Christmas shopping traditionally begins in earnest on Black Friday – the annual retail event imported from the USA that kicks off immediately after Thanksgiving. This year, it falls on Friday 24 November, although several retailers have already started their sales.
Despite inflation slowing to 4.6%, the cost of higher interest rates on mortgages, plus the need to spend more on heating our homes as we head into winter, may leave many consumers stretching their budgets to buy presents for family and friends over the coming weeks.
Those feeling the strain may feel under pressure to splash out on Black Friday ‘deals’, in the hope of getting their Christmas shopping done at knockdown prices.
But there is a growing suspicion that many of the so-called deals are no more special than those available at other times of the year, and those fears are not unfounded. Last year, consumer group Which? shared its analysis of more than 200 Black Friday offers in 2021, revealing that 98% were cheaper or the same price at other times in the year.
Fortunately, there is another way to save money on gifting without seeking out sales stickers.
Shop secondhand for standout savings
Our snapshot investigation compared the prices of a handful of gifts, including clothing, jewellery, watches and books, against the cheapest available items that were similar, used and in good condition at some secondhand retailers.*
For our selected gifts, the total cost of purchasing new items at full price would be £716.99. We found the same, or similar, items could be purchased secondhand for just £132.98, offering a potential saving of £584.01.
Top savings included a child’s Adidas football kit (full price £50, secondhand price £6.99 on eBay), a men’s Ted Baker jumper (full price £110, secondhand price £10 on Vinted), a Swarovski bracelet (full price £45, secondhand price £4.99 on eBay), and a paperback copy of a celebrity autobiography (currently £6.99 on Amazon, £1 on Vinted).
We also looked at whether a Black Friday sale of 40% would offer greater savings on the selected items compared with buying them pre-loved from a charity shop or a local secondhand boutique.
There were no instances of a 40% offer bringing the price of a new item below the price of a pre-loved item, indicating that shoppers are likely to save more money heading to secondhand outlets than by rushing to grab Black Friday offers.
For the full details of our research see the table at the end of this article.
Secondhand doesn’t mean second best…
Shopping secondhand may bring back memories of fusty-smelling shops and moth-balled clothes. But in recent years, charity shops and pre-loved stores have been adopting many of the same digital marketing and visual merchandising approaches that high street retailers are using – and it seems to be working.
Secondhand stores and charity shops are now appealing to younger consumers who are renouncing fast fashion and looking for cheaper and more sustainable ways to satisfy their craving for a wardrobe refresh.
For Oxfam UK, this trend has contributed to double-digit growth, year on year, since its stores reopened after the pandemic.
Lorna Fallon, retail director at Oxfam, believes this is down to people wanting to be “thrifty” and looking for value for money and that “underlying concerns for the environment are still driving attitudes for people to shop”.
Fallon adds that while the cost of living crisis is putting pressure on consumers, “there’s a real trend [for secondhand shopping] and business is booming in the charity world. Certainly, for lots of younger people, there’s no stigma at all.”
Rising mortgage rates and inflation in the UK have been limiting the spending power of consumers, and some retailers are preparing for a tough December. But, Fallon told NerdWallet that Oxfam is on track to achieve 12% growth this Christmas compared with last year.
Research commissioned by Oxfam in November 2022 found that attitudes are changing for those on the receiving end of secondhand gifts, with 42% of participants saying they felt more open to receiving a secondhand gift than in previous years.
It’s good news for our budgets and our planet that the stigma associated with pre-loved purchases is fading away, along with any concerns over that fusty secondhand shop smell.
For those looking to gift items that have been previously owned but not used, many online secondhand retailers enable shoppers to filter their search for items that are ‘New’ or ‘with labels’.
…and think pre-loved for party season
In our research, we also found a designer dress by LK Bennett, priced at £299 new, but similar outfits are available from Oxfam, Vinted and eBay for as little as £5 secondhand – a saving of almost 98%.
We spoke to Mel Campbell, the owner of The Revival Rooms, a boutique secondhand store in the market town of Olney, Buckinghamshire, that saw sales up 30% in October 2023 compared with last year. As she prepares for a flurry of Christmas shoppers, Mel is moving party dresses into the window display to lure customers away from full-price retailers as they plan their outfits for their office ‘do’.
“When we first opened… a few customers [were] horrified that it was secondhand,” says Campbell. But the younger generation “really go in for it”, with some teenage customers even making a point of asking for pre-loved gifts.
And for Campbell, it is also about changing the perception of secondhand shopping by bringing a more luxury boutique feel to her store.
“I have to repeat myself quite often: ‘We are pre-loved’ and they go ‘Oh, really? No way. But how come everything looks immaculate!’ That’s what I get all the time, which is such a nice compliment,” she says.
For those looking for a bargain for their work night out, Oxfam is also trying to help partygoers shop sustainably for less. “Christmas parties are such high-pressure events at a time when people are already stretching their budgets to maximum anyway,” says Fallon, “[Buy secondhand] and you’d probably come away with the whole outfit for £20 to £25 and find something that’s quite nice.”
Price comparison between full price, Black Friday and secondhand gifts
|Item||Full price (online)||Illustrative price if reduced by 40% Black Friday||Secondhand boutique||Oxfam (online)||Vinted (online)||eBay||Possible saving (difference between highest and lowest)|
|DKNY scarf||£90||£54||£39.99||Not found||£5||£5.99||£85 saved (94% cheaper)|
|Men’s jumper Ted Baker||£110||£66||TBC||£12.99||£10||£15||£100 saved|
|Vivienne Westwood ladies watch with two-tone strap||£275 (Goldsmiths)||£165||£140||Not found||£100||£125||£175 saved|
|Kids football kit (Real Madrid away kit)||£50|
|£30||N/A||£14.99||£18||£6.99||£43.01 saved (86% cheaper)|
|Luxury Christmas bear (Harrods)||£40||£24||£15||£12.99||£5||£29.99 (2022 bear)||£35 saved|
|Book: celebrity autobiography|
Rio Ferdinand Thinking Out Loud
|£6.99 Amazon||£4.19||N/A||£3||£1||£3.48||£3.51 saved|
Price comparison between full price, Black Friday and secondhand party dress
* Prices checked at Oxfam, Vinted, eBay and an independent pre-loved boutique on 14 November 2023.
About our research
- Items were selected for comparison based on The Clear Channel Report (October 2023) on Gifting in the UK.
NerdWallet searched for items that were ‘Used’ or ‘Pre-owned’ and looked for items that were marked as ‘like new’ or in ‘good condition’.
- Where the same item was not available, we selected the closest available match – for example, the same design in a different colour.
- Potential savings were calculated by subtracting the cheapest item from the original retail price. Where retailers stated markdowns on their site, we used the previous full price, not the current sale price.
- Postage and packaging has not been factored into the price comparison, as some consumers would prioritise free, low-cost or ‘green’ deliveries, while others would prioritise convenience. Some customers would also be eligible for free delivery from certain retailers.
Image source: Getty Images
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