Don't get ripped off buying electricals
Whether you're buying a fridge freezer or a state of the art home theatre, it pays to spend time researching your purchase before you part with your cash. As well as ensuring you get the best price, this will help you buy the electrical item that's right for you.
"It's incredibly important to do your research before buying any electrical appliances," says Lizzy Ruffles, a researcher for Which?. "If you buy an unreliable product that needs to be repaired or replaced after just a few years of use, or a product that has poor energy efficiency, then you're just throwing your hard-earned money away."
There are plenty of places to do your research, with Which? one of the best-known starting points. It publishes a range of books and magazines to help you pick the best goods and services, and its website includes reviews of a wide range of products, all of which are available to subscribers.
The internet is also home to a number of other handy research websites. Price comparison websites such as Kelkoo.co.uk and PriceRunner.co.uk contain product information and buyers' guides as well as details of where you'll find the lowest prices.
"Our buyers' guides help you make a decision about which appliance is right for you and your budget," says Marc Thomas, country manager for PriceRunner.co.uk. "Getting to grips with all the different makes and models can be a bit overwhelming so understand the different features on offer and then work out which ones suit your needs."
Retailers' websites are another useful source of information. These contain product information so you can compare different makes and models. On top of this, some sites, such as Comet's and Tesco's, allow you to search according to key criteria such as price or energy efficiency, which can help narrow down your choices.
Getting the right model
Wherever you check out product features, as well as thinking about factors such as price and energy efficiency, it's also important to spend your money on electrical items that are right for your needs.
"Comparing the features on dishwashers or the capacities of fridges might seem dull but these are products that you use every day so it's best to take your time and make sure you buy the right one," adds Ruffles. "Think about how many times you load and unload your dishwasher each week and you'll soon see why it's important to consider the layout of the racks before you buy one."
It's these personal details that can make all the difference so check out the buyers' guides and think about how you might want to use the product.
For instance, if you're looking for a washing machine, Which? recommends you take into account the capacity of a machine. Although sizes vary, it says that the typical capacity of a machine is 6kg, which is sufficient for most households, but you might want to look for a smaller, and potentially cheaper machine, if you live alone.
If you have a lot of clothes that require 'hand-wash' cycles, then remember that this setting does not come as standard and you may have to pay more for it.
Which? also flags up other, possibly less obvious, features that could affect the usability of your washing machine. For example, door heights can vary between machines and Which? flags up Candy as having a higher door than other manufacturers, which can make it easier to load and unload the machine.
Televisions are another popular purchase but with so much variety on the market you can potentially end up with one that's a real turn-off. "Make sure you understand what you're buying," says Thomas. "Do you know the difference between LCDs, flat screen TVs and HD TV? How you want to watch it can affect which is right for you."
Another purchase where it's essential the features match your needs is a laptop. If you're intending to use it on the go, then battery life and weight will be high on your feature priorities.
If, however, you'll be using it for games or video then make sure the graphics are up to the job. Which? recommends a separate graphics card rather than integrated graphics and, if you intend to play the latest games, making sure this card is DX10 compatible.
As well as getting to grips with the spin speeds on washing machines or laptops' RAM specifications, Thomas recommends checking out customer reviews.
"These are incredibly honest and revealing and can prevent you buying something you're not happy with," he says.
Do treat them with caution though. Other buyers will have different priorities to you, so although the noise of a washing machine might drive Jane from Tunbridge Wells insane, it might be irrelevant to you if you have a well sound-proofed laundry room.
Additionally, while the disgruntled reviews might be genuine, manufacturers' marketing teams could be behind some of the more glowing ones, so only ever use them alongside your own research.