It’s easy to compare prices and find the best buy – just go to a comparison website, type in your item, and pick the cheapest, right?
Well, wrong, because you’ll still need your calculator and your thinking cap as there are quite a few things to consider. Here are the seven top points to start you off:
1. Does the price say ‘from…’?
If it does, that’s when it’s possible to buy in quantity and the price given is the discounted price per unit for bulk buys. However, if you only want one of something, it won’t have this discount.
2. Include VAT?
Sometimes the supplier may sell to the trade and individual members of the public. Trade buyers are used to seeing prices without VAT.
3. In stock?
Is it so good a price that they’ve all been snapped up? Or were there ever any of these items actually available at this price from this supplier? If it’s not in stock, what is the promised re-stocking/supply time? We’ve been caught out by ordering a newly launched camera at a very good price, but kept being told it was going to be supplied soon. We decided the low price was just to lure customers to their website, in the hope we’d buy something else. Eventually we cancelled the order and bought at the next best price, from a supplier who had the item in stock.
4. Postage and packing costs?
P&P may be included in the price, or waived for orders over a certain amount. Carriage might be quoted as ‘from £x’ because it varies according to the item’s weight, size, or destination. Where p & p is applied to low-priced orders, it might be better to buy several items from the same supplier, even if they are more expensive, so you can benefit from free postage or carriage.
5. Payment options and protection?
Is the company a reliable trusted name that gives full contact details (including its office address and phone number), tracks deliveries, offers refunds, upholds guarantees and warranties offered by the manufacturer or themselves as the supplier?
Is the online payment procedure secure, or is it better to phone up and order (if so, do you get the online price deal?). What different ways are there to pay? Can you use your debit card, credit card or Pay Pal account? Is there an extra charge for certain payment options? Don’t forget that some credit card companies offer insurance for purchases.
6. Delivery details?
Do you need to wait in to either sign for the item, accept something too bulky for the letterbox, or both? Will you have to wait in all week, all day or all morning? How precise a delivery time can the company give you? Can you specify a delivery time to them? Is this more expensive? Is a Saturday delivery more expensive?
7. Ethically and sustainably produced?
Does the cheapest item come at the expense of those involved in making or transporting it, or at everyone’s expense when it comes to limited resources and disposal?
Are you sure that production or transport did not involve dangerous working conditions, child labour, pollution of air, water, land or food, oppressive regimes, zero human rights or lack of animal welfare?
Will the item and its packaging be easy to re-use or recycle or will disposal have an effect on your health and your locality.
If any of these are your concern, then choose suppliers specialising in ethically sourced goods such as Fair Trade and sustainably produced items from organically grown crops or recycled materials. Look for members of the Ethical Trade Initiative, or put pressure on suppliers to join. The Ethical Consumer provides buyers’ guides if you want to research this further.