price in the Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales.
  • You might not be within the time of the retailer’s goodwill returns policy where they’ll accept back unwanted gifts for an exchange, refund or credit note.

One month left opportunist – end of November – 31%


  • If you start your shopping towards the end of November, you’re well-placed to take advantage of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
  • If your loved one doesn’t like or fit your gift, you can probably take it back to the store in return for an exchange, refund or credit note. Check the shop’s returns Ts and Cs (usually on your receipt) for that store’s time limit.


  • If you buy a gift online, by December 25 you’ll be just outside the window to cancel your online order if your loved one doesn’t like it.

What do you need to take with you when you return an unwanted gift?

Last-minute Santa – a few weeks before – 26%


  • If you hit the shops, you’ll get to enjoy the Christmas festivities (and maybe a few mince pie samples!)
  • To try entice you in-store, a lot of retailers will likely be having sales.
  • If you buy within 14 days of Christmas and find out your loved one doesn’t like their gift which you bought online, you’re within the cancellation window.


  • You have to brave the crowds, if shopping on the high street.
  • You might run the risk of your present not arriving in time if you bought it online. But if you paid for it to be delivered by Christmas and it wasn’t, the retailer is in breach of contract and you can cancel for a full refund if you’d like.
  • All your Christmas expenses will come out of one paycheck.
  • You might run the risk of some gifts being more expensive.
  • You might run into last-minute express delivery fees.
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