01.Plan ahead for the sales
Christmas is behind us, and the January sales are well under way. But there are all kinds of ways to end up getting a bad deal. Here's out top tips to ensure that you really get a bargain.
With a few basic checks, it’s not too hard these days to make sure the website you’re shopping on is legit. But online scams reached an all-time high in 2013, so it’s also not hard to get duped.
- Only buy from websites that encrypt your payment details. You can tell by the https:// in the address bar (instead of http://) and a small padlock symbol on the bottom right of the browser.
- If something doesn’t look right, click on the padlock to view the SSL certificate and check that the owner matches the online shop and that the certificate has not expired.
- If a website is unfamiliar, research the company, read buyer reviews, call the contact number, and check the refund, returns, privacy, delivery and guarantee policies.
- Always re-check that the domain name matches the website. For example www.cols.com.au might be a fraudulent copy of www.coles.com.au
- Do not use the same password for different sites, and create strong passwords with a combination of letters and digits.
- Have up-to-date anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-spyware software on your computer.
- Check the returns procedure, which should be easy to follow. There should be no additional costs involved in returning goods other than those specified.
It's a lot harder to chase up a virtual shop without a bricks and mortar address through consumer protection agencies like NSW Fair Trading or Consumer Affairs Victoria. So be extra cautious when shopping on lesser-known sites.
And when it comes to overseas sites, remember that Australian Consumer Law does not apply when you buy from a private seller and the goods are not sold in the normal course of commerce, or to goods purchased via auction at an online site such as ebay.com.au (as opposed to buying at a fixed price on eBay).
Bricks and mortar stores
Boxing Day and beyond is when many stores take drastic measures to offload inventory. There’s some great deals to be had, but proceed with caution.
- Make a list and divide it into "needs" and "wants"
- Check flyers and websites for the best offers before heading out to the sales, and be sure the offers are honoured at the store.
- Shop around. Just because something is on sale doesn't necessarily make it the best deal. Many shops are willing to price match. You can check for better prices while in store using your smartphone.
- Haggle, and you’ll have better leverage if you can pay cash.
- Don’t overspend. Be careful of interest-free deals that can cost you a whole lot of money on fees and charges. If you’re prone to racking up credit card debt, make sure you use a low-rate credit card.
Do you really need a gift card?
Some stores even offer discounted gift cards during the sales, so they get your money, even if there's nothing your want right now. If you do buy a gift card, look for:
- with no expiry date, such as those from Bunnings, Toys R Us, Ikea (Perth and Adelaide stores) and EB Games
- that can be used at a number of everyday stores, such as Coles group & Myer or Wish (Woolworths group)
- that can be tracked if they get lost.
Avoid cards with:
- a short expiry date (less than one year)
- conditions and restrictions (such as “can’t be used on weekends”)
- fees (the Australia Post Visa gift card, for example, charges a $5.95 activation fee, and $3.99 to call customer service.
Shopping for travel
If you’re booking online, check the fine print with care. Many airlines overwhelm you with lengthy forms, often prefilled to include unnecessary optional extras.
Our review found inconsistent approaches to opt-in and opt-out provisions such as travel insurance, car hire, checked baggage and carbon offsets. With Jetstar, for instance, we found that travellers had to specifically opt out of things like loyalty club membership, seat selection, and checked baggage.
And beware of travel review websites. If you’re going to make travel plans based on user reviews, a bit of due diligence can help prevent a regrettable holiday experience.
- Check reviews of the business from different sources.
- Keep an eye out for telltale signs of fakery, such as a sudden increase in positive or negative reviews over a short time frame that don't quite fit in with earlier reviews.
- Beware of reviews that appear to be submitted by different people but are suspiciously similar in tone and style.
- A one-star rating by a reviewer for a five-star hotel should be regarded with suspicion.
If you’re using TripAdvisor:
- Becoming a registered TripAdvisor user allows you to find out more about the reviewer and the hotel and be in a better position to check on the review's authenticity. You can opt out of being sent promotional material.
- Check the public profile of the reviewer to see what other reviews they’ve posted. Do their reviews seem balanced and consistent? You can also email the reviewer directly with questions about a specific property if you’re a registered user.