Saturday, December 2, 2023

Take a breath before you get sucked in to Black Friday spending

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This week is Black Friday when retailers try to whip us all up into a spending fury. Before you get sucked in, take a breath. The seasonal spending spree arrives in the middle of a cost-of-living, energy and housing crisis. Take it handy, and try not to let yourself in for a horrible, post-spending-spree hangover.

While Black Friday/ Cyber Monday is a massive sales event, it’s no different in nature from all the other sales throughout the year, except perhaps in terms of volume. If you want something specific, it’s worth
taking the time to make sure you’re getting the product you want, at the right price.

The good news is that recent changes in consumer law have made it more difficult for unscrupulous traders to hoodwink you into thinking you’re getting a great bargain. A few years back, UK consumer magazine Which? carried out an investigation into Black Friday deals. It found that 98% of the discounts advertised (including promotions on popular tech, home and personal care products) were available for the same price or cheaper in the six months after the sales.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) drew attention to the pitfalls of navigating sales and discounts.

Kevin O’Brien, a member of the CCPC, urged consumers to be cautious and to know their rights.

“A discount must be a real discount. The CCPC will not allow businesses to mislead consumers into thinking that they are getting a better deal than they actually are,” he said.

The commission told businesses planning their winter sales that they will be watching to ensure sales discounts are genuine and consumers are not misled.

“The price indication regulations set out clear-cut requirements for the use of discounts. Most announcements such as ‘sales’ prices, ‘special offers’ or ‘Black Friday offers’ that create the impression of a price
reduction fall within the scope of the rules.”

By law, when a business makes price reduction announcements, it must display the lowest price a product was on sale for in the previous 30 days, and base the discount on this price alone. As the enforcement body for these and other consumer protection laws, the CCPC keeps a close eye on the market. Late last year and early this year,
it undertook an analysis of pricing data from a number of retailing websites.

Kevin O’Brien: “Our analysis has shown a number of concerning pricing practices and demonstrated that a number of traders had not yet changed their practices around price reduction announcements following the introduction of the new rules last year.”

Kevin O’Brien, member of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC): ‘A discount must be a real discount.’

For example, when making an announcement that a product has been reduced in price, traders must show the prior price of the product. This is the lowest selling price applied to the product in at least the last 30 days before the price reduction has been applied.

Marketing at this time of year is all about creating a sense of need and urgency. ECC Ireland advises: “Let’s keep some perspective on what we really need and what we simply want because someone told us we need it. When consumption becomes compulsion, it’s time to step back and reconsider your choices.”

When it comes to tech and gadgets, the sales are a way for shops to shift old stock quickly before the technology becomes obsolete. While you might get a great price, you may also be buying old tech, which comes with limited features and compatibility issues that are outside warranty and/ or are no longer supported by the manufacturer.

We are now in an age when many products come with a services package attached. Increasingly, instead of buying a digital product, you’re asked to sign up to a digital subscription for a recurrent fee. This is called ‘product as a service’ and is entirely legal. It can be used deceptively however, by locking consumers into long-term subscriptions with penal cancellation terms.

Watch out for deals on subscriptions and packages, particularly those advertised through free trials and low-cost introductory offers. You will see these kinds of things online, usually on social media, in ads for wellness programmes, cosmetics and healthcare and dating services. You sign up for something that appears either free or cheap, but the small print conceals that you’re really signing up for a hefty, recurring charge. The other complication is that you can’t get onto your card issuer and instruct them to cancel the deal. You have to contact the company and get them to cancel it, and often, that’s not easily done.

Gaming is another sector that heavily promotes ‘deals’ often on platforms and apps also accessed by children. ECC Ireland suggests you think twice before signing up for new product deals, discounted packages and subscriptions offered on sale, particularly for free-to-play games that can only be enhanced by subsequent purchases.

“Parents should be particularly careful when monitoring their children’s in-app purchases and access to loot boxes.”

One other new term worth learning is ‘live shopping.’ This is where you buy stuff during a live stream on one of the social media channels: Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and so on. It’s become increasingly popular among young people, and is particularly conducive to impulse purchasing.

And then there are the scammers.

Make sure you shop on secure websites with verified payment processors, and use a credit card or third-party payment app. This will help eliminate the risk of falling victim to online fraud and will allow you to avail of ‘chargeback’, which can be invoked if a transaction is bogus.

Consumers should check that ratings and reviews for promoted products are genuine and stay away from superlative, unsupported claims such as ‘best in’, ’number one for’, ’the premier destination’, ’the leading manufacturer’.

If you’re buying from a site you haven’t visited before, look for reviews of that site before you commit.

These days, it can sometimes be hard to know exactly where the site you wish to buy from is based. Remember, not all .ie websites belong to companies based in Ireland. Legitimate international businesses based in the UK or outside the EU can trade with Ireland using domain. To avoid misunderstandings, just check exactly where the business is based in the ‘about us’ or ‘contact us’ tab.

Conversely, if shopping from Ireland on a .com site, be sure to make a purchase on the .ie version as terms and conditions will be different for each market.

Businesses based here and in the EU/EEA must comply with all EU consumer protections which are pretty great in comparison with the rest of the world. Also, EU websites are required to tell customers about any extra costs before a purchase is made. If at all possible, stick with sites based in the EU.

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