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Black Friday deals: how to avoid wasting money

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Check you are getting a genuine bargain

Do not assume everything that purports to be an offer is as special as the retailer wants you to believe. Every year the consumer group Which? looks at the truth behind the advertised bargains, and it generally finds that only a small number of products were at their cheapest on Black Friday. In 2019, for example, only 1% of the items it price-checked were genuinely on offer; everything else was available at a lower price in the six months before or after.

“Time and time again, we’ve found that Black Friday isn’t necessarily the best time to pick up a genuinely good discount,” says the organisation’s home products and services editor, Lisa Barber. However, she adds: “Those prepared to bide their time and do a bit of research should be able to cut through the hype and find a good deal.”

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute says sellers sometimes raise prices before a sales period to make it look as if they are offering a great deal on the day.

It suggests using a price-checker website to see what something you want to buy has cost in the past. One is CamelCamelCamel, which shows the highest, lowest and average price for items selling on Amazon. Another that covers other online retailers too is Pricespy; as well as showing historic prices it compares current offers on a range of websites.

If you plan to visit a shop to seek out a specific item, do some checks before you go. Retailers are not obliged to tell you how much things have cost previously, so it is down to you to make your own comparison.

Be wise to marketing tricks

View image in fullscreenIs the item you want really at its cheapest in the Black Friday sale? Photograph: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Retailers have a number of ways to make you spend in haste that may leave you repenting at leisure; knowing what they are can help you avoid falling into the traps. One commonly used trick is creating a sense of urgency. “This is when we will encounter lines like ‘10 more to go’ or ‘hurry up while supply lasts’ and can occur online or in physical stores,” says the marketing agency Sortlist. “Most consumers would unwittingly choose such items because they believe it is now or never.”

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Another trick to make you feel like you need to make a quick purchase is a message telling you how many people are looking at the item you are browsing. This makes you think that it is highly prized and may be about to run out – remind yourself that many of them are unlikely to go on and buy it.

Have a list of things you want

You may need new clothes, or have things that you know you want to buy other people as gifts. Write a list you can stick to, and do some research before the sales start. For instance, says Sarah Pennells, a consumer finance specialist at the finance firm Royal London, if you want a TV, make sure you know what features you want it to have. “Some shops use Black Friday as a chance to offload old or unpopular stock,” she says. You are less likely to get caught up in the moment and buy something that isn’t quite right if you have a clear idea of what you are looking for when you start shopping.

As well as having a clear list, Pennells advises having – and keeping to – a budget “whether you’re paying now or later”. If you are using “buy now, pay later” at the checkout she says: “Don’t get too optimistic about what you might be able to afford to pay: Christmas is expensive, and something could go wrong – your boiler might break down in January, say, and you will have less money than you expect.”

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Ask yourself if you need it

View image in fullscreenDo some research before the Black Friday sales start. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

“Don’t buy something because it’s cheap,” Pennells says. “If you don’t need it, don’t really want it or you can’t afford it, it’s just a waste of money.” If in doubt, she suggests that you think of things in terms of how long it will take you to pay for them: if the cost is equal to two days’ work rather than two hours’ work, that might make the decision about whether you need something a lot clearer.

Read the small print about returns

Some retailers have been cracking down on serial returners and have introduced charges for sending things back, so do not assume you will not end up out of pocket if you get buyer’s remorse and decide to send things back. The risk of getting things wrong could be fees to cover the p&p for the return. For example, Uniqlo charges £2.95 on return shipping, while if you want to send something back to Cath Kidston you will need to pay the going rate for the delivery method you choose.

Most items are returnable and you will get back the full cost: retailers have to provide a 14-day cooling off period during which you can cancel a purchase and get a refund. But there are some things that are not covered by this rule, including perishable or customised items. So think twice before you order a monogrammed Christmas cake.

Unsubscribe to emails now

If you have ever signed up to a retailer’s mailing list you have probably already received at least one email telling you about its Black Friday sale.

Few of the deals being plugged are likely to be for things you want but the cleverly written marketing blurb and the headline savings shouted from the subject line could easily lure you into having a look just in case there is something you want to buy.

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Put temptation out of your way by deleting it and unsubscribing to the list.

View image in fullscreenDon’t fall for the marketing blurbs on emails. Photograph: Tero Vesalainen/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Avoid scammers

Purchase scams – where people pay for items or services that never arrive and probably never existed – are a growth industry at the moment, with several big banks reporting double-digit increases in the number of their customers falling victim. According to Lloyds, the average sum lost is £190.

Make sure that your Black Friday bargain is not an illusion by using trusted retailers and visiting their sites directly – rather than through unsolicited links. Think twice if a seller asks you to pay by a bank transfer. Using a credit or debit card or PayPal will give you extra protection if something does go wrong.

Don’t buy anything

Of course the way to really be sure that you do not waste any money is to not spend any. As well as those who simply ignore all the hype, there are people in 50 countries who actively mark Buy Nothing Day each year. This year the UK campaign group has produced posters urging people to resist shopping. The aim of the campaign is to encourage people to think about the downsides of consumption, and promote ethical and sustainable shopping choices. “The message has always been simple, ‘Shop Less, Live More,’” the UK website says. “Twenty-one years on, the message couldn’t be any simpler: we need to consume less! Recycling is good – reducing is better!”