The Christmas shopping season goes into full festive mode this weekend as consumers across Ireland stock up on the best deals for presents, clothes and electronics.

An American shopping tradition, Black Friday in the States is something akin to the Stephen’s Day sales here, as the day after Thanksgiving queues would form from early morning for stores offering deals and discounts.

Like most things that travel across the water, Irish consumers have embraced the shopping day with gusto and more and more of us are looking to get the best deals online.

Five years ago, when it came to Black Friday shopping, 24% of Irish consumers did their shopping online. That jumped slightly to 31% by 2019 but when the pandemic hit that changed things considerably and a massive 52% decided to stay home and get their shopping delivered. Now that consumers have become more comfortable shopping online and given rising COVID-19 numbers, the world wide web will continue to be our favoured shopping destination. It’s important, however, to stay safe online and know your consumer rights when shopping for the best deal.

1 Shop local, shop Irish, shop Europe: In last week’s Irish Country Living, we wrote about how important it is to shop Irish and support European traders. This is more relevant than ever given the EU customs regulations that were introduced this July, which mean customs and charges now apply when shopping with any retailer outside the EU, including Britain.

However, you’ve also more consumer rights when shopping in Europe as you are protected by EU law. One of the big advantages is that retailers have to deliver your package within 30 days of your order being placed.

The morning this newspaper hits the shelves (Thursday 25 November) there are 30 days to Christmas Day, which means just about enough time for your goods to arrive or you are entitled to a full refund. Also, if a company commits to delivering something to you within a certain time period – seven days, for example – it must deliver within a week. If it doesn’t you get your money back.

Outside the EU, retailers can set their own terms and conditions, including their delivery and returns policy, and consumers have very little protection in this regard. This is especially relevant given delays due to Brexit.

Doireann Sweeney, head of corporate and stakeholder communications of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) also says: “Issues arise when a retailer outside the EU doesn’t play ball. If a consumer has a complaint about a retailer in France for example, we can work with our French counterparts to resolve the issue and enforce the rules. Outside the EU, that option is not available. Your right to redress if something goes wrong or an item is faulty is also not protected.”

2 Check the address: As a result, it’s important to check where a company is based. Doireann says: “Just because a website has a .ie address does not mean it is an Irish-registered business. You should also check that the website lists ‘contact us’ information, including a contact email address, phone number and geographical address.

You can also look for VAT numbers or company registration numbers as this information can be verified through government and EU websites. Reputable and legitimate companies will always list ways to get in touch with them, so if the website doesn’t have a “contact us” page, it could well be fraudulent.

Additionally, if the site does have a contact page but only offers a form to fill out, be wary.”

3 Pay securely: It’s also important to think about how you are going to pay. Credit cards and pre-paid debit cards are one of the safest ways of purchasing online as potential scammers don’t get hold of your bank account detail. They also provide an extra layer of protection as there is no direct withdrawal from your bank account.

Doireann says: “If you’re asked to pay cash on delivery or use an alternative platform to pay, especially if buying from a social media account that may not have their own website, be exceptionally careful. In fact, we would caution not to make the purchase as payments like this are harder to trace.”

When you go to check out, have a quick scan of the screen. At the beginning of the url there should be an ‘s’ after the ‘http’ and a padlock symbol in your browser’s task bar, which shows the website is secure (see example below). If it isn’t there, be very wary of proceeding any further.

4 Beware of rogue traders. As Paw Patrol and Nintendo Switch top the toy list this Christmas, be wary of items that are sold out everywhere but suddenly pop up on random websites, especially at discounted prices. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Rogue traders will be monitoring the market to see what the hot products are this Christmas and to offer a solution to desperate consumers. So do your research.

Watch out for poor English, such as spelling and grammar mistakes, or language that doesn’t sound right.

Also check reviews of the trader online and be wary if everything is positive. The reality is nothing is ever 100% and if all the reviews are five stars, there’s a good chance they are made up. Approach with caution.

5 Is it really a deal? According to the CCPC, of those intending to snap up a bargain, eight in 10 (79%) plan to carry out pre-sale research on prices to confirm that the retailer’s marked discount reflects the previous full price. This is a really good idea as is shopping around.

Doireann says: “Currently the law states that if a retailer has an item on sale, it should have been listed at the higher price for a ‘reasonable amount of time’. So it’s quite general, there is no set period.”

It is intended that these laws will be more specific in the future but for this Black Friday be consumer smart – don’t take things at face value, have a look around at other competitors, screenshot prices and check the specs, especially on electrical items.

Did you know?

When shopping online you have 14 days to get a refund on an item after it is delivered, even if you bought it in the sales.

Read more

Shopping locally is the best option this Black Friday

Black Friday bargains