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Want to get a bargain in the January sales? Don't jump in headfirst

Just because something you like is on sale doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth getting.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

WITH THE NEW year underway, it’s usually the time where people start looking for a bargain in the January sales.

While it’s certainly a good time to buy goods since Christmas is done and dusted for another year, not everything reduced is going to be good value or useful to you.

It helps to know what you’re looking for, and whether in-store or online is the best place to get it.

Know what you want and your budget

A sale is only useful if you’re getting an item you want for less. If you spot something you would like to get but hadn’t planned on buying anything like that in the first place, then you’re not really saving money.

Decide what exactly it is you’re looking for and what your budget is. You don’t need to know the exact item you’re looking for, but it will prevent you from going off-track and buying something on a whim. If it is something like electronics (e.g. a laptop), do a bit of research on specs and what constitutes mid- or high-range hardware.

Also, it’s worth noting that certain items are cheaper at different times of the year. For example, summer clothing would be cheaper in winter but could go up in price when the weather starts getting warmer.

Another example is electronics. Two major events, the Consumer Electronics Show (January) and Mobile World Congress (February/March), reveal new products like smartphones and TVs that will be released in April, May and June.

If you can hold out a month or two after each event (depending on what you’re after), then you might be able to get a better quality product for less. Just keep an eye on prices so you know you’re getting value for money.

The best companion you have is your phone

If you’re in a store, it’s incredibly easy to look something up and compare it to in-store prices. That way, you know if you’re really saving or can get better elsewhere.

A handy way of checking is to have a price comparison app or site like PriceSpy or ShopMania available so you can compare different stores to what you’re seeing.

If you feel a little uncomfortable searching while in store, take a photo of its name, leave and do your research elsewhere. The sales go on for a number of days so if you know you’ll be around again, sleep on it and make a decision later.

23/12/2015. Christmas Scenes Source: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

Be careful about who you’re buying from

Not all online stores are exactly what they claim to be. While it may be tempting to buy from a lesser-known store because they’ve offering cheaper goods, you shouldn’t blindly trust them.

There are a few easy ways to make sure it’s above board. They include checking:

  • Whether they have a geographical address and contact number for complaints and queries (don’t settle for just email or just a PO box number)
  • Any mentions or reviews of the store/service from other customers.
  • When the site was created through a service like WhoIs. If it was recently created, treat it with caution.
  • Whether you’ll get a confirmation email/letter about your order (you should)

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Don’t automatically trust consumer reviews

Even if you can spot a fake review a mile away, you shouldn’t assume that all reviews put up online are true. As with most things in life, it’s best to approach things with a small degree of skepticism when reading reviews, be it positive or negative.

Some retail and consumer sites like Amazon require you to have spent a minimum amount on the site – close to €50 – before you can submit reviews, ensuring that not just anyone can write one, but there are other things to check first.

  • What type of reviews are there? Are they short reviews or detailed? Longer are usually (but not always) better.
  • If you can, check the author’s submissions page and see what other reviews they submitted.
  • Look at the words/terms used by the reviewer. Are they using jargon, or are they using everyday speak? If it’s jargon-heavy and overly positive, that’s a possible sign that the author isn’t writing it to be informative.
  • Don’t automatically believe negative reviews either. People are more likely to write reviews when they want to complain so compare them to the more positive ones before making a decision.

So what sites are good for reviews? Here are a few to get you started.

- Amazon’s own consumer reviews is a good place to start. It covers all product categories
- If you’re looking at tech goods, review sites like Tom’s Guide, CNet, Engadget, TrustedReviews and The Verge are worth visiting.
- If it’s books you’re after, GoodReads has a comprehensive list of books and a helpful community.
- If you’re concerned about the quality of a store, going to Yelp or Foursquare can help. It’s likely said business has a Facebook page which would also contain reviews.
- If you’re willing to pay a small membership fee, UK site Which?  and the US-based Consumer Reports offer comprehensive reviews from professionals.

Just because something is on sale, doesn’t mean it’s worth buying

This applies more to electronics and similar goods, but much like Black Friday, devices that are on sale could be on sale for good reason.

While there are bargains about, you shouldn’t buy something just because it looks good or is cheaper. For example, you could get a Alcatel Pixi 4 smartphone for €59 (at time of writing) but a close look at its hardware shows it’s underpowered and would go quickly out of date.

It may be harder to tell with electronics as most people wouldn’t know what specs are good or not, but even just checking the year it was released and reviews can help you decide whether to part with your cash or not.

Read: Amazon is opening a bricks-and-mortar store – with no cashiers or checkouts >

Read: An Irish cinema startup has just won an investment from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba >

About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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