Black Friday sales: What to keep an eye out for

Some prices aren’t always what they seem, so it is important to do your research

Never click the link in an email or text message; type the web address of the delivery company into the browser bar. Photograph: iStock

Never click the link in an email or text message; type the web address of the delivery company into the browser bar. Photograph: iStock

 

The Halloween decorations had barely been taken down when the emails started coming: the Black Friday sales are imminent.

Like it or not, there’s no getting away from it: Black Friday has become a thing in Ireland. The traditional sales day in the US has crept in over the years and we can now say that we have embraced the tradition, albeit in a less enthusiastic manner than across the pond.

Perhaps you prefer the other made-up sales day: Cyber Monday. That’s when the hordes descend online and strip the virtual shelves. Either way, it has worked its way into our inboxes and our psyche: the pre-Christmas sales are an Event. Capital E.

But is it worth keeping an eye out for deals this year? Retailers have warned that 2021 will be different, as a combination of supply chain issues, chip shortages and Covid-induced problems put the brakes on the big discounts.

So the big discounts may not be there. And you may not be able to get the products you want because of shortages. But if you are sales shopping for tech, what do you need to keep an eye out for?

Prices

Not the knockdown sales prices themselves, but pricing practices that some retailers may employ. Sales prices aren’t always what they seem. As you might suspect, some retailers can massage the discounts on offer to make them seem better than they actually are by increasing prices in the run-up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, before offering a significant sum of money off.

So how do you rumble them? If you have been following prices with a view to buying a specific product, you may already be aware of the price changes. But if you haven’t been watching, it is more difficult to keep tabs. Elsewhere in the world there are websites such as Pricerunner and PriceSpy to help you do easy price comparisons. But in Ireland, not so much; PriceSpy’s Irish site closed in January last year.

Often you can pick up a bargain that is last year’s model but offers all the features you need. The flip side of that is that you could be getting a product that may soon be obsolete

That doesn’t mean you can’t look around yourself. Do your research into the product’s pricing elsewhere -- if you can find it on a legitimate websites at a much lower price than the Black Friday “sale”, you might be being manipulated.

Cutting edge or obsolete?

Speaking of prices, if you are after the latest and greatest products, make sure they are worth paying for. Often you can pick up a bargain that is last year’s model but offers all the features you need. The flip side of that is that you could be getting a product that may soon be obsolete. Sales are also a way for companies to shift unsold stock.

This is where doing your research pays off. You can search by model number, which will usually throw up the spec of the device and what it includes, so you don’t end up paying for something that won’t perform as you expect.

This is particularly relevant to mobile devices such as smartphones. You may not realise it, but many manufacturers will only guarantee that the phone will receive updated software for a certain amount of time after the phone’s initial release. That also includes security updates that keep your phone safe from external attacks. Considering how much we do on our smartphones these days, making sure it is as safe as possible is crucial. If you buy an older model smartphone, you may only have a year or less of security updates , so it is worth checking before you buy.

Before you buy a smartphone, check how long it will be supported by security updates from its manufacturer. For example, Apple devices usually have several years of support from their launch date -- the current oldest supported model is the 6s, which was released in 2015.

In February, Samsung announced its Galaxy devices would receive regular security updates for a minimum of four years after the initial phone release. That includes devices from the S10, Note 10 and A10 and newer, along with the the foldable phones and its tablets from the Tab S6 and newer to the Tab A7 and A8 devices. Nokia give three years of updates for its Android One devices including the X20. Google’s latest Pixel phones, the 6 and 6 Pro, have five years of security updates, and three years of operating system updates guaranteed.

Brands

Just because something looks like a bargain, it doesn’t mean it is. And just because the product is being promoted on a legitimate website, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look into it a bit more carefully.

There are security issues to be wary of, particularly with tech products you are allowing into your home. A 2019 investigation by Which? magazine found 50,000 internet-connected cameras had security flaws that could have put people’s privacy at risk, and some were being promoted on reputable websites.

If in doubt, go for the tried and trusted brand, even if it feels like you are missing out on a bargain.

Guarantees

Most manufacturers offer a one or two-year warranty on their products. That isn’t them being generous; under EU consumer rules, you have a two-year guarantee against faulty products. If something goes wrong, you have some recourse to get it resolved.

However, others have extended warranties, sometimes three years or more, often if you register the product within a reasonable time frame. If you fail to fulfil those conditions, you might miss out on the extra protection.

It is also worth reading the fine print to see what is included as part of that warranty. Battery issues are often excluded, for example.

Returns

With that in mind, what is the return policy of the store you are buying from? Do they give refunds if you suffer from post-sale buyer’s remorse? And who foots the bill for online returns?

The latter may be a particularly pertinent point for people buying online this year.

If you buy in a real-world store that is local to you, it’s not as big a deal to return it for a refund or a repair. Online shopping is a different matter. Does the consumer bear the cost of returning a faulty product? Or will the retailer cover it if the product isn’t as it should be?

It’s an additional cost that you may not have taken into account when buying, so check the small print to see who covers the cost.

Extra charges

Speaking of unforeseen costs, if you are buying online, make sure that you have accounted for all the potential extra charges. We aren’t just talking about deliveries and returns; thanks to Brexit, buying anything from the UK runs the risk of attracting VAT and administration fees (for under €150) and customs duty on top of that if it is a high value product.

It can add up if you aren’t careful, so make sure that you are either buying from a retailer that has an EU presence and charges the appropriate VAT rate, or that your “bargain” will still look as attractive when the extra fees have been added on.

Watch out for scams

Even if you are buying from a legitimate retailer, you may be targeted by scammers seeking to part you from your hard-earned cash. In the past 18 months there has been a notable uptick in scam text messages and emails seeking payment for customs charges or VAT before an item is released for delivery.

Of course some of these messages will be legitimate. So how can you tell the difference? First of all, if you aren’t expecting any packages, that’s the first giveaway.

If you have succumbed to the lure of the marketing email, be sure to unsubscribe when it no longer serves any purpose

If you are expecting something, take a close look at the web address the message is trying to redirect you to. Often it may look similar with a latter or two changed, and when you click through to the site, it can be a very convincing fake. With that in mind, exercise caution.

Never click the link in an email or text message; go to the website independently by typing the web address of the delivery company into the browser bar. You’ll quickly discover if it is a legitimate message and demand for payment if you can’t locate your delivery through the tracking number supplied in the email.

Marketing

How many times have you visited a website to be greeted by a popup offering you a discount for signing up to a newsletter? While it is great to get a few bob off your purchase, the marketing emails you find landing in your inbox on a regular basis may not be as welcome.

If you have succumbed to the lure of the marketing email, be sure to unsubscribe when it no longer serves any purpose. If you use Gmail, the app organises these missives under the Promotions tab, making it easy to find; the rest of us have to dig through our email and find them manually.

Your inbox will thank you for it, and you’ll be able to find the emails you do need more easily.