If you pay full price for your latest piece of technology, you haven't been shopping around. We show you how to save money when buying your new gadgets
Modern retailing is world apart from that of just a few years ago. For starters, a serious chunk of consumer sales now happen online; and in the high street, the business of selling goods has largely been stitched up by a few giant companies, the names of which are familiar to anyone heading out to the shops these days.
As such, the options for snaring proper bargains may seem limited. So-called ‘sales’ are often planned months in advance, staff in big-name shops have little, if any, authority to haggle, and when buying online there’s simply no way to discuss the advertised price.
However, if you know where to look there are loads of places to hunt down true bargains and none more so than when shopping for technology. It might take a bit more time but the savings can be huge – and in this article we’ll show how to chop hundreds of pounds off the price of numerous technology buys. You’ll never pay full price again.
Old hat isn’t tat
It hardly needs saying that the world of technology moves quickly: sometimes barely weeks pass before a product is updated in some way. Consequently, a gadget or gizmo that was until recently considered the latest must-have product last will now be marked as old hat.
However, this kind of thinking provides those of a more measured disposition with ample opportunities to find massive discounts on products that, on reflection, are just as useful now as they were before the latest version appeared.
The digital camera market, for instance, provides endless examples of this phenomenon. A little over a year ago we reviewed the Olympus SP-800UZ digital camera.
Though it had its niggles, we thought that the SP-800UZ took great photos, had a generous internal memory and a fantastic 30x zoom. For £300 we considered it a fair buy.
So what’s changed? Nothing, other than the price – the SP-800UZ can now be picked up for around £200. In other words, the camera that we thought was a fair buy just 12 months ago has had an effective 33 per cent price cut – and you can bet the price will keep falling.
Remember, the SP-800UZ’s abilities haven’t deteriorated in the space of a year: it is still a 14-megapixel snapper with a strong optical zoom and 2GB of internal storage. The only difference is that it is a year older and for £300 you’d now get a camera with better specifications – but are those really worth an extra £100 to you?
The same rule applies to all sorts of technology: consumers pay a premium for the latest and greatest specifications, but the price soon falls. The transient and fast-moving nature of the technology industry ensures that, more often than not, patience pays dividends.
A dramatic example of this is provided by the high-definition (HD) television market. Just a few years ago you would have banked on spending upwards of £1,000 for 42in HD TV, with some models costing several thousand pounds.
Today, it’s possible to pick up a great-quality 42in HD TV from any of the big-brand names (such as LG, Panasonic and Samsung) for £500 or less.
Clearly, while the latest technology seems appealing, it is sensible not to get caught up in the hype. Adverts and in-store salespeople might tell you that a new gadget is so amazing that you couldn’t possibly live without it – but you’ve managed well enough until now. Survive a few more months until the price drops and you’ll get a much better deal.
All stock must go
If you simply can’t wait and want to get shopping right away, there are plenty of ways to grab bargains on even the latest technology. Online auctions, sales of stolen goods by police, saleroom auctions and specialist discounters and refurbished stockists all regularly offload technology – even the latest products – for markedly less than the normal retail price.
Well-known retailers Argos and Comet, for instance, both use online stores to sell off stock that they are unable to shift via normal web or high-street processes. Visit the Argos Outlet or Comet Clearance Auctions to see what’s on offer.
Typically, there’s a considerable range of items available, but the quality of the bargains can vary quite a bit. Argos uses the Ebay auction site to sell its clearance stock, but rather than auctioning the items, they are all listed using Ebay’s ‘Buy it Now’ lots – meaning you pay a set price.
There are some great bargains hidden away: when we looked Argos Outlet was selling the Samsung WB500m, a good compact digital camera that originally cost around £180, for £90 plus £4 postage and packing – an £86 saving.
Comet’s clearance site isn’t as comprehensive but does use auctions – so there is potential for some items to sell below their market price. Oddly, the reverse is also true: when we checked some lots were closing at prices above the normal in-store cost.
Many other retailers have clearance sites, so it’s worth hitting Google to see what you can find. But sometimes, what you seek is no further away than clicking a link on a retailer’s website.
British computer manufacturer Novatech, for example, lists a range of clearance items on its website – and there were some good offers when we visited (a powerful laptop with an 18.4in display was on sale for £969, over £700 cheaper than its original asking price).
Even Marks and Spencer lists clearance technology items (visit Marks and Spencer's website then click Technology followed by Technology Clearance), although a number of its ‘discounted’ buys were still more expensive than on websites such as Amazon and Ebuyer – so shopping around is still important.
One operator you might not expect to wheedle a bargain from is Apple. The company has built a reputation as a manufacturer of premium products and isn’t afraid to put premium price tags on them.
However, tucked away on its online store is a Special Deals section that offers refurbished and discounted computers, iPads, iPods and accessories. Visit the Apple store, scroll down to the bottom of the page and there, lurking at the very bottom left, are the Special Deals links – including a Clearance department.
Stock tends to be limited, coming and going quickly, so it’s a good idea to check the site often. When we visited, we found a 64GB model of the original iPad on sale for £379; the equivalent iPad 2 currently costs £559 – £180 more.
But as we’ve seen, clearance items sold directly by high-street retailers don’t always offer the best bargains. At least, they don’t always reveal their best prices to casual visitors.
The latter website, for instance, has been around since 2004 and over the years it has gained a substantial community of users that post the latest deal links, discount codes and other information for saving money when shopping online both online and on the high street.
Essentially, other people have already tracked down some of the best deals and all you have to do is browse and see if there is anything of interest. It need be no more difficult that searching for a product or retailer name just to see if there are any bargains.
When we looked, for example, we found a link to a Logitech Wireless keyboard and mouse deal – just £13 from Tesco. Had you have looked elsewhere for the same product on the same day, you would have been asked to pay around £30.
The Hot UK Deals site is free to use and no registration is required. However, if you do create a free account, you’ll be able to receive alerts about the latest deals and vote on the attractiveness of those found by others.
Another site to visit for bargains, is Groupon. The deals tend to be less focused on technology but they change daily and are specific to your locality, so there’s always a surprise on offer.
Taking advantage is a case of deciding whether you’re interested and, if so, signing up for the deal. In some cases, if insufficient customers sign up, then the deal is off and no money will be taken from your account.
For something a bit different, recovered goods are another option. Police raids can see all sorts of things seized, from stolen goods to illegal imports, and this includes plenty of electronic goods.
The best-known website for buying disposal goods from the police is Bumblebee Auctions. For example, Amazon’s third-generation Kindle Keyboard currently costs £109 but we found a disposal sale with a closing prince of £80.
The website’s interface is a bit basic, but many items go for very low prices. This is partly because seized goods are often second-hand but also because some items have known or unknown faults – so you do have to be choosy when it comes to buying technology this way.
Most items need to be collected in person from the specific police force. Where an item can be posted, this will be displayed on the listings page.
Police auctions that you can attend in person are another possibility (contact your local force for information on sale dates).
If police property-disposal auctions aren’t to your liking then consider joining a recycling community such as Freecycle or Freegle. We’re not going to pretend that these are places to pick up the latest technology but what you will get is lots of offers of free unwanted goods that may be in good order and useful to you.
Under the hammer
When it comes to bagging a bargain, nothing beats the thrill of a live auction. There are hundreds of auction houses up and down the country and obviously, we couldn’t begin to list them all. However, there are also a few auctioneers that specialise in technology – be it sales of new or distressed (damaged or otherwise not new) goods.
Nottingham-based John Pye & Sons, for instance, is just such a specialist. Held in what used to be a brewery, we recently attended a John Pye auction to experience the event for ourselves.
While it is hard to give specific buying pointers, it was quickly clear that there were some great bargains to be had. Along with countless laptops, netbooks and desktop computers, we also saw numerous digital cameras, ebook readers and other bits of technology auctioned off.
Many of the items that go under the hammer at John Pye come from excess or clearance stock from major high-street retailers, so the goods are often as good as new (though don’t count on receiving the original boxes and packaging materials).
Netbooks seemed to go consistently for around £100 to £150, while more powerful laptops sold for between £200 and £300. These prices are good but just occasionally, a real steal came and went.
To give an example, an Acer 5620 laptop with an Intel Core Duo processor, 2GB of memory and a 160GB hard disk sold for just £72. On the same day, we found similar laptops for sale on the Acer website at well over £400.
In addition to real-life sales, John Pye also runs online auctions. Items for both types of auction can be previewed and all lots are photographed with any damage noted.
Photographs and auction details for things such as laptops are fairly comprehensive, covering all the important specifications, including processor, memory and hard disk capacity. Images are normally clear enough and if there is serious damage, such as a cracked screen or missing keyboard keys, then this will be noted.
Other things such as no battery, or no hard disk, should also be noted in the lot information. However, lots are sold ‘as seen’, so for online auctions it is wise, if at all possible, to attend a viewing session to physically handle the goods.
You should also be aware of the various fees and regulations when bidding for items at auctions. Items are subject to a ‘buyer’s premium’, typically 15 to 20 per cent of the hammer price, unless otherwise stated.
Also, all lots are sold without VAT, so that will also be added to the price. Finally, bidders are usually expected to pay a refundable deposit before entering the auction room (John Pye requests £100, for example).
Like many auctioneers, John Pye sells some items ‘as they lie’ (also known as ‘as seen’), with all faults and errors clearly described. With computers, everything is plugged into the power and turned on, so it is possible to check thoroughly before the auction begins.
Viewing-times for online auctions are clearly advertised on the John Pye website, while viewing for physical auctions takes place immediately beforehand. It is recommended that people don’t bid unless they have come to the auction house to examine an item beforehand.
Online auctions take place over several days and use a ‘three-minute rule’. This means that if a person bids online during the last three minutes of the advertised end of auction, three further minutes will be added on to the bidding time. This is designed to prevent flurries of last-second bidders.
We attended John Pye’s auction rooms during the week, though there are also auctions at weekends. However, it’s worth knowing that weekday auctions tend to be frequented by retailers, who can bid aggressively (and strategically) on lots.
Also, watch out for sales of ‘job lots’ – lots where several same or similar items are sold at once. You might single out a particular item during the viewing period only to discover at sale time that it’s part of a job lot – so do your research beforehand.
Weekend auctions are usually more consumer-focussed. In practical terms, this means that the lots are more likely to be free from damage and in full working order.
The bottom line
As we’ve shown, saving money on technology purchases doesn’t necessarily mean having to compromise on quality or usefulness. Indeed, the process can even be fun – we thoroughly enjoyed our experience at a real-life auction and nearly ended up bidding when we intended only to be observers.
However, we’ve also seen that you needn’t go to great lengths to secure the best buys: just look for clearance websites, voucher codes and even just last year’s must-have gadgets, which can always be picked up at a knock-down price.
Hopefully, you’ll never again pay the asking price without first seeking out a discount.
Updating your subscription status