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Christmas Day is officially behind us, which for many shoppers means one thing: January sales. But how can you ensure you’re making genuine savings and not wasting money on phoney deals?
While the January sales are second only to Black Friday in discount lovers’ hearts, Which? has previously found that retail rollbacks aren’t always what they seem.
Here, we list 10 things to bear in mind before getting your credit card out, from avoiding fake reviews to understanding your rights when things go wrong.
1. Let Which? help you find the best January sales deals
Retailers aren’t always squeaky clean when it comes to ‘special’ offers. Luckily, at Which? we’ve got teams of experts who not only know which products are worth buying based on rigorous lab tests, but whether today’s sale price actually represents a genuine saving on what you’d normally pay.
We’ve rounded up the best January sales deals in different categories to help you get straight to the good stuff. Click the links below to find the best discounts according to our experts:
- Best deals in the winter sales
- Best laptop deals
- Best mattress deals
- Best TV deals
- Best washing machine deals
2. Make sure deals are genuine
Which? research has shown that many cut-price products are actually similarly priced or even cheaper at other times of the year.
Take our recent investigation, which found that a massive 99.5% of Black Friday ‘deals’ aren’t really deals at all.
But there are ways to check whether you’re seeing a genuine discount. Try websites like PriceRunner.com, PriceSpy.co.uk or, for Amazon, CamelCamelCamel.com to see a product’s pricing history at different retailers.
3. Research products before you buy them
We’ve found that retailer pressure tactics can lead people to make impulse buys they later regret. Rather than approaching the sales with an ‘I’ll see what I find’ mindset, you’re better off drawing up a list of items you actually want or need before seeing what’s discounted.
This approach should help stop you overspending, and it gives you a chance to look into the products you’re thinking of buying in advance. Read unbiased, professional reviews and check prices from a number of retailers before you put anything in your basket.
- Find out more: join Which? for access to our impartial reviews
4. Avoid fake reviews
Sadly you’re all too likely to come across fake, paid-for or misleading user reviews when shopping online.
Red flags include multiple reviews being posted around the same time, overwhelming praise and the same phrases popping up in separate reviews. You should also check if reviewers are verified purchasers, though this alone will not guarantee authenticity.
Read our guide on how to spot a fake review to find out everything you need to be aware of when looking at star ratings.
Listen: our experts discuss fake reviews on the Which? Investigates podcast.
5. Be wary of ‘buy now, pay later’
Online stores are increasingly promoting ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) options from firms such as Clearpay, Klarna and Laybuy.
While spreading out spending in instalments might not sound dangerous, we’ve found that shoppers often aren’t fully aware of the potential consequences. For instance, we’ve found BNPL companies can encourage overspending and potentially land people in debt.
Using BNPL schemes can even affect mortgage applications in some cases.
- Find out more: how BNPL firms encourage impulse buying
6. Earn cashback as you shop
Anyone using the post-Christmas sales to buy big-ticket items like TVs and laptops should take advantage of cashback offers when they pay to earn rewards.
Using cashback websites like Quidco.com and TopCashback.co.uk can earn you money for shopping online. You could also use a cashback credit card for the same thing – just make sure you pay it off each month to avoid being charged interest.
- Find out more: cashback sites explained
7. Always shop around
An item that’s discounted in one store could well be on sale for an even better price elsewhere, so it’s worth shopping around to find out where it’s cheapest.
If you’re shopping in store, just do a quick online check on your phone.
- Find out more: how to get the best price when shopping online
8. Watch out for unsafe products
If you’re shopping on online marketplaces like Amazon Marketplace, eBay or Wish, have your wits about you.
In a previous Which? investigation, 66% of the 250 products we bought from these websites failed safety tests. From so-called ‘killer car seats’ to flammable USB chargers, there are countless unsafe products available online that you’ll need to make sure you avoid.
- Find out more: how to avoid fake and dangerous products
9. Know your rights
Some retailers extend their returns periods around the festive season to give people more time to take back unwanted gifts. Checking a store’s returns policy before you buy something means you’ll know exactly when you’ll need to take it back if you want to.
Bear in mind that you have more rights when you shop online than in store.
10. Watch out for scams
Online scams have exploded during the pandemic, with most of us facing endless unsolicited texts, emails and calls from fraudsters trying to take advantage of uncertainty and the increase in online shopping.
For example, if you have a delivery on the way, that doesn’t mean every text about that parcel is authentic. Three in five people received delivery scam texts in the year to May 2021, with many scammers impersonating the Royal Mail. Some fraudsters claim you need to pay an ‘unpaid shipping fee’ and include a link for you to follow from where they’ll steal your money.
Watch out for the warning signs of a scam and do all you can to check a message is authentic before you click any links.
- Find out more: how to spot an online shopping scam