/ Shopping, Technology

Bargain electronics may not be what you bargained for

Most of us love a good deal and when it comes to electronics, there’s significant money to be saved. But how can you be sure that the ‘sale’ price on the ticket is genuinely lower than the original price?

A big spend of any sort can trigger some pretty strong emotions, including immense satisfaction when you bag a great bargain. You weren’t lured into launch date hysteria to buy it at full price; you played the long game, waited for the price to plummet and pounced at the exact right moment. You outwitted the retailer. You won.

Or did you? What if the saving that justified your purchase was just an illusion? What if you were actually involved in a game with the retailer, where the more you thought you saved on a product, the more you enjoyed buying it, increasing the likelihood that you’ll tell all your friends and go back to spend more?

Spot the difference

Electrical shops always seem to have items on sale. When you look at the original price and its ceremonious strike-through, it’s easy to feel superior knowing you’d never have paid full price. But the question is – did anyone ever pay full whack?

Some of the laptops you find on the high street advertise huge savings, but a quick look around reveals that the same models aren’t selling anywhere for the pre-sale price. There’s a fair amount of consistency in electrical pricing, so you can spot the same products selling for similar prices in other places. But the difference is that they’re not on sale and no one’s pretending you’re making a huge saving.

Save us from misleading sales

Consumer protection regulations prohibit misleading advertising, including what the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) calls ‘reference pricing’. This is where a sale price is compared with a relatively high pre-sale price, which it believes has a ‘potential to cause harm’ to consumers.

Of course, if the retailer were to vastly inflate the prices of products when they first hit the shop floor, the discount would seem more appealing when they came to slash the prices later.

Have you ever struggled to reconcile a pre-sale cost with the spec or quality of a product? And have you ever come across original prices that have seemed unrealistically high, or that you think may be misleading?


In the same way that I assume that advertising will include misrepresentation, I ignore the ‘original price’ and focus on the price I will be expected to pay. I have not given the matter much thought, but is there anyone who pays any attention to ‘original price’?

Before purchasing electronic goods I try to get a feel for what is on offer and identify the features that are worth having. Seeing what friends have bought can either encourage or discourage me from buying a particular model. Which? reports and reviews on websites are very useful and can help avoid expensive mistakes.

I have never bought an electronic product just after it has been introduced. I would prefer to wait until problems have been ironed out, and it is a bonus if the price has dropped. Even when a new model with slight improvements has been announced, I usually wait for a month or two before parting with my money.

With the exception of rapidly developing technology, such as computers, I expect electronic goods to have a longer life than most people, so buying products that are likely to have a long life is just as important to me as purchase price.

Whilst I agree with wavechange that when buying a product you should look at the actual selling price and not be influenced by “discounts” I disagree about the life expectancy of electronic goods. These goods are generally built to have the maximum number of features for the lowest price with little regard to how long they will last. I think most items from washing machines to televisions have a shorter life expectancy than say 10-15 years ago. Manufacturers generally don’t want you to have a product for a long time – they want a repeat sale. As long as the item lasts a reasonable amount of time, say 5 years for a large electronic item, then that is all they are concerned about.


Portable electronic devices (e.g. mobile phones) often have short lifetimes because they are easily dropped or abused in other ways. You are right that most consumer electronics are designed down to a price, and we have heard of problems with expensive big brand TVs on other Which? Conversations. Nevertheless, some electronic goods will go on for years if looked after carefully, and may become obsolete before it dies. Many faults are trivial and easy to fix if you have the patience.

Agree with Wavechange – Only two of my kitchen appliance have broken down in the last 30 years – A Bosh washing Machine (A Which? best buy) after 5 years and a 35 year old Creda Tumble Dryer. The previous Washing Machine pump wore out after 20 years and I couldn’t get a replacement pump. In the rest of the house nothing has broken (except a radio controlled clock due to being dropped) – I still have all of the computers that I bought new working including ZX – VIC 20 – BBC – though many are outdated because of software changes. Never had a TV go wrong though they too have been outdated. Same with radios and phones – I want all of the goods to last longer than 5 years.

In all honesty I will only buy a computer make that I trust – So when I have to update because of software issues – I will always buy an HP.

As for price – I always search the Internet for price checks. So far I have never knowingly bought an item at a “high price”

Suresh says:
11 June 2012

The question is, who is misleading the customers?
Is it :
1. the manufacturer, suggesting a stupidly inflated RRP?
2. the retailer, offering at a ‘discounted price’ as a sale when they never sold it anywhere near to full price?

3. or is the retailer simply offering it at what they believe to be a reasonable price, and comparing the new price to the RRP and then selling it as discounted?

Looking at other Which conversations, this pricing strategy now seems to be the norm, whether it be Marmite on special offer or ‘discounted’ electronic goods. We are lied to and literally conned into paying more than we should, or into buying goods we would not normally buy because ‘it’s such a bargain’
I blame the introduction of newspeak where fraud is now known as mis-selling, and deceitful marketing is called ‘making a mistake’.
I tend to go with @Wavechange and never buy new to the market electrical goods, one step further is to wait for the new upgraded model, and the subsequent price drops of the outdated models.
This means that there are plenty of reviews and all likely faults have been found, so you can buy with far more Knowledge than if you buy new to the market goods. If you are looking to keep your item for 5 years+ you would miss buying any upgraded versions anyway.

This practice infuriates me.
The law should be changed so that once a price has been at a reduced rate for, say a month, then the former higher price may no longer be referred to and the average price of the past month becomes what would be deemed the ‘normal’ selling price. This new ‘normal’ price can no longer be claimed to be a discounted figure (after all… if it is at a particular price for a lengthy period of time, surely that IS the normal selling price!). Any future discounts must refer back to this new figure. This should help eradicate items that appear to be permanently on discount!
The law should also be changed so that the benchmark price has to have been previously offered in the same store in which the discount is being offered (might be difficult to police this though) and not some obscure store on a Hebridean isle!