Boxing Day sales: how UK shoppers can get the best deals

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Retail experts are predicting “big discounts for savvy consumers” in the Boxing Day sales as stores slash the price of unsold winter clothing, homewares and gadgets after the cost of living crisis, strikes and snow marred the all-important Christmas trading period for the high street.

In recent years the big discounts available on Black Friday and Cyber Monday have stolen Boxing Day’s thunder. However, after holding off discounting in December, when Christmas shopping should have been in full swing, the transport and postal strikes disrupted visits to the high street as well as online shopping.

The disruption means many retailers will have been left with excess stock at the end of the year, says PwC’s retail director Kien Tan. “As a result, retailers are expected to reward patient shoppers with larger than normal discounts as they clear seasonal stock in the Boxing Day sales, ahead of what may prove to be a challenging 2023.”

So if you are hoping to grab a bargain, we have some top tips for successful sales shopping – but don’t forget what the personal finance guru Martin Lewis has to say: “If you were going to buy it anyway, and it’s half-price, great, you’ve saved 50%. If you weren’t going to buy it but do it only because it’s half-price, you’ve wasted 100%.”

Do your research

You can avoid wasting money in the Boxing Day sales by planning ahead and bypassing impulse buys. If you have been coveting a particular item, check how much it costs at various retailers now, so you can tell whether you are making a real saving if and when it pops up in the sales.

A product must have been on sale at a higher price for at least 28 days in order for a retailer to mark it as a discount. “There are strict rules that retailers need to stick to when advertising reductions in a sale,” says the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman, a government-approved voluntary scheme for the retail sector.

“This is to ensure you can be confident the reduction is a genuine one. You would not be entitled to the difference if items are further reduced after you have made your purchase, so make sure you are happy with the current price that you are committing to pay and don’t feel under pressure by messages such as ‘only two left’ or ‘three other customers are looking at this item.’”

View image in fullscreenDo you really need what you are thinking of buying? Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

Reading consumer and expert reviews before buying in the sale can help you make a smart decision, particularly when it comes to tech products. Also look at your finances beforehand and set a budget for your sale shopping.

Reena Sewraz, the retail editor at the consumer body Which?, says: “Draw up a wishlist of what you want beforehand to avoid impulse buys that you might later regret. Shop around online to gauge prices, so you can spot a bargain from an exaggerated discount. Some retailers promise to match prices if you see an item cheaper elsewhere.”

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Get online …

These days retailers often start their sales before Christmas, and after a tough few weeks many chains had already fired the starting gun by Christmas Eve, often having offered early access to customers who signed up to receive newsletters.

View image in fullscreenCheck your emails before making an online purchase in case you have been sent details of extra discounts. Photograph: filadendron/Getty Images

For example, the high street stores & Other Stories, Jigsaw and Cos had offered newsletter subscribers early access to sales by 15 December, and H&M’s sale launched early online, too. Remember to check your emails for any additional savings that may be available, such as codes for extra discounts or free delivery.

… but think before you click

Shopping online during a sales period can leave you more vulnerable to fraud as scammers try to take advantage of bargain hunters.

Only use trusted websites for online shopping. If you are using a site for the first time it is worth checking whether it has good reviews on Trustpilot or other shoppers have flagged it as potentially being a scam.

Never directly transfer money to a seller, and remember that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you fall victim to a scam, tell your bank as soon as possible and report it to Action Fraud.

Start early

Shops and websites are predicted to be busy on Boxing Day, with 20.8 million people set to buy something, according to VoucherCodes’ Shopping for Christmas 2022 report.

Although not as big a number as in previous years, about 13.1 million people are expected to head to high streets and shopping centres, with £2.3bn set to be spent in stores in only one day. A further £1.3bn is predicted to be spent online on 26 December as 7.8 million people shop from home.

Although the overall spend is expected to add up to £3.6bn, that is almost 10% down on last year, as higher food and fuel bills forced Britons to use their budgets to pay for Christmas itself.

Compare prices at different retailers to ensure you’re getting the biggest discount possibleAnita Naik of VoucherCodes

“The Boxing Day sales have long been known as a great time to bag yourself a post-Christmas bargain,” says Anita Naik, a savings expert at VoucherCodes. “However, with the cost of living crisis putting significant pressure on people’s finances, it’s no surprise that this year fewer of us will be heading out to the sales.

“If you are planning to browse the sales after Christmas, make sure you’re being savvy with your money. Compare prices at different retailers to ensure you’re getting the biggest discount possible, and make sure to always check for discount codes.”

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Also, if you plan to visit stores, bear in mind that the best discounts will probably be available earlier in the day.

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Sewraz adds: “If you’re hitting the shops, the best deals are likely to be snapped up quickly, so it could pay to make an early start. But beware of getting caught up in the hype. Consider whether the discounted price offers a genuine saving, and make sure you are buying a high-quality product at a price that genuinely offers value for money.”

Bargain hunters are expected to spend a total of £13.8bn between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, according to the VoucherCodes report but again the overall number is down on last year because of the financial pressure created by the cost of living crisis.

View image in fullscreenAbout 13.1 million people are expected to head to shopping centres and high streets on Boxing Day. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

While hitting the shops early in the sales period usually produces the best results, Deann Evans, the director of partnerships and expansion at the e-commerce platform Shopify, predicts online sales will stretch further into January than usual – so it might be worth holding your nerve to see if the price drops further.

“This year almost half of UK consumers are putting more money aside for the holiday season than they have done previously,” Evans says. “We may therefore see sales subvert the traditional Boxing Day period, both creeping in earlier and extending deeper into January.”

Think ahead to summer

The winter sales can sometimes be a good time to pick up summer items at a chunky discount but again make sure you are buying items you know you are going to need.

“The Boxing Day and January sales are the perfect time to think ahead to the summer. If you want to buy some bikinis or beachwear for your summer holiday, you might be in luck and find items for so much cheaper during the winter, when there isn’t as much demand,” according to the Essential Student Living website.

Check your refund rights

Return and refund rules are often different for items bought in a sale, so make sure you know your rights before buying.

Retailers have to offer a refund if the item is faulty, not as described or does not do what it is supposed to do. This applies to sale items and full-price products, whether bought in-store or online.

Some shops will change their refund and returns policies during the sales period

Shoppers who made a buy online have 14 days to let the retailer know they want a refund, and another 14 days to send the item back. They do not have to provide a reason for the return.

Some shops will change their refund and returns policies during the sales period, either shortening the length of time you have to take an item back or only offering store credit rather than a cash refund.

Retailers do not have to offer refunds for some products, including personalised or customised ones, perishable items – for example, food or flowers – and CDs, DVDs or games that have been unwrapped. You may only get your money back on these items if the product is faulty.

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Value is always in fashion

It can be easy to get carried away in the Boxing Day sales, particularly when there are big discounts on offer everywhere you look. If you plan to use this year’s sales to update your wardrobe, there are some things to consider before hitting the shops.

In the UK the average person owns 115 items of clothing, 30% of which have not been worn within the past year. So, before buying anything new, go through the clothes you already own and consider what purchases would give them a new lease of life.

Experts say successful sales shopping is about writing a list of what you need and hunting those things down without getting sidetracked. The journalist Lucy Siegle suggests only buying garments you can see yourself wearing 100 times, so recite this to yourself if you are drawn to something fabulous that you know deep down you won’t get much wear out of.

Better to be boring and look for safe investment purchases, such as a woollen winter coat, boots or accessories you will use year in, year out. Think quality not quantity. Be strict. Only buy a piece of clothing if it fits in the changing room as opposed to after the diet you plan to go on in January. If you are shopping online, create a wishlist on the website of your favourite retailer during the downtime you have over Christmas and then check back when discounts go live.

View image in fullscreenIn the UK the average person owns 115 items of clothing. Photograph: Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images

With £140m worth of clothing ending up in landfill each year, if you have a specific item in mind, why not see if you can pick it up cheaper secondhand. There is eBay, Vinted and Depop for high street clothes and Vestiaire Collective and the RealReal for designer. Many charity shops also have online portals.

Another thing to consider is the type of fabric clothes are made of. The 100 times rule probably discounts the mega-cheap clothes found at the value end of the market but you are likely to keep a dress for longer if it’s not made of clingy polyester. Look out for natural fibres, such as organic cotton and wood-based fabrics – Tencel and EcoVero, for instance.

Whatever you do, don’t buy something just because it is on sale. Only head to the tills if you are certain the style is right for you, and, most important of all in these difficult times, if you are certain you can afford it.

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