Pricewatch: Irish shoppers happy to embrace Cyber Monday
If an online deal seems too good to be true then it almost certainly is
With each passing year the Cyber Monday bandwagon gets faster and faster and bigger and bigger, and whether you like it or not it looks like it is very much here to stay
Happy Cyber Monday everyone! It hardly seems like any time has passed since Black Friday, doesn’t it? And that is because it hasn’t. Last Friday we all “celebrated” the tradition of Black Friday, although many stores started their Black Friday celebrations on a Thursday, and not even on Black Friday Eve but on the Thursday eight days before the actual day.
Confused? It’s hard not to be.
Like Black Friday, Cyber Monday is a fairly new tradition, and like Black Friday it is all over the shop. This year many companies started celebrating Cyber Monday on the Tuesday beforehand, while some even started Celebrating Cyber Monday a week before Black Friday was done with.
Maybe retailers can be forgiven for getting the start dates mixed up because Cyber Monday has no basis in reality. It first became a thing in 2005 when a US website called shop.org issued a press release that read 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.”
If the notion of a Cyber Monday was wishful thinking on shop.org’s part – and it sounded a lot like that at the time – it was a wish that was quickly granted by the gods of e-commerce. Online retailers soon started recording dramatic spikes in shopping on the Monday after Thanksgiving, mainly among people returning to work after the extended holiday and using office broadband to binge-shop.
Fast forward two years and Ireland hopped on board the Cyber Monday bandwagon. And with each passing year since the bandwagon has got faster and faster and bigger and bigger, and whether you like it or not it now looks like it is very much here to stay.
In the US alone online sales over the past three or four days will top $20 billion, with around $4 billion set to be spent today alone. Irish shoppers by comparison are likely to spend well in excess of €50 million – with another €50 million spent on Black Friday.
But it would be a mistake to assume online trading is the be all and end all. “I think there is almost a hysteria about online shopping around this time of year and the impact it is having on the high street,” says Thomas Burke, the director of Retail Ireland, the Ibec division that does the shopping. “The reality is that it only accounts for 4 per cent or 5 per cent of the market, and while the sector is growing at a frightening place it is still relatively small.”
He does not dismiss the challenge it poses for traditional retailers.
“Just look at Ali Baba – the Chinese shopping portal which is starting to encroach on the Irish market. It is not as well known as Amazon but its scale is frightening.”
On Singles Day alone – China’s big shopping day – it generated sales of $40 billion. “No Irish retailer is ever going to be able to compete with that or with Amazon,” Burke says. “Apart from the buying power these giant pure-play online retailers have, they also don’t have the same overheads traditional Irish retailers have, including rent and wage costs and rates.
He says consumers have choices to make about where they shop and why. “There has never been greater choice for Irish consumers, and that has forced retailers here to up their game, but it can’t just be about price and prices down.”
He points to the dangers of a mass migration to the online shopping centres.
“If Irish consumers just switched to the online world the consequences would be stark, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. If is also worth bearing in mind the multiplier effect which has it that three or four times the initial spend in a local retailer gets recycled in the local economy.
“That is why there is a very important economic rationale to shopping locally. On top of that there is the 285,000 who are employed directly in the retail sector, and there’s hundreds of thousands of others who are employed in secondary business connected to it. But that is a hard argument to make to a consumer who is motivated by price. People do have a decision to make about the impact their shopping habits can have, and whether or not they want to support local businesses and local jobs.”
Ahead of Cyber Monday, the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland, a group which fights for Irish consumers if they get into difficulty with retailers in other EU countries, was urging enthusiasts of the big day to remember that a reduction in price does not mean a reduction in consumer rights.
Its spokeswoman, Martina Nee, has once again been to the fore in reminding shoppers of the importance of knowing their rights before they buy online. We asked her how knowledgeable consumers are.
“Looking at the complaints received by ECC Ireland and, indeed, the wider ECC-Net, in general consumers are not fully aware of their rights when shopping online.
“Some know that there are rights out there, somewhere, but don’t know what they are or how to avail of them. Many also seem to be under the impression that they don’t have as much rights when shopping online as opposed to shopping on the high street, but because of the 14-day cooling off they actually have slightly stronger rights when it comes to returning goods.”
She says the ECC of often finds that consumers do not know that their rights are stronger when shopping from traders based within the EU/EEA.
“We’ve had complaints where because a trader states some connection to EU (for example, they give an address in the EU for a warehouse that accepts returns and exchanges) they don’t search for the details in the terms and conditions or about us where it may become clear that the trader is actually headquartered elsewhere and therefore EU consumer rights may not apply.”
She says it is almost important for shoppers who buy off trader outside the EU/EEA to “bear in mind that item could cost them far more than expected because of the custom duties and VAT that applies”.
Dodgy deals aren't just for Christmas
In the run-up to Cyber Monday there was much talk in the press about rogue traders and scam artists, but Nee says dodgy deals aren’t just for Christmas.
“You could say that consumers are vulnerable throughout the year as there are always dodgy deals and rogue traders. However, with Black Friday/Cyber Monday and Christmas shopping comes the pressure to get the gifts and deals before a certain date, and so some of these traders prey on this.”
She says there may be a lot of websites set up just for a short space of time to take advantage. “In general consumers are bombarded by deals, ‘buy now’, or purchase before a certain date to get it for Christmas, and so they are more likely to do the impulse purchase without doing their homework on the trader first.
“Even when the trader is legitimate some consumers don’t read the terms and conditions, know what they’re signing up to, or sometimes who the seller is (particularly when using marketplace websites) and so can think they’ve been scammed when sometimes they haven’t They just agreed to the terms by hitting the purchase button and it may be a matter that does not infringe consumer legislation.”
We also asked Nee for tips on how to stay safe when shopping online. “When buying any goods or services online it is advisable for consumers to know who they are entering the contract with, because that is essentially what it is, and what you’re agreeing to by hitting that purchase button.”
Terms and conditions
She says people should read those terms and conditions “looking out for things like where the trader really is based, what the returns/cancellation policy is, how you can contact the trader when there is a problem. You should also look for contact details.
“It’s not good enough to just have a contact form and nothing else; traders are obligated under EU consumer legislation to provide full contact information, for example, telephone, email and geographical address.”
If the trader says they’re based somewhere here in Ireland or in another country then check for company registration details to see if this is the case. Just because it says .ie or .co.uk doesn’t necessarily mean this is true, so do a “whois lookup” search to find out when and where the website was registered, or use Scamadviser to see the trust level.
“Try to keep to traders that are based within the EU/EEA because you’re rights are much stronger. If other consumers have had bad experiences then they will certainly talk about it so look for reviews. Finally, always pay using a secure method of payment such as a credit card or Paypal.”
EU Consumer Rights Directive
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 handy EU Consumer Rights Directive.
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. 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. 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.
7. All these rights only apply to transactions that happen within the EU. So if you buy a flat screen telly off a dealer in Hong Kong you can expect your rights to be diminished.
How to stay safe this Cyber Monday
Pricewatch has said this before and we will say it again: If a deal – one you see online on anywhere else – seems too good to be true then it almost certainly is too good to be true. If you find a brand new iPhone selling for €50 it is either a fake or it will never arrive.
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.
Do not mindlessly following links but type an online retailer’s address into your browser. It might take you three seconds longer, but better safe than sorry.
Be 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 .
Use complex passwords made up of a mixture of numbers, symbols and letters in upper and lower case.
Look out for the padlock icon at the bottom of the browser frame when making a payment online. It 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. It is not foolproof but it is a handy guide.
Don’t let a website remember your credit card details and be careful when using shared computers or even open wifi hot spots when making payments online.