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Is it really a bargain? How to shop in the sales

4 min read

Is it really a bargain? How to shop in the sales
Shopping in the sales feels like a savvy way to spend. Lower prices naturally equal money saved. Right? Well yes it can, but not always. So is it really a bargain?
Sadly there are tricks deployed by retailers that make it appear you’re getting a bargain during the sales, when really you’re paying far more than you need to.
So how do you tell between the deals and the non deals? If you follow my tips below you’ll hopefully be on the right track.

1. Don’t get caught in the hype

Black Friday sales sign
The big sales like Black Friday bombard us with so many different sales at so many different retailers. So much so it’s often presented as the best time of the year to snap up bargains. And then it’s easy to just get caught up in the hype and spend when you don’t need to. Don’t!

2. Only buy what you don’t need

The same can be true all year around. We’ve all seen that item in a shop where the size of the discount or the low price seems too good to miss out on. So we snap it up before we miss out. But then we get home or it arrives via courier and we don’t really need it. At best it might be used a few times, but it could easily stay in the wardrobe or at the back of a cupboard.
Or you might have been tempted to buy a much higher specification that you actually need—at a much higher price—simply because we’re dazzled by the size of the discount.
"Create a list before shopping, in person or online, of the things you need to buy"
So despite the savings made on the full price, it’s actually a huge waste of cash.
The best way to avoid this is to create a list before shopping, in person or online, of the things you need to buy. You can even have a “need” list which you add to regularly, allowing you to focus your shopping during the sales. I’d also encourage you to unsubscribe from emails from shops that you find tempt you to spend each time they notify you of a special offer.
And avoid “doom scrolling” through all the deals on sites like Amazon. There are endless products all seemingly reduced, and the more you look at, the more likely it is you buy something on impulse.

3. Check it’s actually a discount

Illustration of shopping going into a bag
Just because you can see a “before” price and a reduced price, it doesn’t actually mean the difference is what you’re actually saving. The recommended retail price (RRP) is just that—a recommendation. Shops don’t have to sell it at that if they don’t want to. Which means if that price is the one they’re using as a benchmark to the sale price you could be misled.
In fact, whatever they say is their usual selling price, it’s not necessarily even what the items were on sale for in the previous days, weeks or even months. Ultimately the retailer must have had it at that higher price for a reasonable amount of time, but that’s open for interpretation.
In an Advertising Standards Authority ruling this year, they found a bike repair kit listed as 60% off was never actually sold at the full price. But I’m sure many shoppers thought they were getting a great deal.
"One way to find out what the real 'previously' price of a product was is to use a price history website"
Similarly, the ASA ruled against a mattress sale where the item was reduced for 51% of the year, and only at full price for the remaining 49%. So yes it was available for much of the year at the higher price, but it was available at the lower price for even longer!
This is a common trick where the higher price is only used in order to justify saying an offer is running. Think certain bottles of wine in the supermarket which always seem to be on sale! In these cases the true price is actually more likely to be the reduced one.
One way to find out what the real “previously” price was is to use a price history website. These tools track the ups and downs of tens of thousands of products, letting you get a feel for whether the price on offer right now is actually any better than at other times in the past.
For Amazon you can use uk.camelcamelcamel.com, while for other retailers my pick is PriceSpy.co.uk. You can also use Trolley.co.uk to do the same for supermarkets.

4. Time when you buy

Just because there’s a sale running with a lower price, it doesn’t mean it’s the best time to buy. If you can wait, those price history tools are a great way to get a sense of any regularly occurring price variations.
Certain items will have a life cycle too. Christmas cards and decorations are bargains in January. TVs tend to be at their lowest prices in the early summer when the newer models are released. You’ll pay less for a fan, garden furniture or BBQ in early autumn. While spring is the best time to pick up a winter coat or boots. There is a risk though that you’ll have fewer options, or even miss out, so this is only a tactic for non-essentials.

5. Compare prices now

Sales shopping bag and balloons
Assuming you do need to buy it now, and you’ve checked the price you’ve seen is actually discounted on the normal price, there’s another step you can take.
Very simply you need to hunt around for the best prices. Google will give you some quick results, but you can use PriceSpy or Idealo to see more retailers.
Remember to factor in delivery costs, and look for any cashback or voucher codes that can bring the price down even further.

6. Check for alternatives

Finally, even if you think you’ve got the best price out there—or at least one you’re happy to pay—it’s worth checking you’re not overpaying still when compared to similar products.
"You could get cheaper alternatives that do the same job by ditching premium brands or looking for second hand"
There may well be cheaper alternatives that do the same job but cost less. It could be ditching premium brands, looking for second hand or trying a different but similar style. 

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