Just another Cyber Monday: shop smart and beware of scams

Do your research and don’t get carried away. Many ‘bargains’ are not what they appear

Don’t let Cyber Monday be a retailers’ fun day. Photograph: iStock

Don’t let Cyber Monday be a retailers’ fun day. Photograph: iStock

 

It doesn’t take much to make something “traditional” in the 21st century. Last Friday we all “celebrated” the tradition of Black Friday (although, confusingly, many stores started marking Black Friday on a Saturday, a full six days ahead of time).

Tradition also demands we must call today Cyber Monday. It doesn’t really matter that both concepts as we know them are barely 10 years old (Black Friday does mean something in the US but was only brought to these shores in 2007).

And Cyber Monday first became a thing in 2005, when a US website called shop.org issued a press release that said simply: “While traditional retailers will be monitoring store traffic and sales on Black Friday, online retailers have set their sights on something different: Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, which is quickly becoming one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.”

It sent the release out in response to a trend noticed by online retailers that had recorded dramatic spikes in shopping on the Monday after Thanksgiving among people going back to work after the extended holiday and using office broadband to binge-shop.

The notion did not take off in this part of the world immediately and it wasn’t until November 2007 that Cyber Monday got its first mention in this newspaper.

Both concepts are about as traditional as a protein bar selection box and both were invented by retailers anxious to encourage consumers to spend more money by all means necessary. But it doesn’t matter – it’s here now and we all have to deal with it.

Just as Black Friday now lasts more than a week, Cyber Monday has become more of a weekend thing. In the US alone online sales over the past three or four days will top $20 billion with almost $4 billion set to be spent today alone.

By comparison the €50 million Irish shoppers are likely to spend seems insignificant but isn’t.

Ahead of Cyber Monday, the European Consumer Centre carried out a survey about how we approach online shopping. It found that although more than 73 per cent of Irish consumers have bought something online in the past 12 months – and almost half plan to buy online in the “traditional” period – just over 44 per cent said they did not feel confident about their consumer rights when doing so.

The survey also showed that, of those who made online purchases within the past year, the vast majority of business went to traders outside Ireland, with 60 per cent of purchases coming from British sellers alone. Outside the EU, the US and China were the countries where people were most likely to source products.

“With Black Friday and Cyber Monday comes the temptation to buy first and think later, but we would urge consumers to learn more about their consumer rights in case things go wrong,” says the European body’s Martina Nee.

“As Irish consumers gain more confidence buying online from traders based outside Ireland, it is increasingly important for them to protect themselves by being more aware of their EU consumer rights, when those rights do or don’t apply and how to do their research about websites, particularly if they are not familiar with the traders.”

At this time of year, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission sees a significant increase in contacts from consumers who are having issues with purchases they have made online.

“Online shopping has many benefits, particularly around events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. However, the spike in contacts we receive on this topic indicates that consumers do face challenges in this area,” says Áine Carroll, the director of communications and market insights at the commission.

“In the last 12 months we have seen a notable increase in the number of consumers contacting us regarding delivery and refund issues.”

She points out that EU-wide consumer protection legislation “provides consumers with valuable rights when they buy online. Importantly these rights mainly apply when buying from an EU-based business. Consumers should always check the physical address of the business before handing over payment. If you are thinking about buying from a site based outside of the EU, check the terms and conditions, including the returns policy, before you buy.”

She suggests that people only buy from reputable websites and sellers with positive user feedback.

“Check if any of your friends have used the site and check discussion forums. If you find a number of seriously negative comments, or the returns and address information isn’t available on the site, don’t shop there. Similarly, consumers should check whether they are buying from an individual or a trader. If you buy something from an individual, for example through an auction website, you will not be protected by consumer law. This is particularly important if you’re looking for an item that is sold out elsewhere.”

Black Friday. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Black Friday. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

While many people who shop online do so because it is easier, cheaper and the choices are broader, doing so gives us more rights than if we were to buy from a traditional retailer, thanks to a Consumer Rights Directive that came into force across the EU in 2014.

1 If you buy something online and it is faulty, you have exactly the same rights as if you bought it in a shop. That means you are entitled to a repair, a refund or a replacement.

2 Under the directive, an online seller must give you specific information, including the price, any taxes that may fall due, delivery costs and details of what to do if you change your mind.

3 You also have a cooling-off period of at least 14 days, starting from the date you receive the order. Before the end of the 14 days, an order can be cancelled and the item returned.

4 Crucially, during this cooling-off period you can return the item for any reason. But if you cancel the order because you change your mind, you may have to pay for the cost of returning it.

5 It is also worth remembering that the cooling off period does not apply to certain things such as concert and plane tickets and hotel reservations.

6 You also have extra rights if your goods are not delivered on time. Generally speaking, online retailers have 30 days to get your stuff to you unless you agree otherwise. It is important to remember, however, that these rights only apply to transactions that happen within the EU. So if you buy a Bluetooth speaker from Dave’s Distinctly Dodgy Deals in Hong Kong you can expect your rights to be significantly diminished and don’t come crying to us if the speakers turn out to be knock-offs or don’t turn up at all.

How to stay safe this Cyber Monday

If an online deal seems too good to be true then it almost certainly is too good to be true was the stark warning repeated several times last week at a Garda briefing on how consumers can stay safe while shopping online.

While shopping online is safe, according to Sergeant Kelvin Courtney of the Garda Crime Prevention National Centre of Excellence, people need to “take greater precautions when shopping online then they would if purchasing in the shops.”

He lists dos and don’ts people should bear in mind when shopping only which included reminders to only buy from trusted sources, shops or brands that are familiar and the need to ensure that online retailers have sufficient security measures in place to protect all financial data.

Detective Superintendent Michael Gubbins of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau said the Garda and its partners in Europol were “actively targeting cyber crimes such as online fraud” and he said people public needed to be aware “that the proceeds from these fraudulent activities go to fund organised criminal gangs.”

Det Garda Jim O’Meara of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, said that while there was a sharp rise in the level of card-not-present fraud activity from 2015 to 2016, a downward trend in this type of fraud had been recorded for the first six months of this year.

“We would caution people to protect their personal and financial details online,” he says. “If purchasing online only trust your own wifi networks as opposed to public wifi, where you could be vulnerable to having your payment card details compromised and then sold on the dark web. Here they can be accessed by criminals who go on to use the compromised payment card details either online, over the phone or even through mail order transactions.”

So what should you be doing? And what should you not be doing today?

1 We have said it before and we will say it again: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. So if you find a brand new iPhone X selling for €50 – it is either a fake or it will never arrive.

2 Beware of all emails offering amazing bargains with a single click. You might be saving time by clicking on links in an email, but it could cost you a fortune because criminals are very good at dressing up bogus websites to look like the real deal.

3 Instead of mindlessly following links, type an online retailer’s address into your browser. It might take you three seconds longer, but better safe than sorry.

4 Be very suspicious of emails encouraging you to fill out a form or provide personal information. Be even warier of any emails or texts warning you of suspicious activity regarding your online accounts .

5 Use more complex passwords made up of a mixture of numbers, symbols and letters in upper and lower case.

6 Always look out for the padlock icon at the bottom of the browser frame when making a payment online. This symbol indicates that the website you are visiting uses encryption to protect you, which will make it much harder for cyber criminals to steal personal information.

7 Don’t let a website remember your credit card details. It might be okay ... but it might not be. It is always better to be safe than sorry. And speaking of which, take care when using shared computers or even open wifi hot spots when making payments online. Canny hackers can capture your account information and log-in details and steal your money.

Is the Cyber Monday deal always the best deal?

Last week the British consumer group Which? published a – by now traditional – sceptical look at Black Friday deals, which, it said, are frequently not as good as they seem. It reported that more than half of last year’s Black Friday deals were cheaper or the same price at other times of year.

The same thing is true of Cyber Monday deals. “It’s easy to get swept along by the hype and excitement on the day, so we recommend doing some preparation and research to help make sure you really are getting a good deal,” said Alex Neill, the group’s managing director of home products and services.

Which? said 60 per cent of all the items it tracked were cheaper or the same price on other days of the year, for example:

– A Neff Slide and Hide Oven from Currys/PC World was cheaper than the Black Friday price on at least 113 other days of the year

– A Samsung 55in smart HD curved TV advertised in Currys/PC World as “save £400, now £849” was actually £50 cheaper on 29 other days of the year and £79 cheaper on 18 other days of the year

– A 49in LG TV advertised in Argos at £499 with the tagline “Our lowest price” was £4 cheaper a week later and another £16 cheaper at the end of December.

– An Oral B electric toothbrush advertised on Amazon as “save 26%” was actually £5 cheaper on at least two days in July

The consumer group advised shoppers to “look at the price, not the ‘saving’.”

While the prices and the experiences recorded by Which? are from the UK, the retailers all do business in the Republic too and many people here will shop on UK-based websites, so it is worth being wary.

Online shopping – the downsides

Shops trying to create the impression that a deal is better than it might be is one reason to be concerned about Cyber Monday shopping, but it is not the only one.

Online shopping is generally good for consumers as it allows them to shop around in search of a bargain.

But it is not without downsides, and if we were to move all our shopping online and offshore, the consequences for Irish retailers and the Irish economy would be devastating.

Local shops employ local people who use local services and pay tax – both on wages and on profits. When we shop with giant multinationals based elsewhere, all that employment and tax disappears.

While the big players in retailing will inevitably be popular with shoppers on Monday, keeping it local is worth considering.

The choice might be slightly more limited but by buying Irish you support local producers, keep money in the local economy and boost your feel-good levels into the bargain. The delivery times are generally shorter, too, so you can leave it later to buy gifts and there are fewer additional costs.

Taxes can add significantly to the list price if a product is sourced from the US or Asia, while many Irish websites offer free delivery, something that can make a big difference for bulkier presents.

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