How to make the most out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

By Marianne Curphey

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For anyone looking to get some good deals in November, Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer some real bargains - or do they?

The event has changed in recent years from a one-day shopping spree to a series of deals that run from the start of November until Christmas Eve. Because of that, there's maybe more pressure for retailers to entice you to shop on the last Friday and Monday in November.

Even if you don't race to stores or online to shop, you're still doing a tonne of purchasing in a short period of time - and retailers are busting out all their best moves ahead of the holidays.

With so many sales and deals in your face, it can be easy to make some shopping mistakes along the way - buying from dubious websites, overspending because you didn't price compare, falling for scams.

Here's how to make the most of your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping.

1. Don't panic.
What's important is to keep your perspective during the rush of Black Friday and not be "preyed upon in our moment of desperation to grab a great deal", says Simon McCalla, chief technology officer at Nominet, which manages internet domain names.

You might see ads on websites or even in stores claiming, "one day only!" or "last chance!" These "warnings" might spark a sense of urgency and panic that you might not be able to find your potential purchases again.

Many shoppers become wrapped up in the sales-weekend fever and make purchases that are not actually deals at all, said Scott Clarke, chief digital officer and global consulting leader for retail, consumer goods, travel and hospitality at IT company Cognizant.

However, remember that because "Black Friday" now lasts several weeks, you'll likely still be able to find a good deal on your items the next weekend.

"Try telling someone else about a deal you've found if it feels a little too good to be true," McCalla says. "Sharing removes the emotional reaction and could help you think more clearly."

2. Watch out for fake sites.
Fake websites often put out "deals" around this time, Clarke said, "which means consumers risk faulty transactions, putting their payment details in danger or getting locked in for multiple additional payments that they did not see within the small print."

"To avoid this, shop directly through a brand's owned and operated digital channels and physical stores, or through a reputable high street retailer," Clarke said.

Also, research deals in advance, Clarke said. Not just what the deal is, but how valid it is.

Danielle Clements, consumer lawyer at Gorvins Solicitors, says if you receive an unsolicited email from a retailer and you click through, you need to be aware that it could be a phishing email and the website may not be genuine. However, she says, there are a number of ways you can verify the deal.

"Does the deal look too good to be true? Check the email address - does it come from a genuine retailer, or is it a strange and unfamiliar email address?" she says. "Has it got the correct domain name? Be alert if the website doesn't quite read property, you can't click on links properly, or there are photos of products missing."

It's more important than ever to be diligent when shopping online.

"You are now 20 times more likely to be robbed at your computer than in real life," McCalla says. "As we move closer to Black Friday and Christmas, criminals will maximise their opportunity to manipulate your last-minute shopping rush."

While looking for a bargain, you might ignore the warning signs that a website is not genuine, or feel pressured into buying quickly.

"Scammers also promote a sense of urgency and often have detailed information about us, which again fosters a false impression of authenticity," McCalla says.

3. Compare prices in advance.
Sophisticated software now enables online retailers to change prices in response to supply and demand. Although there certainly are significant discounts on Black Friday, you'll have a better idea of exactly how good a deal is if you know how much items originally cost.

Bear in mind that some retailers may use Black Friday as an opportunity to shift old stock or obsolete products by discounting them heavily, so check that the item on sale is the version that you want.

Consumers also can keep track of price variations on Camelcamelcamel.com, which is an Amazon price tracker and price drop alert service. When you input the item you are looking for, the website will show a history of its price going back 12 months.

If you shop with your credit card, you may be able to take advantage of price protection, which will refund you the difference if the price of an item drops within 60 days of purchase. Check your card's terms and conditions to see if it offers this protection. 

4. Be alert for scams.
A survey by cybersecurity provider Radware found that of 200 retail executives from around the world, only 32% said they were confident that they could secure sensitive data, such as credit card numbers.

If the data were breached, 60% said they would be unable to track data once it leaves their network.

According to Action Fraud, which helps victims of financial crime, in 2016, victims reported losing over £10 million to fraudsters when shopping online for Christmas presents, and 12,142 people said that they had been a victim of online shopping fraud during the Christmas period.

On Black Friday specifically, 133 were defrauded on Black Friday, and another 115 fell victim on Cyber Monday.

5. Have a strategy.
Before you start shopping, research the products you want, read online reviews, ask the opinion of family and friends and calculate whether you want or need it.

To cite a holiday cliché: make your list and check it twice. You want to go in with a clear idea of what you want to buy and how much you want to spend, both per person and in total.

"Buying decisions can sometimes be difficult, as it's the busiest time of the year and many companies offer substantial discounts on key products," AO.com's director of customer experience, David Atherton, said in a press statement.

"My advice would be to have a strategy," Atherton said. "Impulse buys can be great and often lead to a bargain or two, but if you know what you're looking for, you're likely to stay within or even come under your budget."

Your rights when things go wrong
Clements says that when you are buying online from a UK company, you are protected by three types of legislation:

  • The Consumer Rights Act 2015 (which covers online and high street purchases).
  • The Consumer Contract Regulations 2013.
  • The regulations covering online and distance selling, which requires companies to be clear about delivery options, costs and returning items, and to provide a "cooling off period" of 14 days to return or cancel the goods.

"If you are buying from the high street, normally you would be entitled to a refund or repair to faulty goods within 14 days of purchase," she says.

"After that, you have 30 days to return an item for a repair or replacement, but not necessarily a refund. Buying online gives the highest level of consumer protection if goods are not right."

UK companies must display their returns policy clearly. They are not obliged to offer free returns, but many do as a gesture of goodwill.

Clements warns that if you are buying outside the UK, your protection is more limited, but if you pay with a credit card, you should be in the clear.

"If you pay with a credit card, the issuer can help you get your money back, and the credit card company will assist you if there is a problem with your purchase," she says. "They will refund your money and take up the dispute on your behalf." 

See related: Why we impulse spend - and how to stopSection 75 and third parties: when you aren't protectedAvoid buyer's remorse this holiday season

Published: 17 November 2017