Last-minute gift shopping? Top tips to avoid online Christmas present rip-offs
Changes in the sterling exchange rate and 'copycat' sites could catch shoppers out
With less than two shopping weeks to Christmas, those leaving it late are in danger of being ripped off in the dash to buy gifts.
"Traders can make a lot of their money on last-minute shoppers because the person is trying to get something as quickly as they can," said Fergal O'Leary, member of the consumer and competition watchdog, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). "Some traders prey on the idea that people are under [time] pressure."
Last-minute shoppers are more vulnerable to scams and rip-offs because they often let their guard down in their rush to buy something. This can be particularly the case with online shopping - because threats, additional costs and other problems are often not as visible as they are on the high street.
Here are eight rules to stop your biggest online shopping spree of the year from burning a big hole in your pocket.
1. Get a Christmas delivery guarantee
Late delivery is one of the biggest problems you could run into if you have left it until now to order your Christmas gifts online.
Under EU law, an online retailer based in the EU can take up to 30 days to deliver something to you - unless the business has agreed to deliver your goods earlier. In the run up to Christmas, a number of retailers guarantee to deliver before Christmas as long as you order your gifts before a certain date.
"You don't have to pay for your goods if you don't get them before Christmas if the business had promised to do so," said O'Leary. "You don't have to pay to send the goods back either."
Some retailers, such as Next, even allow you to keep your goods for free if it promised to deliver them before Christmas - but failed to do so. Should you be planning to buy something from a website outside Ireland, you could have less than a week to get you get your order in if you want it to arrive before Christmas Day. Indeed, it may already be too late to order now for a pre-Christmas delivery.
So before you order something online, check if the retailer can deliver to Ireland before Christmas and ideally, choose one that is guaranteeing delivery before then. Be sure too that the item you're ordering is in stock.
With amazon.co.uk, you must order before either December 18 or December 20, depending on whether you're paying for delivery or not.
With dell.ie, the last order date for products that are 'ready to ship' (as opposed to custom-built computers) is December 16. You may have already missed the last order date if buying a laptop or desktop. Should you have been planning to order something on forbiddenplanet.co.uk, you've already missed the last order date for delivery to Ireland before Christmas. Tomorrow is the last date to order something from bookdepository.com - if the item is being dispatched from Britain.
Even where a store promises to deliver before Christmas, that guarantee will not usually apply if delivery is delayed by extreme weather or the unavailability of a courier. Some retailers state on their websites that they cannot guarantee delivery before Christmas even if you have your order in on time.
"Ultimately, a retailer can't fully guarantee that something will arrive before Christmas - there may be a problem with a logistics partner or an error in the delivery," said David Fitzsimons, chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland. "But in the main, the vast majority of items will be delivered on time."
2. Check delivery costs
When ordering online, always check how much you will have to pay in delivery charges. An item might seem cheaper online than it is on the high street - until delivery charges are added on.
3. Beware 'copycat' sites
"Some websites are set up to look very similar to well-known sites - but they're 'copycat' sites," said O'Leary. "The URL might just have one letter different to the URL of the well-known site."
'Copycat' sites are fraudulent sites and so you'll typically lose money if you hand your card details over to them. "Don't put your credit or debit card details into a website without checking it out first," said O'Leary.
4. Use a price-comparison website
You won't have much chance to shop around if pushed for time so go to a site which has done it for you. Price-comparison websites such as pricespy.ie and compare.ie can quickly tell you where the best deals are - as long as the product you're after is on their website.
5. Beware the sterling exchange rate
The weak sterling has encouraged many Irish consumers to head to British online retailers for their Christmas shopping. You could however get caught out by movements in the sterling exchange rate should you have to return something you bought in the North or from Britain.
The European Consumer Centre (ECC) in Dublin has received a number of complaints from Irish consumers who have sought refunds for items bought from British online stores. "When they have gone to return the item, the refund offered was less than what they paid for it because of movements in the sterling exchange rate since they first bought it," said Martina Nee, spokeswoman for the ECC.
As the prices in British online stores are quoted in sterling, any refund will be offered in sterling too. Let's say sterling is weaker against the euro at the time you seek a refund than it was at the time you originally bought the product. You'll lose a bit of money when you convert your sterling refund back into euro if this happens because your sterling will buy you less euro than it would have at the time you bought the product. The inverse is also true.
There is little you can do to protect yourself against foreign exchange rate movements. However, if buying from a British online store, do what you can to avoid finding yourself in a position where you may have to seek a refund. Don't go overboard buying things you don't need - and only buy good-quality products.
6. Beware card charges
When buying within the eurozone, you'll be charged exactly the same as you would in Ireland to use your ATM, credit or debit card. However, you're charged more to use those cards if using them outside the eurozone - including in Britain and the North - and these charges can add up.
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7. Look for the CE mark
Inspect any products you have ordered online when they arrive in the post. Don't purchase any toys, electrical appliances, mobile phones or cosmetics unless you can find the CE mark. Otherwise, you could be buying an unsafe gift - and it could injure the individual you have bought it for.
The CE mark should appear on the product itself, in the instruction manual or on the packaging. Check the CE mark carefully as it could be a fake - and make sure too that you can find the manufacturer's name and contact details on or with the product. Avoid anything that looks very cheap online as that's an indication that it could be a fake.
"If you're seeing something going for half the price that it is anywhere else, you have to ask yourself if it is a fake," said O'Leary.
Counterfeit goods are illegal - and the Revenue Commissioners will seize any fake goods that it finds coming into the country. You will lose your goods and your money if this happens - and it is very unlikely that a vendor of fake goods will refund your money.
8. Know your tax
Be aware of the tax implications of buying online - particularly from a website which is based outside the EU. You usually have to pay 23pc Vat (value added tax) on the full value of the item if you order something online from outside the EU which is worth more than €22. Furthermore, if the item you order is worth more than €150, you will likely be hit with other import charges (such as customs duty and excise duty) as well. On top of the Vat and customs duty, you'll have to cough up a handling fee to An Post.
Sunday Indo Business