With November drawing to a close, the internet seems to be bursting with discounts, special offers and bargains on offer from retailers and voucher websites. There's a good reason for this – the end of November marks Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.
For those of you who have no idea what it is or how it works, here's our Q&A guide to help ensure you don't miss out on bargains galore.
What is it?
A US tradition, it refers to the first Friday after Thanksgiving, when lots of people have the day off - and what do Americans like to do on a day off? Go shopping, of course. With that in mind, retailers slash the prices of hundreds of thousands of items in the hope they will attract customers through their doors.
The most committed shoppers queue up outside their favourite stores and malls for hours to make sure they snap up the best deals; but these days the deals have also moved online.
Why is it called Black Friday?
Most people think it's because retailers finally move into the black by that day – after 11 months of trading! But Wikipedia notes that it was coined in Philadelphia, in response to the nightmare traffic that the shopping day routinely caused.
When is it?
This year it falls on 28 November, though some retailers such as Amazon will start discounting from Monday 24 November and will continue to do so all week. Many will also discount on Monday 1 December – also known in the UK as Cyber Monday, another heavy shopping day.
Is it only a US thing?
Nope. Brits have really got into Black Friday in the last few years. Last year, Amazon received 4 million orders on Black Friday - its biggest ever day in the UK.
This year, Brits are collectively expected to spend more than £6,000 every second (that's over £1 million every three minutes), according to Visa Europe. To put that in context, that's around 8.5 million online transactions during the day, with the peak hours of between 7pm and 8pm.
Are all retailers taking part?
It depends on the retailer, to be honest, but certainly the large retailers are all taking part. For example, the following have all launched their own dedicated Black Friday discount pages online: Amazon, Argos, Asda, Currys, Dixons, Very, John Lewis.
What are some of the best deals?
That depends what you want to buy, of course. Amazon will be offering average discounts of 40% and will be discounting the likes of: Xbox One Bundles; Sony 48-inch TV; Canon DSLR Camera; Nokia Lumia Smartphone; Selected Ariel Fine Diamond Jewellery; Le Creuset Cookware; BioChef Silent Juicer; DeLonghi Bean to Cup Coffee Machine; James Bond - 22 Film Collection; Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor; Marc Jacobs Sunglasses; Philips Shavers; Johnnie Walker Whisky Platinum 70cl; Korg Digital Piano; Emiglio Remote Controlled Robot; My Little Pony Equestria Girls Rainbow Rocks Mane Event Stage Playset; Mr Men My Complete Collection by Roger Hargreaves; Disney Frozen Pyjama Set and Marvel Avengers Pyjama Set.
Nectar is offering double points when you make purchases with Debenhams, Disney Store, Game, Gap, House of Fraser, Lego, O2 Mobile, Topshop, Nike, Next, and Swarovski. It's offering triple points with Accessorize, Clarks, Currys, Dorothy Perkins, Notonthehighstreet.com, PC World, and Toys R Us. Plus, quadruple points with The Body Shop, and Harvey's Furniture.
If the Black Friday deals are better there, can I buy from the US and get items sent to me in the UK?
It depends on the retailer. Some will let you order online from the UK and charge you international postage; others won't.
However, to get around this problem, some tech companies have sprung up to offer international shoppers a helping hand. For example, BundleBox.com gives its users a personal US parcel forwarding address they can use when ordering online. So no matter where they live they can shop from any US website, using the BundleBox delivery address. Fees vary.
Do I have to pay tax on anything I buy from the US?
Yes but exactly what type and how much varies considerably. Sales tax has to be paid on purchases (around 8% or 9%). Plus, you might also have to pay import tax (also known as Customs Duty, which applies to goods over a certain value produced from outside the EU) if you exceed your duty free allowance - another 8% or 9% of the purchase price. Websites such as dutycalculator.com can give you a good idea of what you'll pay.
You could consider using a credit card for items that cost more than £100 as this will give you added protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Section 75 means that your credit card company is jointly responsible with the retailer for the services or goods you have paid for. So, if you are unable to get a refund for something you have bought you may be able to claim from your credit card company.
Any other financial tips?
Yup - credit cards don't necessarily mean you have to pay interest:
- First off, as long as you pay the balance on your credit card in full every month, you won't be charged interest on the purchases you've made (so you could use a credit card for protection, then immediately pay it off).
- A 0% purchase credit card will not charge you interest on purchases for a period of time. However, if you don't have one already, it may be too late to obtain a new card.
- Think about a cashback card. If you have one of these, it might be worth using it for some of your Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping in order to obtain a reward. However, cashback cards may charge a slightly higher level of interest on purchases, so it's probably best to clear your balance by the end of the month.
- Spend wisely. Don't spend more than you can afford.
Staying safe online
You should always be vigilant when entering your card details online, especially at a time when many retailers will be offering mouth-watering discounts - a time when fraudsters will try and dupe people into using unsecured or fraudulent websites.
Before entering your card details, make sure you trust the site. Look for a padlock symbol in your browser window when you're entering your payment details and always check the address bar matches the site that you're expecting.
Also watch out for ‘phishing' emails promising Black Friday discounts. Never click on a link. Instead, find any retailer's real website and search for the deal there – just in case.
Transfer your balance after Christmas
If you have made purchases on a credit card that charges interest, look to move it to one that has a 0% deal on balance transfers - ideally for as long a time frame as possible. This will, for a fee, allow you to manage your repayments without incurring interest.
There are usually a lot of 0% balance transfer deals around in January. However, it's important to remember that if you do not pay off the balance in full by the end of the 0% period, you will be charged interest on the remainder of the balance on the card.