What to buy and how to shop smart in the sales
Top sales shopping tips
By Ellie Simmonds
Article 5 of 7
Tempted to pick up some bargains in the sales this year? These 14 tips will help you stay ahead of the mayhem and shop like a pro.
Before you plunge into the pandemonium of sales shopping, use expert advice to get ahead of the game.
Our top tips for savvy sales shopping will give you the advantage over the crowds. Whether you’re heading out on foot or taking on the frenzy online, we’ll make sure you’re as prepared as possible.
1. Preparation is the key
If you know what's going to be on sale beforehand, it's easier to check if it's a good offer or not. Sign up for your favourite retailers’ newsletters, ‘like’ their Facebook pages and register for Twitter alerts, as they’ll be keen to publicise their best deals.
2. Find out whether retailers will match prices
Some retailers, such as John Lewis, will match prices on deals (but usually not with online only stores, such as Amazon or AO.com).
Most other shops don't have price-matching policies, but may agree to refund the difference if you challenge them about a price drop soon after you’ve bought something.
3. Sign up for online accounts with the biggest retailers a few days in advance
Make sure you’re signed in to your account before you start shopping. Consider pre-entering your payment details and shipping details and saving them to your account so you can complete purchases quickly.
Increased traffic can mean that websites slow to a crawl on busy sales days like Boxing Day, so you'll want to get in and out as quickly as possible.
4. Research the products you want beforehand
It's no use grabbing a bargain if the product's no good. Sales season often sees shoppers battling over items we wouldn't recommend at all. In 2016, nearly one in five (18%) Black Friday shoppers didn't read any reviews of the products they bought beforehand.
It pays to do research. We've got lab test results for thousands of products on our website, so use our reviews to find out which products are best for you and your budget.
5. Research prices online before hitting the shops
There are useful web tools you can use to check how much a product has actually been sold for previously.
CamelCamelCamel, for example, provides price history for products sold on Amazon.
6. Be wary of unusual brands
Samsung and Sony are known for their TVs, but what about Polaroid and Blaupunkt? Dirt cheap deals are everywhere at sales times, but just because a TV has 4K and HDR plastered on the box doesn't mean it's going to have as good a picture as a Best Buy model.
We're not saying every brand you've never heard of is bad, but there's a reason why some are household names and some only ever crop up in a sale. The odds are, if we haven't reviewed devices from a certain brand then they aren't worth buying.
7. If you're shopping for tech, know the lifecycles
Most technology, including smartphones, TVs and tablets, is released on a one-year cycle, so you only need to wait 12 months before there's a shiny new device to get excited about.
Big tech companies will do their best to tempt you into buying their latest release, but the forgotten device celebrating its first birthday could still be more than adequate, and it's also far more likely to be on sale.
8. Make a list of different retailers selling the same product
The rush in activity at peak sales times can cause websites to crash and retailers to run out of stock. If this happens while you're trying to buy a product, having a pre-prepared list of stockists will mean you can try others so you don’t miss out.
9. Create a wishlist
Some websites, including Amazon, let you set up a wishlist for all the things you want to buy. Having everything in a list makes it easy to see when the price drops, which is especially useful during sales periods, when big websites will be flooded with deals for things you don't want.
Rather than trawling through every product on sale, you can click in to your list to see whether anything you have your eye on is on offer.
10. Check whether retailers will let you buy online and pick up later
Some retailers, such as Argos, will hold your product for seven days. This means you can go and collect it after the sales shopping crowds have dispersed and avoid paying delivery fees.
11. Start your sales shopping early
While high street shops might not open their doors until after breakfast, online deals usually go live at the stroke of midnight.
If you're planning on hitting the high street on during the sales, remember the best deals are likely to be snapped up quickly - especially big-ticket items. Make a note of opening times for different shops as they may open earlier than usual, and plan which shops you want to visit in order of priority.
12. Use your smartphone
If you're planning on braving the high street for sales shopping that doesn't mean you need to neglect the online stores. As long as you have a data connection on your smartphone you can be on Amazon and in Currys at the same time. Having access to websites means you can reference prices to make sure you're getting the best deal in store.
Don't forget that you can use the Which? reviews app on Android and iOS devices to quickly look up product reviews, too.
13. Check the returns policy
Just in case you regret your sales purchase, double-check what the retailer's returns policy is for sale items before you buy. You can only return non-faulty goods for an exchange or refund if the retailer has a returns policy - almost all shops do, but they're not required to by law.
If what you've bought is faulty, that's a different matter. You have 30 days to reject it and get your money back. Find out more about your rights in the Boxing Day and January sales.
14. Look at the price, not the 'saving'
Don't assume a deal is worth it just because it has a big, attention-grabbing saving. Offers like ‘was £100, now £50’, in our experience, exaggerate the discount you're actually getting. We found 13% of sale shoppers in 2017 didn't research the prices of their products at other retailers before buying. Find out how to check if a special offer is genuine.