Bag a Brexit bargain...Tips on how to shop smartly online and what to watch out for
As if we needed any further proof that shoppers are moving from the main street to online, Retail Excellence Ireland has confirmed that internet sales are up 27pc this year compared with last.
How much of it is down to better value or laziness, the Luas works and Brexit? Time will tell, but as online activity increases, so does the potential for scams and delivery problems.
Huge apologies for mentioning it in September, but Christmas is only 13 weeks away. If you're planning on getting bargains, now is the time to start shopping.
You'll have deliveries in time for returns (if necessary); you can spread out the cost, cash in on sterling being so low and, even if you're firmly staying local, there's no feeling quite as smug as having all your presents wrapped and ready to go on December 1.
This week I'm looking at how to shop smartly online, what to watch out for and what your rights are.
Pay in pounds
From a high of €1.32 before last June's Brexit vote, to a floor-thumping €1.09 today, the British pound is probably the only consolation we Irish will get from the whole mess.
If you're shopping online in the UK, it's absolutely vital to visit only those sites that allow you to buy goods in sterling. Never assume that stores are offering the same exchange rate as the bank; they almost certainly are not.
If you shop in euro, you'll pay whatever rate they choose. Select sterling as the currency, and it's your own bank that makes the conversion, which will be at today's rate plus a fee for converting from foreign currency (usually around 2pc of the purchase price to a capped limit).
The table shows a selection of items from popular websites that allow Irish shoppers to buy in sterling.
You can see the massive difference between what they charge if you buy in euro. This is because of the uncertainty of the currency; the retailers are building in a "bump" in case it reverses. You, the shopper, are being charged for it.
So although Asos, which is a super fashion website and very popular here, allows shopping in euro and sterling, the internal exchange rate is €1.34 for every £1. By letting your bank make the conversion, you'll pay €1.09 (or today's rate) plus an exchange fee.
Getting parcels from UK sites is normally straightforward, though check the postage and shipping price. It's important to add this on so you can check if it's a bargain.
Some UK sites ship only to UK addresses. To get around this, many Irish consumers sign up to Parcel Motel (parcelmotel.com) or An Post's Address Pal (addresspal.anpost.ie). This re-routes the package from the UK to one of their depots or your nearest post office. The fees are around €3.50 to €6 for the service, depending on size.
Submitting your credit card information online is always risky, but it's increased if the retailer isn't based in Ireland. The UK is still part of the EU, so your rights come under EU regulations (see below).
Always ensure the "padlock" symbol appears on payment screens, but better still, only buy off known, trusted sites or via PayPal. Never allow your card data to be retained by the site, handy though this may seem.
If the delivery doesn't arrive, or it's not what you thought, don't worry. Your consumer rights are even stronger online than they are in shops, but only within the EU.
You have the right to change your mind with online purchases, as long as you return them within 14 days (you'll have to pay the postage).
You should get a refund quickly. If the package doesn't arrive within the specified time (or 30 days), or is damaged, complain though the customer service option online.
Keep all receipts and correspondence. If you don't get any satisfaction, you can contact the European Consumer Centre (eccireland.ie) and it will chase it up with its counterpart in the UK.
Outside the EU
It's really dodgy buying goods online from outside the EU. You have no consumer rights at all, so take extra care.
Often the "bargain" is not all it seems, as there may be extra VAT or customs duties payable when the item arrives. It won't be handed over until these are paid.
Buying from China is particularly fraught. Customs can add a "counter-veiling" charge which can double the price of the goods, so be wary.