The November sales this year are a bit of a downbeat affair. After all, with so much concern about the cost-of-living crisis, shops don’t want to be seen to be actively encouraging people to go on a spending splurge.

Having said that, it does make sense to buy your Christmas presents early this year.  Everything from postal strikes to shortages of some of the most desirable gifts could sabotage your plans for the big day.

Here are my tips to help you get your hands on your Christmas purchases on time.

Buy now to avoid disappointment

There are a number of factors that could have an impact on getting your hands on certain presents for your loved ones this year. Firstly, prices are rising on everything from toys to Christmas dinner, and further increases seem likely in the coming months. There are still problems and delays with imports and getting items in to the UK. Furthermore, production problems still linger on from the pandemic, which means many in-demand items will be available in limited quantities.

So let’s go back to basics. Start by bringing back the humble shopping list, rather than browsing for ideas online. This will help you budget for everything from crackers to Christmas pudding.

Once you’ve got an idea about the gifts you want to purchase, use one of the free online price trackers to see how much the ‘big ticket’ presents actually cost and how the price has varied over the year. It’s easy to get lured in by the discounts offered in the sales, but be sceptical.

Once you’ve priced up what you’re spending and sourced the items that you want to buy, get your cynical hat on. Online shops are designed to speed you through the checkout process – so it’s easy to miss last minute changes to things like delivery dates. I’ve recently heard from numerous people who have told me that the estimated delivery date changed from the date given on the main website page to a longer period at the point you click to purchase.

Check to confirm the country of origin of the goods you are buying too. Import and postage costs are becoming increasingly expensive. But the main problem is delivery times can extend considerably – even in to the New Year. Buying from abroad can also affect your consumer rights if something goes wrong.

Many retailer experts have suggested that there will be a shortage of certain gifts this year, including toys with electronic components or goods with lithium batteries. Don’t assume that just because an item is available to buy it is in stock. Phone the shop and ask them if the goods are actually available now – or better yet, get it in writing.

Many credit card and online banking services give you rewards, like cashback for making purchases through them, so check with all the accounts you have before you start shopping, you might manage to get some money back just by using them. And if you’re making a purchase over £100, consider using a credit card, as this gives you protection under the Consumer Credit Act if something goes wrong with the purchase or the business goes bust. Pay it off straight away though!

Delivery dates

You are entitled to expect your goods to be delivered on the agreed date that you were given when your order was placed. If no date was given or agreed, the trader must get your purchases to you within 30 days of the order being placed. If this does not happen, you are entitled to a full refund. This is stated in the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 if you fancy getting all factual with a stubborn seller. If you paid a supplement for a specified time or date of delivery, you can ask for this back.

If a retailer does not specify and estimated delivery date, avoid disappointment by getting them to confirm an estimate in writing.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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