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Should you avoid the retailers and buy direct this Black Friday?

To find out, we shopped around for a new laptop to see what benefits you can get by going straight to the manufacturer

Big high street brands make the biggest noise around Black Friday, but even if a deal looks unbeatable, buying direct has its own benefits, and could save you more money.

It would seem to make sense – we’re always told that cutting out the middle-man is a good way to save, whether you become project manager for your own home renovation or ditch your accountant for some invoicing software. Even mattress companies are getting in on the act, selling us a comfy night’s sleep without ever having to tempt us into a store, therefore saving themselves (and, allegedly, us) cash. 

To dig deeper into the pros and cons of each approach, we got shopping – and set out to find a shiny new laptop.

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Laptop deals: brands versus retailers

All major laptop brands have online stores for the UK market – although many of the things we found are equally relevant to other tech and home products.

To run our little shopping experiment, we chose some of the most popular laptops on which.co.uk for each of the biggest six brands, looked at the best price from online or high street retailers, and also checked the best price on each manufacturer’s website. We also made a note of other factors that might affect your buying decision.

Acer Swift 1 (256GB)
Currys £499 Acer website £429
Free delivery, pay nothing for six months, Six month Spotify trial, click and collect 10% discount (voucher code), five colours available, free delivery
Asus VivoBook S530FA
Ebuyer (online only) £704 Asus website £699
One colour, next-day delivery £5.98 Four colour choices, free delivery
HP Stream 14 (AMD A4)
Currys £239 HP website £229
Free delivery, click and collect, three colours available, one year of Office365 Three available colours, 48hr free delivery, one year of Office365
Dell XPS 13 9380 (i7, 512GB, UHD screen)
John Lewis £1,599 Dell website £1,649
Claim up to £125 rebate, two-year guarantee, free delivery, click and collect, two cheaper options available down to £1299 (Core i5 processor) Two cheaper models available down to £849 (i3), mode up-to-date model also available (XPS 13 9381), ‘estimated ship date’ of November 5, free delivery
Lenovo IdeaPad 330S 14
Box (online only, one branch in Birmingham) £329 Lenovo website £299
Free delivery Free delivery, ships in two business days.
Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro
Currys £1,155 Apple website £1,299
Free delivery, click and collect, various specifications available, £150 laptop trade-in offer Next-day delivery available, click and collect from Apple Store, fully customisable specifications (although this affects delivery time)

Data correct 31 October 2019

Retailers and brands vary by price and benefits, and this will also change by the day as companies vie for your hard-earned cash. What our study does show, though, is that it’s well worth checking both, as a special offer at one may trump the other. Similarly, if a retailer is showing long delivery times or doesn’t quite have the specification you want, you may find exactly what you’re after with next-day delivery. 

Top benefits of shopping direct

Wide choice of specifications: You might find that the brand itself has more variety on offer than a particular retailer. This was certainly the case with laptops – Dell, Lenovo and Apple are particularly good at offering a variety of specifications for all their products, including those that simply aren’t available anywhere else. This means you’re less restricted – it’s easier to get a more powerful, pricier model if you need it, or save money by plumping for a lower specification. 

Voucher codes: While retailers might work harder to advertise big sales, brands have their own benefits, and these don’t always come in the form of money off. Dell, Lenovo and Acer in particular almost always have some sort of voucher code active. And, usually, this voucher is displayed on every single page of the website, making it impossible to miss. These can include 10+% discounts, free goodies and expedited delivery, depending on what’s in season. Of course, retailers play their own discount games as well, but it’s just worth remembering that the manufacturers can undercut retailers because of this. 

Direct support: Let’s not get this confused with ‘good support’, but at least you know with a manufacturer you should have the inside line with support staff who have direct information about all the products they sell. This should also come in handy if you encounter a problem and need to invoke your warranty.

Benefits of shopping through retailers

Easier to try things out (and return things) in-store: The high street is still ideal if you want to get your hands on products before you buy, and an online-only experience will never replace that. It’s also appealing to be able to return something in-store – you’ll get an instant refund and won’t have to worry about return postage costs, and finding time to visit the post office.

Trade-ins are often better at retailers: If you’re shopping for something that is tied to a trade-in scheme, retailers often have better deals, both online and on the high-street. For example, Currys PC World and Laptops Direct are quite generous, with the former offering a guaranteed £150 on any eligible laptop when you buy a MacBook.

Delivery man with package

Bigger discounts: While it’s certainly possible that you can get a better price going direct, retailers looking to get your attention during sales periods can offer some pretty big discounts, and frequently compete with each other on price. To be on the safe side – check both, and if there’s not a lot in it, consider the other sorts of benefits described here.

Stay tuned to Which? in the build up to Black Friday, and in the meantime check out of guide to the best Black Friday deals on the latest tech.

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