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The rights and wrongs of the winter sales: Your consumer guide to bagging a bargain in days ahead

Pricewatch: When you buy something in a sale you have the same consumer protections as you do if you bought it at full price

People might lose the run of themselves as they race from shop to shop in a discount daze during the winter sales but the good news is they won’t lose any of the hard-won protections they have.

“When you buy something in a sale you have exactly the same consumer rights and protections as you do if you bought it at full price,” says a spokeswoman for the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) when asked what protections are in place for consumers this sales season.

“This means, for example, that you have the right to refund, repair or replacement if an item is faulty or not as described,” she continues.

“And always remember that no warranty or guarantee can take away your statutory rights.”


And what statutory rights do you have?

It does not matter if you pay full price or get a 99 per cent discount: a product should be of an acceptable standard, fit for its intended purpose and as advertised. If it is not, you are entitled to a repair, a replacement or a refund.

It is not, however, you who gets to decide which of the three Rs you get. It is up to the retailer, so there is no point in demanding a refund – the law is not on your side.

The law is on your side when it comes to signs such as “No money refunded” or “Sale goods not exchanged”. They are meaningless and possibly illegal, so feel free to ignore them.

It is also worth bearing in mind that if the price of something on the shelf is less than the price eventually quoted at the till, you don’t have the right to buy the product at the lower price.

Shopping online gives you 14-day cooling-off period – if the business is based in Ireland or the European Union – and you can change your mind and return goods for a refund within 14 days of delivery for any reason

The price on the shelf is what is known as an invitation to treat and is not a legally binding contract, so if you see a jumper you know is worth €50 priced at a fiver in the madness of the sale and an assistant spots the error at the point of sale, they can refuse to sell it to you.

If you are returning something bought in the sales because it is flawed, all you need is proof of purchase. That can take many forms, including a credit-card receipt and doesn’t have to be a store receipt.

Retailers cannot demand a receipt or insist you deal directly with a manufacturer – your contract is always with the seller of the goods.

Shopping online gives you 14-day cooling-off period – if the business is based in Ireland or the European Union – and you can change your mind and return goods for a refund within 14 days of delivery for any reason. You may have to cover the cost of postage when returning an item, however.

When it comes to in-store sales, “retailers can set their own terms when it comes to change-of-mind returns and some suspend their normal discretionary returns for sale items,” the CCPC spokeswoman says and she encourages people to “make sure you know the terms before buying something you may not want to keep”.

Many people do not trust the sales boasts made by retailers – and with good reason. But the still fairly recent Consumer Rights Act should make it harder for retailers to mislead consumers about sale prices.

In times past, a retailer could have increased the price just before it went on sale or used the recommended retail price from 12 months previously when boasting about a discount. That is more difficult under European regulations regarding sales pricing that were transposed into Irish legislation at the end of November 2022.

“In a nutshell, if a business is announcing a sale, then they must base the price reduction on the lowest price an item was on sale for in the previous 30 days,” the CCPC spokeswoman says. “They must also show this prior price to customers and all sales announcements and labels should be clear and easy to read.”

The consumer watchdog points out that the “discount must be a real discount and the CCPC will take enforcement action against businesses that mislead consumers into thinking that they are getting a better deal than they actually are.

Mistakes to avoid

While you have rights you might still do wrong in the days ahead.

To get the best from the sales we have some tips.

1: Remember a bargain is a bargain only if you want it, need it and will use it – otherwise you are wasting your money.

2: Before buying anything ask yourself if you really want it – you won’t have time to delay, so that notion of waiting 24 hours before buying doesn’t apply. But grill yourself. And don’t buy something unless you really, really, really want it. If there is even the slightest doubt in your mind leave it back.

3: Do some homework before hitting the shops. Look online to see what the shops you are visiting have on offer and make a list of what you are in the market for. You’ll be glad you did this come the end of next month when the credit card bills land.

4: The best time to shop in the sales are both early in the season and early in the day. The worst time is in the afternoons when it can be bedlam, with blood in the aisles as folk fight over the cheap ties and shirts and blouses and skirts. And when you have got what you want, go home.

5: The second-best time to shop in the sales is just as they are about to end. At the tail end of the sale the reductions become a whole lot more dramatic as retailers grow more desperate to shift their unwanted stock.

6: If you want to make the biggest savings, focus on the high-value, big-ticket items. The more expensive the stuff, the bigger the discounts in cash terms. The items will last longer and be less likely to fall victim to the whims of fashion. You are better off buying one really expensive but enduring item than five items that will be heading for the charity shop before the end of 2024.