Cheap gadget shopping for Christmas
From cashback websites to voucher codes, there's a raft of ways to avoid paying top dollar when buying gadgets online. Here's our guide.
Although we may moan about it and get fed up of panic present buying, deep down, most of us really do love Christmas. We're less enamoured with the drain the festive period has on our wallets though.
Never fear, as CNET UK is here with some thrifty advice on how to save a few pennies this Crimbo.
Most of us don't have the stomach for trudging around shopping centres during the festive buying spree, so we've quite sensibly retreated to our PCs to do most of our present buying. When you've finished hitting the big 'Add to Basket' button and end up at the virtual checkout, the figure looming out at you can be quite alarming. Thankfully, by using cashback sites you can claw back some of this outlay.
Most online retailers offer affiliate deals to websites that refer traffic onto their site. It's one of the key ways that they make their money. For example, you might click a link through from a blog to buy a camera on Amazon. For sending you to Amazon, the blog's owner will be rewarded by the retailer with a referral fee. Cashback companies take advantage of these types of affiliate deals. However, instead of keeping all of the money to themselves, they pass a large portion of it back to you, the purchaser.
Joining a cashback site is usually free, but the site will retain a small amount of the cashback that you earn -- typically around £5 per year. Once you're signed up, you can view the various offers and check how much of a discount is available for sites you're planning to buy your gifts from.
For example, at the time of writing, there were deals ranging from 5 per cent cashback on your M&S purchases and up to £150 cashback when you sign up to an Orange mobile phone contract via Quidco.
To get these deals, you need to first log into the cashback site, then follow the link from there to the retailer's site before making your purchase. You have to do this so the purchase can be tracked using your web browser's cookies. This lets the retailer's systems know who to reward.
It has to be said that this link system makes cashback sites a pain to use for smaller purchases where the rewards are small, but you should definitely always refer to them for larger purchases, especially big ticket items like cameras, laptops and TVs. This is because buying these items via cashback referrals can save you hundreds of pounds a year.
Also, it's worth remembering that some of the best cashback deals can be had when signing up to contract services, such as mobile phone deals, broadband packages and pay TV subscriptions.
There are lots of cashback sites now operating in the UK, including Quidco, Topcashback, Cashback and Giveortake. Remember that cashback sites work by using cookies to track your purchases, so make sure you have cookies turned on in your web browser. It's also generally a good idea to flush your browser's cookie cache before visiting a cashback site, to make sure purchases are tracked accurately.
Price comparison sites
Clued-up shoppers always use price comparison websites to help them find the best deals. There are loads of these covering a broad range of retailers in the UK, including CNET UK's very own price comparisons.
If you use Google as your search engine of choice, it's quick to switch to its price comparison engine. Just click on the More tab on the top right of the Google homepage and then select Shopping from the drop-down list. Enter the name of a product and Google will search a huge database of retailers to show you the cheapest option.
There are also reviews of the individual retailers to give you an idea of how trustworthy they are, what their customer service is like and how quickly they turn around deliveries. It's best not to rely on just one price comparison site, but instead to check prices using a number of them. We'd suggest you also try Pricerunner, Ciao (or click the shopping link from the Bing homepage), as well as Kelkoo.
There are price comparison apps available for all the main smart phones. For example, ShopSavvy is available on the iOS, Android and Windows Phone platforms and lets you compare the prices of goods across thousands of retailers' sites.
It's got built-in barcode scanning, so if you're browsing in-store, you can scan the barcode of a DVD, for example, and check its price online at sites such as Amazon, Play, Tesco and Dixons (as pictured below). Similar apps include Pricegrabber and Red Laser.
Save on postage
Another way to save cash when shopping online is to buy as much as possible from the same websites so as to cut down on postage costs. Rather than buying presents in dribs and drabs and forking out £3.99 for delivery on each item, it's a much better idea to put a full list together of all the items that you need to purchase. Then work out where you can combine the best prices with the cheapest delivery costs to lower the overall damage to your wallet.
Often if you buy a few items from the same store, you'll push your shopping basket over the threshold for free delivery. Admittedly this does take a fair amount of preparation, but it's definitely worth doing, if possible.
Deal and voucher code sites
Don't forget to check deals websites like Hotukdeals, which highlights the best prices available online for goods across a range of categories, from clothes to computer equipment. The site is run as a community -- people post money-saving deals they find online and others then vote them hot or cold based on how good a deal they think it is. The best ones rise to the top of the list, granting them more visibility. It's a great place to find heavy discounts on a broad range of items.
No savvy shopper should hit the checkout button on a retailer's website until they've had a gander for voucher codes that can be used to bring down the price. Retailers are constantly running money-off promotions or free delivery.
Usually, to take advantage of these deals, all you have to do is input the voucher code into a box on the checkout screen. Often these codes are emailed to people who have already bought something from the site, but they're not usually limited to those customers.
The best place to find these codes is voucher sites like Vouchercodes, Discountvouchers and Myvouchercodes. These sites usually list them by their newness (vouchers are often valid for only a few days or weeks), as well as by the size of the discount they offer.
Alternatively, you can just do a search on these sites to find all the current deals available for a particular retailer. It's worth remembering that some vouchers can be used together for even bigger discounts. For example, a retailer may have 10 per cent off certain goods that can also be used alongside a voucher for free delivery.
One careful owner
It may seem obvious, but the biggest savings can come from buying second-hand items rather than new ones. Like cars, gadgets fall alarmingly in value once they leave the showroom.
Typically you'll pay half the price or less second-hand compared to the same thing new. Of course, some second-hand stuff will be less desirable because it's been heavily used, but often people decide to sell stuff simply because they didn't make much use of it, like an unwanted gift.
When most people think of second-hand goods, the first thing that comes to mind is eBay, but there are other options. Gumtree, for example, has made big inroads into the UK and most of the country's big cities are now covered.
You'll find everything from cars to mobile phones listed for sale. Gumtree also shows you the rough location of the seller on a map to give you an idea of how far you'd have to travel to pick up the item. Other classified advert sites worth checking out include Preloved and Loot.
Nevertheless, there's no getting away from the fact that eBay is where you're still likely to find the best second-hand bargains. The site has a colossal number of products for sale and the auction process means you can nab great products at low prices if you're not competing against many bidders.
There are a few tips for getting the best prices. Firstly, check what similar items have previously sold for. This will give you a good idea of how much you're likely to end up having to pay. To do this, log into eBay and click the Advanced link next to the Search button. Enter the name of the item you want to search for, then tick the Completed Listings box. Click Search and you can now see items that have already sold on the site and the prices that they went for.
To get the very best price on eBay, don't bid your maximum amount near the start of the auction. A much better policy is to decide on the most you're willing to pay and then bid the full amount in the dying seconds of the auction so other people don't get a chance to up their bid.
Some people also use so-called 'auction sniping' services to do this for them. One free example is Auctionstealer. It can bid for you in the last 10 seconds of an auction. The process is automatic, so you don't need to be near a computer when the auction is ending.
If you're really stuck for cash, but you're willing to put in the hours to create some unique gifts, then why not use the Internet to get creative? Craft work has a bad name when it comes to gifts, mostly because it's associated with naff jumpers knitted by your grandma. But if you want to create something seriously impressive, the Internet can provide the inspiration.
There are loads of cool blogs and websites that show you how to customise old or new stuff to add that extra personal touch or turn it into something completely different. Ikeahackers, for example, not only has far too many examples of ways to customise Ikea's classic, cheapo Lack coffee tables, but it also offers some cool ideas for customising chairs or creating your own mood lamps.
If you have no great love of the big blue and yellow retailer then take a gander at Instructables instead. It has more general crafty ideas ranging from how to create snowflake coasters to an Angry Birds Pin the Beak party game. You'll find lots more inspiration at sites like Dollarstorecrafts, Geekcrafts, Craftster and Craftzine.
Don't forget the festive cheer
There's no getting away from the fact that Christmas is an expensive time of year. If you're not exactly flush with cash, all that present buying can be a daunting prospect.
Armed with these tips, however, hopefully you'll be able to find some bargains and save yourself a tonne of cash. Now, kindly pass us another Quality Street and top-up our glass of port. Ta.