Our relationship with the sales has changed dramatically in the last few years. It wasn’t that long ago that people would queue up at 4am on Boxing Day for a shot at 25% off a jacket they never knew they wanted – and would fight for it too.

These days, we’ve learned that sales don’t always mean bargains – and the high street has faced such an onslaught that the traditional queues are largely things of the past. But despite predictions from experts (including me) that Black Friday would be a washout, zillions of pounds did the rounds during the pre-Christmas sales.

So if you got cash, vouchers and gift cards – or just fancy a bit of shopping – what do you need to remember before you hit the sales?

You can’t buy happiness: You’ve got lots of statutory rights as a shopper, but they don’t cover you for not liking something or not having a good time. Most legislation covers faulty goods. Items you want to exchange or return that aren’t faulty should be brought back as soon as possible and the conditions can be set by the shops so check the website for return dates and your rights.

Don’t snip it till you’re sure: It seems obvious but keep the receipts and tags on items until you are sure you want them. Photograph receipts just in case they get lost in the chaos of the sales and don’t forget to ask for a gift receipt if you’re not sure your aunt will like that Swedish death metal box set on sale.

Gift cards and vouchers: If you got a gift card or voucher for Christmas don’t shove into your purse or wallet and forget about it. They have expiry dates – and they’re not always obvious. Usually, the maximum amount of time you have to use the cards or vouchers is a year (though many are as little as six months). The same goes for experience days and other “event” purchases. Some of the providers of these events have been known to insist you take the experience before the expiry date!

Don’t be given the runaround: If you buy from a retailer and the goods are faulty or don’t work, your contract is with them – not the manufacturer. Don’t be fobbed off. Ask to speak to the manager if you try to take something back and the shop tells you otherwise. If you buy online, the same goes for damaged or undelivered goods. It’s not your problem what the delivery company did – your contract is with the seller.

Think before you click: Online sales are often very tempting but watch out for unfamiliar websites and ones based abroad where the consumer rights in that country might be substantially different or harder to pursue if there’s a problem. Never give your card details to a shop you don’t know or recognise and never pay by cheque or direct transfer.

Chose chargeback: Though debit cards aren’t covered by the Consumer Credit Act, you still have rights if you pay with them. This is known as ‘chargeback’. Chargeback is basically an agreement between the main debit and credit card providers to recall your money if it’s been debited incorrectly or the goods or services you paid for aren’t provided or are misrepresented. Chargeback time limits vary depending on who provides your debit card. So don’t delay if you’re unhappy.

Make a plan of action: Ever got back from the sales to find you’ve bought a load of old tat you don’t want? I can’t help you if you get carried away on the day, but before you go to the sales, power up the computer and make a list of what you really want/need. Research the best value and quality brands. Look at the consumer reviews (remember some of these can be fake so don’t take them all at face value) and prepare a plan covering what you want – and how much you want to spend.

Don’t forget if you bought online then you have a 14-day window to change your mind if you have buyers regret (terms and conditions apply!)

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

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