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Cost of living: Eight top tips to save on online shopping

Top tips to save money when shopping online amid the cost of living crisis. Photo: Getty
Top tips to save money when shopping online amid the cost of living crisis. Photo: Getty

With the cost of living crisis making us all watch our spending and squeezing household budgets as inflation surges due to skyrocketing food, fuel and energy costs, shopping could be last thing on your mind.

To help combat the bewildering array of websites and apps all claiming to offer the best products here are some top tips from consumer group Which? that can help you save money while shopping online.

1. Compare prices effectively

Researching the right places and the right prices for you, will save you a lot of time and costs.

Which? says It’s worth checking multiple shops for the best price before making a purchase.

Websites such as Google Shopping, PriceRunner, PriceSpy, Kelkoo and, for Amazon (AMZN) products, CamelCamelCamel, can help compare product prices, the consumer giant advises.

It says that these work best if you’ve already narrowed down your search to specific items and models.

Watch: How to save money on a low income

2. Get the most out of the sales

When bargain hunting in the sales, Which? suggests shoppers set a budget and keep a list of any particular items they’re after, and their current price.

That means if they go on sale, shoppers will know exactly how much they’ll be saving, and whether it’s really a bargain. If items sell out quickly, it might be possible to sign up for alerts for restocks.

Read more: Why has the pound fallen and what does this mean for you?

According to Which?, BackInStockAlerts.com monitors websites such as Amazon and Asos (ASC.L) and sends an alert when a particular item is back in stock.

It is also worth checking out whether a retailer has an app or scheme you can sign up to, as many offer early access to sales.

For instance, those who shop with the Zara app can often get early access to the store's sales.

It is worth checking different websites for good deals. Photo: Getty
It is worth checking different websites for good deals. Photo: Getty

3. Use discount codes

Which? advises people to check the terms and conditions to ensure websites are giving you a genuine deal as many sites offer 'exclusive' and 'verified' voucher codes for popular retailers, but they’re not always as good as they first appear.

Browser extensions, such as Pouch and VoucherCodes DealFinder, can also help by automatically searching for relevant vouchers as you shop, and applying them at checkout.

If you’ve got your eye on a particular purchase, it is worth signing up to the retailer’s mailing list for exclusive discounts.

Some sites send personalised codes to your inbox if you leave things in your shopping cart.

"It’s always worth checking a few retailers to make sure you have the best price, as well as searching for discount codes — you can often sign up to retailers’ mailing lists for exclusive offers," Danielle Richardson, money expert at Which? said. "You could also see if the item you want to buy is available second-hand – it will often be the fraction of the price of buying brand new."

You can even create a secondary email account so that your usual inbox doesn’t get full of offers. Plus, you can always unsubscribe from the marketing list after you have the discount code.

There are many cashback credit and debit cards you can use to earn money while you shop. Photo: Getty
There are many cashback credit and debit cards you can use to earn money while you shop. Photo: Getty

4. Pay with the right card

When shopping there are options to earn money back on some purchases by using a cashback credit or debit card.

Typically they offer between 0.25% and 5% on purchases, which might not seem like much initially, but it adds up over time.

"American Express Platinum cashback and Platinum cashback Everyday credit cards currently offer the highest cashback rates, but be aware that not all retailers accept Amex," the consumer group said.

Alternatives include the Lloyds Bank (LLOY.L) cashback credit card, or Santander (BNC.L) all-in-one credit card (this has a £3 monthly fee).

However, Which? warns that cashback credit cards can charge high interest rates for borrowing, so if you use one, make sure you pay off your full balance each month.

There are also options for those who prefer to use a debit card.

Chase's current account offers 1% cashback for the first 12 months. It is also worth checking for offers with your existing card providers — you might be eligible for rewards that you didn’t know about.

Read more: Mini-budget: What Kwasi Kwarteng's £45bn tax cut package means for you

5. Look for second-hand options

Buying second-hand is an another easy way to save money and helping to save the planet.

Not only can you find pre-loved clothing and shoes, but you can often find second-hand laptops, games consoles, furniture and home products, as well.

Sellers could be selling an unwanted gift or something they’ve barely used for cheaper than the market price.

It is worth looking on online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon Refurbished, or apps such as Depop and Vinted. Shoppers could also sell their old clothes online to make up for the cost of buying new ones.

A woman uses a smartphone to browse the Ebay website
Shoppers can look on apps such as Ebay, Vinted and Depop for cheaper second-hand options. Photo: Press Association

6. Snap up ex-display products

High street shoe chains Schuh and Office both have specialist websites that sell reduced, ex-display shoes that may have minor signs of wear-and-tear.

Which? found big brands including Birkenstock, Adidas and Timberland available. Office Offcuts sells ‘end of line, ex-display and last pairs of shoes’ and all stock is new, while Schuh Imperfects says shoes may have scuffs, discolouration, and other 'individual quirks'.

People shopping for homeware are also able to buy ex-display furnishings and even kitchens and bathrooms.

If you are thinking about purchasing a more expensive second-hand item it’s worth checking the product in person before purchasing, so you can make sure it isn’t damaged — as private sellers aren’t legally obligated to draw attention to defects.

Read more: How four days of market chaos has impacted UK household finances

7. Know your return rights

For online shopping, the Consumer Contracts Regulations give you 14 days from when you receive most purchases to decide whether to keep them or return them for a full purchase price refund.

You then have a further 14 days to send the items back.

But there are exceptions, including personalised items and products bought from some non-UK sites. Even where the regulations apply, you may not get delivery charges refunded and returns may not be free.

Retailers are always expected to refund standard delivery charges, but don’t have to refund express or nominated day charges.

But be aware of online retailers changing their return policies. Earlier this year, Zara introduced a £1.95 fee for online returns to designated drop-off points, having previously covered this for free.

It still allows free returns in-store, as many high-street retailers do, but this isn’t always viable. Always check returns policies before buying online, to avoid pricey or impractical options.

Under the Consumer Rights Act you’re entitled to a full refund within 30 days of receipt, including delivery or return costs, if an item is faulty or not as described.

Retailers sometimes offer cashback as a fixed amount. Photo: Getty
Retailers sometimes offer cashback as a fixed amount. Photo: Getty

8. Earn while you spend

There is potential for shoppers to earn money while they spend as they might be able to claim cashback on their purchases via sites such as Quidco and TopCashback.

Retailers sometimes offer cashback as a fixed amount (up to £50 on fridges, for example) or a percentage of the purchase — anything from 0.5% to more than 20%.

However, be aware that you’ll need to use the cashback site’s link for your purchase to be counted.

Additionally, cashback is not always guaranteed, and could take months to reach your account.

It’s still important to compare upfront costs first, as even the most generous cashback offers may not compensate for a high headline price. If you’re set on buying an item, cashback is an added bonus.

Watch: How to prevent getting into debt