Shopping can be fun, but it can also sometimes be confusing and stressful. When there's more than one kind of the thing you want, how do you know which one you should buy? Where do you find the cheapest one? And is the cheapest one really the best one to buy?
Informed consumers know how to shop around and how to compare prices and quality. They also understand what after-sales service they have a right to expect and how to complain if things go wrong.
This page offers some tips on taking some of the stress out of shopping expeditions.
We buy things we don't need all the time. For instance, nobody needs an MP3 player, but most people still want one.
Try asking yourself why you want the thing you're going to buy. Is it just because everybody else has one? If so, you might end up regretting your purchase down the track.
Think about whether the thing you're buying is still going to be cool in three months, or even useful. It also helps to have a think about whether you can afford it.
For more tips on budgeting, check out our Budgeting page.
Before you start shopping, research the kind of item you want to buy. Make a checklist of what you want and what you're willing to pay. That way you can ensure you're getting the features you want (including things like a warranty) for the best possible price.
Here's a few things to think about when doing your research:
- Shop around - if you can, check out more than one store to compare brands, features and prices
- Talk to people who already have the thing you're planning on buying - are they happy with it?
- Ask staff at the store about other makes and models of the same product
- Check out product reviews in magazines and websites
- When possible, consider alternative, cheaper versions
It might help to take a notebook when comparing products so you can remember everything that you find out.
A couple of good places to start your research are:
- Choice Magazine (new window), which offers lots of advice to consumers, including a comprehensive directory of product reviews that compare lots of different brands and make recommendations based on various criteria
- The Whirlpool Forums (new window), which mainly discuss the internet and technology, but they also host discussions about the merits of other consumer products
Here are some tips that can help you spend less when you're shopping:
- Remember that advertised items are not necessarily the cheapest - just because something's on sale it doesn't mean it's the best price
- A lot of shops have regularly scheduled sales - find out when they are and hold off buying things if you know a sale is coming up soon
- Because they get discounts from manufacturers for ordering in bulk, larger stores are often cheaper than smaller ones
- Ask for a discount if you pay with cash
- Shop at markets, second-hand stores, garage sales and warehouses
- Find out if the product you're buying comes with a warranty and how long that warranty lasts for
- Ask if the store offers any student or other concessions - some computer stores, for example, offer generous discounts to full-time students or unemployed people
If you don't feel comfortable negotiating the price of the product with the salesperson, you might consider taking an assertive friend or family member with you who has your best interests at heart and let them do all the talking for you.
As well as using cash or cards, there are other ways you buy things. Each comes with their own conditions and restrictions and consequences, so consider very carefully before choosing one of these options.
Some stores offer the choice of paying for things over time and collecting it once you've paid for it in full. Keep in mind that there are usually minimum deposit amounts and penalties for not paying deposits often enough.
To find out more about your rights with lay-by, check out the Consumer Affairs Victoria Lay-By pages (new window).
Rent to Buy/Interest-Free Deals/Consumer Leasing
If you can't afford to buy something outright, like a computer or a new TV, some stores will let you take things home without paying for them in full. For example, it's possible to rent a product, like a new stereo or TV, for a set period of time.
Some rental arrangements specify that you end up owning the product after a set number of payments, but other rental contracts are ongoing - you pay the same amount every month for as long as you have the thing you're renting. Some stores also let you take things home and pay for them in instalments.
If you don't have the money for the things you want upfront, and you think you can meet the monthly payments, then this is an option to consider. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that these arrangements usually mean you'll end up paying more over time compared to buying the product up front.
If you're planning on buying something big, like a car or a laptop, you could consider taking out a loan, but make sure that you are able to repay the loan on time and in full. Check out our Credit Cards & loans page for more about loans.
Knowing your rights when you're buying stuff and how to exercise them can help you avoid mistakes, and save you time and money.
You have the right to expect:
- Certain quality, performance and safety standards from goods and services purchased
- Protection from misleading and deceiving practices like false advertising claims and high-pressure selling tactics
- Any information provided with goods and services to be accurate and to include any information required by law (e.g., price, content and weight of package, care labels on garments and textiles, safety instructions on dangerous products)
If you feel like a store has ripped you off, you don't have to put up with it. Contact the store or take the product back to where you bought it, with the receipt, and politely explain the problem, and tell them how you would like it solved (e.g. refund, exchange, or repair). If you aren't happy with what they offer you, you should contact Consumer Affairs Victoria (new window) on 1300 55 81 to discuss your options.
Returns and Refunds
Sometimes what you buy isn't what you want after all. Sometimes it doesn't work the way it should or the way you thought it would. But if you've bought something and wish to return it, can you? The answer is: Maybe!
Note that if you just changed your mind after you bought something, damaged it by misusing it, or you don't have a receipt, you aren't necessarily entitled to a refund. You're more likely to get a refund if your purchase:
- Has a fault you didn't know about when you bought it
- Doesn't do the job you were told it would do
- Is different from a sample on display
- Is different from how it was described to you
Some stores might offer you an exchange or a credit note instead of a refund. If so, remember to check the expiry date of the credit note!
For comprehensive information on returns and refunds including what your rights are if you want to return something or get a refund, check out the Consumer Affairs Victoria Returns and Refunds page (new window).
Our Consumer Rights page also has further information and advice about your rights when you buy stuff.
Some products come with a warranty, which is a guarantee from the manufacturer to replace or repair the product if it's faulty.
Some warranties specify that this repair or replacement offer is only valid for a set period of time, or if you have filled in a warranty card and returned it to the manufacturer.
If a product you buy turns out to be faulty, you might still be entitled to repair or replacement, even if the warranty is expired or no longer valid. Check out Consumer Affairs Victoria's Warranties information (new window) for details.
Online shopping comes with its own particular advantages and disadvantages. The trick is how to do it without getting ripped off. To find out more about your rights when shopping online, check out the "Online Shopping" section of our Consumer Rights page or our Online Shopping page.
Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) - shopping
A guide to all aspects of shopping, from advertising and product safety to warranties and returns.
Advice to consumers, including a directory of product reviews that compare the quality and price range of lots of different products and services
Mainly focused on internet and technology, with some limited discussion of other consumer products.