On Monday, internet retailers will experience their busiest day of the year.
For the last two years, annual e-tailing has peaked on the Monday closest to the start of December. This year "Manic Monday" falls on 29 November. Here are a few tips on shopping online at Christmas.
Beware of offers
Amazon is making much of its pre-Christmas sale, where it marks down best-sellers such as Take That CDs. But the number of products available for each bargain is limited, and you can be tempted into buying goods with only a small or no discount, having failed to pick up one of the elusive bargains. Think what you actually need or want to buy.
Use comparison sites
The price of big-ticket items such as TVs varies considerably on the web. Price comparison site such as kelkoo.co.uk and pricerunner.co.uk display the prices of the same item at different e-tailers. Kelkoo, which scans prices for fashion, books, music and electronics products, includes the cost of delivery in the price, telling you, for instance, that a Samsung LCD TV can be had for £473.99 rather than £534.94 – a saving of £60.
Stick to reputable names
Some lesser-known websites skim a few pounds off the price. Consider how reliable the cheap site looks, and whether you would be better off buying from a high-street name with good after-sales service. Whoever you buy from, check the web address. Fraudsters often mimic the names of high-street retailers and disappear with the lolly. Tapping a retailer's name (spelt correctly) into Google should pull up the genuine site as the first link.
Look for frauds
An online shopper and his money can be easily parted. The web is packed with swindlers punting out fake designer goods. Check where a site is based and don't assume a .uk address guarantees a UK company. Beware of sites listing a PO box as a point of contact.
Know your rights
Under the EU Distance Selling Directive, British customers can return most goods to British websites within seven days of delivery and to firms based in the rest of Europe between seven and 14 days after delivering, depending on the law in each country. You can return goods if they are of unsatisfactory quality or you change your mind. A complete refund should be paid within 30 days. (Some things are excluded from the directive, such as finance, travel, regular deliveries of food and drink, unsealed computer software and newspapers and periodicals.) Under the UK Sale of Goods Act faulty goods can often be returned to UK firms beyond the seven days but within a reasonable period of time, usually three to four weeks.
Be aware that if a delivery driver cannot post a parcel through your letterbox, and you're out, they can legally leave it on your doorstep or charge you to take it back.
Complain if unsatisfied
Contact the retailer with a polite but firm tone. If you don't have any success, speak to the free government helpline Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06. It's open 8am to 6.30pm on weekdays and 9am to 1pm on Saturday. Alternatively, contact your local trading standards department. For problems with European retailers, contact the UK European Consumer Centre on 08456 04 05 03.