Friday 14 December 2018

How to stop the Grinch ruining your Christmas shopping spree

Your spending on gifts could leave you more out of pocket than you expect if things go wrong - so do your research, writes Louise McBride

Your spending on gifts could leave you more out of pocket than you expect if things go wrong
Your spending on gifts could leave you more out of pocket than you expect if things go wrong

There are now only 23 shopping days to Christmas - and many of us will spend more on gifts and goodies over the next three weeks than we do at any other time of the year. At this expensive time, it's important to ensure that your money is well spent - and that you're covered if things go wrong.

Here are some rules of thumb which should keep you on the right track.

Know where you stand on deliveries to venues outside your home

Third-party delivery services, which allow you to get items delivered to depots or other collection points near your home, are often popular with online shoppers in the run-up to Christmas. These services, which include the likes of Parcel Motel and An Post's AddressPal, can be handy - particularly if you are not at home during the week to accept packages or parcels. (They can also often deliver directly to your home.)

Third-party delivery services can work out much cheaper for delivery than standard post or couriers and can also help you buy items which are available cheaper elsewhere - particularly if ordering something from the UK. Some items which are available to buy online for example are only delivered to UK addresses but Parcel Motel and AddressPal can often be used to get such items delivered to a pick-up point in the Republic of Ireland, which you can then collect them from.

Handy as such services can be though, you may not be fully covered if something goes wrong en route - such as damage to, or the misplacement or theft of your order.

"The responsibility of the seller ends once the item ordered is received by the third-party delivery service," said Aine Carroll, director of communications and policy with the consumer and competition watchdog, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). "People often don't realise this until things go wrong. The third-party delivery service you have used might only accept liability up to €100 if an item is damaged. So you could find yourself seriously out of pocket."

Before using third-party delivery services to deliver your order, understand that you are entering into two separate contracts - one with the online retailer, and one with the delivery service. Once the online retailer has delivered the item to the delivery service's warehouse, the online retailer has fulfilled its contractual obligations and your contract with the delivery service company begins, according to the CCPC. So it is wrong to assume that the retailer's responsibility for the quality of an order will carry through until you actually receive it. "If a good is faulty, or something has happened to it en route, sometimes it's hard to know in whose hands the item was in when the fault occurred - and who is responsible for that fault," said Martina Nee, spokeswoman for the Irish consumer body, the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland.

Therefore, check the terms and conditions of any third-party delivery service you are planning to use, particularly if ordering expensive items. Find out what liability cover, if any, the delivery company provides for lost, damaged or stolen items. These companies are not obliged to provide you with any liability cover, according to the CCPC. Check if you can buy insurance from the delivery company to increase the amount you are covered for should something go wrong.

Give cash instead of gift vouchers

Gift vouchers are a popular choice of Christmas present. However, the person you buy a voucher for could find it impossible to redeem it because the rules around how and when a voucher can be used may be very strict - particularly if it's an airline gift voucher. Many people have run into difficulties using airline gift vouchers to buy a flight because the name on the voucher was wrong. "The name which goes on the voucher has to be identical to someone's passport name," said Carroll. "There's a specific difficulty there as you may not know what someone's passport name is."

So if you are planning to buy an airline gift voucher for someone, find out what their passport name is and be sure to use that exact name and spelling on the voucher. Remember the first name that you associate with an individual might not be the exact name on their passport. For example, if you know a person by the name of Jimmy and put that first name on the airline gift voucher, the individual won't be able to use the voucher if the first name on their passport is James.

Some airlines (such as Aer Lingus) allow the name on a gift voucher to be changed after you have bought it. Others, however, aren't as flexible. Ryanair's gift vouchers are not transferable and must be used by the person they're issued to.

Read the terms and conditions of any gift voucher you are planning to buy - and understand how easy, or difficult, it will be for the recipient to use it in full. Buy a voucher with a long expiry date - or ideally, without any expiry date at all. Find out if the recipient of the voucher will be hit with fees if he doesn't it use up within a certain time. For example, although One4All gift cards don't expire, there is a monthly inactive fee of €1.45 which kicks in after the first year and which applies to money on the card which is not used up within the first 12 months.

Know where you stand up North

The weak sterling is likely to encourage more shopping trips to the North in the run-up to Christmas. Sterling hasn't reached parity with - and is still stronger than - the euro though.

This is worth remembering if planning some Christmas shopping in the North because you might not save as much as you expect to. Remember, too, that as the UK isn't due to leave Europe under Brexit until the end of March 2019, you still have the same consumer rights in the North this Christmas as you would if shopping anywhere in the EU. "Since the Brexit referendum, we have heard that some UK traders are claiming that EU legislation doesn't apply to them," said Nee. "This isn't true. For the time being, you are covered by EU consumer legislation in the UK." Therefore, if you buy something in the North and find there's a fault with it when you come back home, you are still entitled to a repair, refund or replacement - depending on the fault.

Don't fall for a scam

People are often more susceptible to scams in the run-up to Christmas - particularly if they have left their gift shopping until the last minute and are therefore in a rush to buy. The ECC is warning shoppers to be on the alert for a recent 'supermarket' scam - where they receive fake text messages claiming to be from a supermarket.

"The message will tell you that you are one of a small number of lucky shoppers who has won something - such as a phone worth €999 which you can get for €3," said Nee. "But you could end up in a subscription trap if you fall for it." These scams will typically ask for your personal and bank details. Never hand over such details following unsolicited contact. The ECC knows of a case where a woman who was duped by this scam had €3 taken from her account initially for the 'discounted' phone - followed shortly afterwards by another €44. "The woman then got onto her bank and stopped any more money being taken from her account," said Nee. "Be careful about any unsolicited messages which you receive."

Don't shop on your smartphone either. "Smartphone shopping can lead to impulse buying and purchases you wouldn't have made if you did your research properly or from your desktop computer," said Nee. "You can't do much research on your smartphone."

 

christmas shop saving tips

 

CHECK OUT LOCAL DEALS

Watch out for promotions and offers in Irish stores in the run-up to Christmas as you may be able to some gifts for half-price. Debenhams, for example, has a number of discounts running in December including half-price designer womenswear and 15pc off beauty products on December 3. It also has a 50pc discount on sleepwear on December 7, 50pc off partywear on December 8, and half-price Tripp luggage on December 11. Eason’s three-for-the-price-of-two mix and match promotion will run this month. Some of the best-sellers included in this promotion include new books from Jodi Picoult, James Patterson and Michelle Obama as well as books from some popular children’s authors. You might still be able to grab a deal under a Black Friday promotion in early December as some stores still have such offers running. Curry’s PC World, for example, is running its Black Friday offers until December 5. Some of the store’s Black Friday offers include a Canon Powershot SX720 Compact Camera for €239.99 — down from €429.99; and a 50-inch LG Smart 4K Ultra HD LED TV for €449 — reduced from €699.

 

COMPARE ALCOHOL PRICES UP NORTH

A shopping trip to the North could cut the cost of your Christmas alcohol bill, but this will depend on exactly what you’re buying. A one-litre bottle of Baileys Original Irish cream for example was priced at stg£12 (€13.50) in Asda, Northern Ireland in late November — compared to €24 in Tesco in the Republic of Ireland. Do your research beforehand though as certain drinks may not be that much cheaper up the North than they are at home. A 70cl bottle of Smirnoff red label vodka for example was priced at stg£14 (€16) in  Sainsbury’s and Asda in Northern Ireland in late November — Tesco in the Republic is charging €17 for the same bottle (only €1 more).

 

SHOP AROUND TO GET BEST DEAL

You could save €100 or more on gifts by shopping around, depending on the number of presents on your Christmas list. Price differences can be substantial. For example, Lego’s Harry Potter Hogwarts Great Hall is tipped to be one of the most popular Christmas toys this Christmas. This toy was priced at €119.99 in Argos in late November; but €99.99 in Smyths.

 

AVOID PRIVATE SELLERS ONLINE

Be careful if heading to online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon to try find something cheaper than on the high street. You may be able to source cheaper toys or gifts online, including ones which are used but described by the seller as almost new. Should the reality be different when the item arrives at your home, and you’re unhappy with the qualify of the item as a result, you could run into trouble getting your money back or getting any redress — if you’ve bought from a private seller. “Consumer legislation doesn’t apply if you buy from a private seller,” said Martina Nee of European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland. Find out if delivery and custom charges will apply too when ordering online. “When shopping within the EU, traders are obliged to inform you of the total cost — including tax and other charges,” said Nee. “But traders based outside the EU don’t have this obligation. Be aware that just because a website address ends in dot.ie or dot.co.uk doesn’t mean that the trader is based within the EU.”

 

Christmas shop saving tips

CHECK OUT LOCAL DEALS

Watch out for promotions and offers in Irish stores in the run-up to Christmas as you may be able to some gifts for half-price. Debenhams, for example, has a number of discounts running in December including half-price designer womenswear and 15pc off beauty products on December 3. It also has a 50pc discount on sleepwear on December 7, 50pc off partywear on December 8, and half-price Tripp luggage on December 11. Eason’s three-for-the-price-of-two mix and match promotion will run this month. Some of the best-sellers included in this promotion include new books from Jodi Picoult, James Patterson and Michelle Obama as well as books from some popular children’s authors. You might still be able to grab a deal under a Black Friday promotion in early December as some stores still have such offers running. Curry’s PC World, for example, is running its Black Friday offers until December 5. Some of the store’s Black Friday offers include a Canon Powershot SX720 Compact Camera for €239.99 — down from €429.99; and a 50-inch LG Smart 4K Ultra HD LED TV for €449 — reduced from €699.

COMPARE ALCOHOL PRICES UP NORTH

A shopping trip to the North could cut the cost of your Christmas alcohol bill, but this will depend on exactly what you’re buying. A one-litre bottle of Baileys Original Irish cream for example was priced at £12 (€13.50) in Asda, Northern Ireland in late November — compared to €24 in Tesco in the Republic of Ireland. Do your research beforehand though as certain drinks may not be that much cheaper up the North than they are at home. A 70cl bottle of Smirnoff red label vodka for example was priced at £14 (€16) in  Sainsbury’s and Asda in Northern Ireland in late November — Tesco in the Republic is charging €17 for the same bottle (only €1 more).

SHOP AROUND TO GET BEST DEAL

You could save €100 or more on gifts by shopping around, depending on the number of presents on your Christmas list. Price differences can be substantial. For example, Lego’s Harry Potter Hogwarts Great Hall is tipped to be one of the most popular Christmas toys this Christmas. This toy was priced at €119.99 in Argos in late November; but €99.99 in Smyths.

AVOID PRIVATE SELLERS ONLINE

Be careful if heading to online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon to try find something cheaper than on the high street. You may be able to source cheaper toys or gifts online, including ones which are used but described by the seller as almost new. Should the reality be different when the item arrives at your home, and you’re unhappy with the qualify of the item as a result, you could run into trouble getting your money back or getting any redress — if you’ve bought from a private seller. “Consumer legislation doesn’t apply if you buy from a private seller,” said Martina Nee of European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland. Find out if delivery and custom charges will apply too when ordering online. “When shopping within the EU, traders are obliged to inform you of the total cost — including tax and other charges,” said Nee. “But traders based outside the EU don’t have this obligation. Be aware that just because a website address ends in dot.ie or dot.co.uk doesn’t mean that the trader is based within the EU.”

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