Christmas shopping tips

Many of us will be hitting the shops or buying gifts online. But don’t let fake goods or unexpected return polices put a dampener on your celebrations. And remember If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

Check return policies and keep receipts

Before buying a present check the seller’s return policy and ask if they do gift receipts. Proof of purchase is very important if you do need to return anything. Put receipts in a safe place as soon as you start shopping. Shops don’t have to take things back unless there’s something wrong with them, but often help out of goodwill.

Know who you are buying from

Only buy from shops and traders you know and be wary of traders using a PO Box as their contact address. Make sure you know the trader’s full address, especially if the company is based outside the UK.

Be very careful with ‘Christmas shops’ and one-day sales that appear overnight. They often disappear just as quickly with no one left to complain to if things go wrong.

Buying online

Before purchasing from a new website, check there is a name and address in the contact details. Carry out an internet search to see if there are any poor reviews and check the URL in the web browser.

One tactic often used by fraudsters for email marketing is to use a slightly different email address for a well know company, for example if they’re spoofing an eBay site they may have an address such as ‘. . . @ebayz.com’ whereas the real site is ‘. . . @ebay.com’.

Keep a look out for the padlock symbol, which indicates a secure website. And never send credit card or bank details by email.

You have the right to change your mind with most things bought online or by mail order. If you’re buying over the internet, you also get protection against fraud if you pay by credit or debit card. But make sure you know the full cost and can afford the repayments of a credit card.

Don’t forget you have a 14 days cancellation period when you buy online, time to examine the goods and send them back if they are not suitable.


If you’re ordering presents, get written confirmation they’ll be delivered in time. If you don’t, you might get an estimated delivery date only and have to accept goods after Christmas.

Fake goods

Watch out for cheap fakes. They’re likely to be poor quality and could be unsafe.

  • Never leave the device charging unattended – especially overnight: a faulty cut-off switch (designed to stop the battery from continuing to charge once fully charged) or a plug without a fuse, as seen in many products detained so far, could lead to the device overheating, exploding or catching fire.
  • Check the device: things to look out for include the shape of the plug – the first unsafe products identified often had a clover-shaped plug. Also check the device for markings or traceable information, such as the name and contact details of the manufacturer and / or importer. All electrical items should have the CE mark on them.
  • If buying online, look closely at the website before you hit the ‘buy’ button:
    • Try searching for reviews of the product or the seller – do these seem genuine?
    • Are there lots of spelling or grammar mistakes on the site? This can be a clue that a business is not professionally run.  
    • See if you can find out where the company’s head office is based – and whether that fits with how the website presents itself.
    • Do they have a landline number you can call if there are any problems? Bear in mind that if the company is based abroad, it can be more difficult to get a complaint dealt with or return a faulty product.
    • Read the small print – notice if anything seems odd, repetitive or in incorrect English.
    • Is there an ‘s’ at the end of the ‘http’ part of the web address, or is there a padlock symbol in the task bar? This means the website is using an encrypted system that keeps your details more secure.
    • Don’t be dazzled by a bargain: Are the prices incredibly low? If they look too good to be true, they probably are – particularly if some of your other checks have put doubts in your mind.
  • Be aware that criminals exploit high demand: When items like self-balancing scooters start to sell out at well-known retailers, the void is quickly filled by crooks churning out poor quality imitations that can put people in danger. Don’t ‘panic buy’ from the first website you find – do your usual common-sense checks.

Report it

If you believe that any online or face-to-face seller is selling potentially dangerous goods, or something you’ve bought has made you suspicious, report it to Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.


Try not to spend money on presents that you cannot afford. If problems arise don’t let them pile up, seek advice as soon as possible. If possible avoid high cost loans such as Pay Day Lenders. You can contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau to get free impartial advice.

Find out more…

For more advice contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or visit www.adviceguide.org.uk or www.oxfordshire.gov.uk