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5 Dec 2021

Five ways to shop small and buy better

Find out how to avoid over-shopping this year, while helping local businesses and keeping an eye on your carbon footprint

We know from years of Which? research that many winter bargains aren't as attractive as they first seem. So is it worth forgoing the shopping frenzy and seeking out smaller, independent shops and more sustainable shopping instead?

Since it caught on in the UK around a decade ago, our enthusiasm for Black Friday has grown exponentially. According to Statista, shoppers spent £7.95 billion over the 2020 Black Friday weekend.

Offers now appear weeks in advance, and continue well into December.

But not only can the deals sometimes be duds, the winter shopping rush can also add to your environmental impact.

If the rush for bargains is leaving you cold, here are our tips to ensure you don't end up regretting a purchase, plus some alternative ways to shop.

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Research ahead of a purchase

There are always deals to be found if you know where to look. But there are also pitfalls, so it pays to do your research and know what you want before you start spending.

The Which? experts have been hard at work identifying which discounts are the real deal, and which are duds.

Head to our winter sales insider's guide to find out more about how to spot if a deal is real and for our expert shopping tips.

Or head to our tailor-made guide to the best deals in the December sales.

We've also calculated how much you'll pay in ongoing energy costs for key appliances. Head to our guide to how to use our new running costs tool to make sure you aren't buying a cheap product that ends up costing you in the long run.

Only buy what you need

With so many retailers offering attractive discounts, there's a risk that we snap up bargains without considering whether we'll really make use of them.

Buying things we don't need contributes to a throwaway culture and a rise in landfill waste. A shiny gadget that's never used, or a half-price outfit that's never worn, is not a bargain - it's a waste of the energy and resources that went into making it.

But if you do need to replace an essential item, or are working through your Christmas present list, there's no harm checking discounts to find a good deal on something you know you'd buy anyway.

Spend your money where it makes a difference

So, if you know what you need and are sure it's the right choice for you, then where will your money make the most difference?

2021's Black Friday weekend spending was forecast to rise to £9.42 billion (Statista).

Spending just some of that cash in local, independent shops could make a real difference to small business owners. Buying locally made, sustainable goods can also reduce the need for shipping, and avoid packaging waste.

Here are four ways to turn your shopping green:

1. Support small businesses

Small Business Saturday is another campaign that encourages consumers to shop local and support small businesses in their communities.

Its Small Business Finder lists retailers taking part and is searchable so you can find shops near you.

Small Business Saturday is supported by American Express, which runs regular promotions that reward Amex cardholders when they spend in participating small shops.

Amex Shop Small 2021 runs from 4-15 December. If you're a cardholder, look out for the offer and add it to your card.

2. Visit your local high street in person or online

Independent high-street retailers need our support more than ever. Having survived closure during lockdowns, many still face lower footfall as people continue to work from home and shop online.

Smaller retailers often sell local, handmade, and sustainable products that you won't find in chain stores or big online shopping sites.

Even if you can't shop in person, there are online options too. Many independent shops have their own website or social media page, or a presence on online marketplaces.

Try Click It Local, a virtual high street selling everything from food, fashion, and gifts, to electronics and DIY. It allows you to buy from multiple independent businesses in one place, make one payment and have one consolidated delivery.

Or Trouva, which lists independent bricks-and-mortar boutiques and excludes online-only sellers. It's Europe-wide, but you can limit your search to the UK, or find shops near you.

3. Try specialist online marketplaces

For unique handmade items, online marketplaces featuring independent sellers are the place to go.

Perhaps the most popular of these is US-based Etsy, but not everything you'll see is handmade or made locally. Production may be outsourced to factories, so check listings carefully, and use the filter options to find local sellers and handmade or vintage items.

With a reputation for high-end products, Not on the High Street currently lists only UK-based sellers and is selective about who can join. Shoppers can search for items that are made in Britain and/or are eco-friendly.

The smaller Folksy describes itself as the 'home of British craft', while relative newcomer NuMonday also provides a platform for UK artists and makers. Both list only UK-based sellers.

While such platforms are a good way for small businesses and craftspeople to reach a wider audience, they all charge various monthly fees, listing fees, or commission, which reduces the amount the seller receives.

If you can buy direct from the seller's own website or shop, more of your money goes directly into their pocket.

4. Look for our Eco Buys

Our researchers have been hard at work testing appliances to determine which products are the most energy efficient and long-lasting, as well as being Best Buy performers overall.

So if you're shopping for one of the following, have a look through our Eco Buy reviews to find out which we've deemed to be the greenest on the market. Plus, because they'll last a long time and use little energy, they'll also save you money in the long run.

Look for Eco Buys in our reviews of:

We'll be rolling out Eco Buys in even more product categories in the coming months.