You are here

Charity advises 12 ways to be a 'savvy seasonal shopper'

Citizens Advice Scotland are urging Scots to be ‘savvy shoppers’ this Christmas, and have published 12 Tips for people to bear in mind as they hit the High Streets (or the mouse-button!)

The 12 Tips are launched by the CAB network across the UK, to mark Trading Standards Institute’s National Consumer Week (21-25 November).

Launching the Tips in Scotland. CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee says,

“All through this year Scottish CAB advisers have been dealing with people who are struggling to cope financially. With family incomes falling as prices rise, many people are finding it hard just to meet their normal household bills week after week. So Christmas shopping presents a particular challenge this year for many Scots.

“We all know the pressures of Christmas shopping. It’s all too easy to make the wrong decision about what, how and where to buy. Spending a few pence extra here and there might not seem like much, but it all adds up. Sadly, we have also found over the years that shoppers can be caught out if they don’t know their consumer rights – and mounting costs can mean some people start the new year in debt.

“It’s important to budget carefully, and also to compare prices and shop around for the best deal. But people also need to be aware of a shop’s policies for returning items. And it’s easy to get caught out on things you least expect: like parking charges because you went over the time you paid for.

“So we are joining with Citizens Advice colleagues across the UK to release these 12 tips which will hopefully help people avoid over-spending unnecessarily. We are aiming here to give consumers confidence so that when they buy their presents, they know what to do if it is faulty, and what questions to ask the sales assistant if they want to buy a gift but are unsure of the size.

“Some of these tips may seem obvious, but in fact we think it’s useful to have a comprehensive check-list to read through every time you set out to go shopping. We also think there will be some things here that people haven’t thought of. All in all, we want to make sure that people have a great Christmas and New Year – unspoiled by the worry that you’ve spent too much.”

For more information, interviews etc please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010 or 07774 751655.

NB This press release is issued to mark the launch of National Consumer Week (21-25 November). A similar release has been issued by our colleagues in Citizens Advice colleagues across the rest of the UK.


1. Make a Budget - and Stick to It!
It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but in fact how many of us actually do work out a specific budget, written on a piece of paper, and keep it with us as we shop? Why not try doing that this year? Christmas costs soon mount up, so managing your money is key.

2. Know Your shopping rights: all year round
Whatever time of year – be it Christmas or summer – the goods you buy must be of satisfactory quality (not faulty) - match the description (if it says it is an all wool jumper, it should be a jumper made of wool) - and be fit for their purpose (if you were buying computer software and asked whether it would work on your particular computer, it should do so). If not, you’re entitled to your money back if you’re quick. If you aren’t quick you could be offered a repair or replacement instead to put things right.

Super seasonal tip: Some shops really get into the seasonal spirit and give their shoppers something extra – and may even let you change your mind when there is no fault, so ask.

3. Check The Size Before You Buy
If you’re buying clothes or shoes or something that is dependent on size, try to find out the person’s size beforehand. If you can’t do that discreetly and don’t want to give the game away by asking … check if the shop or seller will be happy to swop it if you buy the wrong size by mistake. Remember: you don’t have a right to just change your mind and nor does the person you gave the gift to.

4. Keep the Receipt
… in case it needs to be returned If there is a problem with the gift and it needs to be returned; the shop will usually want to see the receipt to prove that it was bought at that store. Remember, if you pay by card then any refund usually goes back on that card.

Super seasonal tip: When you buy a gift for someone, all of the refund and return rights stick with you. But you can ask if they will allow you to transfer your rights along with the gift. If the shop agrees it’s useful to have the name of the person you’re giving the gift to recorded on their receipt so they can use your rights if it’s faulty.

5. Armchair Shoppers Get a 7-Day Cooling Off Period
When you buy gifts online, over the phone, through a catalogue or TV shopping channel it is called ‘distant selling’ because you don’t deal with anyone face to face. You haven’t been able to check out the product yourself and are relying on a picture or description so you get a seven day cooling off period (from the day after it’s delivered), to change your mind and send it back.

Super seasonal tip: You may need to prove you’ve used your cancellation rights and sent it back so always email or write to the company to tell them you are returning it and get a postage receipt when you send it back.

6. But Remember What Armchair Shoppers Can’t Return
You can’t return things that you’ve bought online (or by phone or post) that have a short shelf life - like flowers or food - because they won’t be usable by the time they arrive back with the trader. And for CDs and DVDs you can only return them if they haven’t been opened - if the security seal is broken or any cellophane has been torn off etc you will not be able to use your seven days distance selling cancellation rights.

Super seasonal tip: Don’t just put items away to wrap up later. Check things carefully as soon as you get them and return them within seven days if you bought it online (or by phone or post) if they’re not what you expected.

7 . Don’t Get Caught Out With Parking Charges
It’s easy to go over your parking time with long Christmas shopping queues. Check the parking notice carefully so you know how long you’ve got and where you are allowed to park. Allow for Christmas delays – otherwise you might end up with the unwanted gift of a hefty parking charge. Or why not consider using public transport instead?

8. Check the Cost of Credit
If you are thinking of using credit cards or other credit to pay, or are invited to sign up to a new store card in the shop, check the paperwork for the price of that credit. Ask about the total you’ll have to pay in the end and decide if it’s worth the extra just to put off payment or get an introductory offer. Don’t be rushed into an expensive deal because there’s a queue – if you are unsure go away and think about it. Ask someone’s advice. Many store cards actually end up costing you more.

9. Always check the delivery date
While we can rely on Santa to deliver gifts on time – the deliveries you’re expecting from online, phone or mail orders could take longer than you expect. Make sure you check the delivery times over Christmas.

Super seasonal tip: If you’ve placed an order and think it’s not going to arrive in time, you can cancel by letter or email. But let them know asap so you don’t end up having to send it back and paying the postage to return it.

10. Watch Out for Dodgy Traders
What looks like a bargain may not be one if it turns out to be faulty and you can’t find the trader after Christmas. Ask yourself: do you know where it came from and do you think you can find the trader again if there’s a problem? If you do find out that a trader is dodgy then please report them to Trading Standards – and tell all your friends as well!

Super seasonal tip: If you’re buying online you can make sure the website is secure by looking for the padlock and the https:// on the payment page.

11. Shop In the Sales
Your rights are just the same if you are buying goods in the sale as at any other time. But if there is a notice or a tag on the product that says it is faulty - that’s why it’s cheap. If you buy it you’re accepting that fault.

12. Buy Gifts in the sale for Christmas 2012
Plan ahead - the sales can be a good time to get next year’s Christmas cards, wrapping paper and gifts at less than this year’s prices.