Laura Cummings: Boot up to bag bargains?

WHEN it comes to shopping, everybody loves a bargain. Whether it's food, clothes or household goods, most shoppers like to make sure they're getting the best possible deal.

For many of us that means doing much of our shopping through the click of a few buttons online, while others prefer to hit the high street to bag a bargain and make a day of it.

If the results of research carried out in the Capital by are anything to go by, more shoppers may well be more inclined to surf the net for their goods in future.

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The research, carried out in 11 cities across the UK, found that Edinburgh shoppers were forking out over 200 more for a basket of goods bought on the high street, compared with online.

A mystery shopper visited shops on Princes Street and in the St James Centre, noting as many prices as possible for ten popular consumer goods, ranging from Nike trainers to Yves Saint Laurent make-up. The total cost of the basket of goods from Edinburgh's shops was 2,118.26 – 238 more expensive than ordering the same goods online and having them delivered.

UK manager for Marc Thomas says: "Ninety-five per cent of all the prices we found could be beaten online and the national average mark-up on the best online price was a massive 32 per cent. That's high street robbery."

Shopping manager for Simon James also argues that the best bargains are to be found on the internet. "A lot of retail stores will sell things much cheaper in the online version than they do in their high street locations, because of the competitiveness online," he says. "Big items like TVs, washing machines, tumble dryers and cookers are much cheaper online, and you get them delivered to your home. You don't have to pay for parking when buying online, and there are no crowds."

But cost-conscious shoppers should not be fooled into thinking that all goods are cheaper online.

"There are bargains to be had in store, you can't take away from that," Mr James explains. "The thing you will get on the high street is massive reductions to get you into the store. You also have the clearance bins at the front of the store or next to the tills."

Although recent research carried out by Which? revealed that the best deals are generally found online, items such as CDs, books and DVDS can often be bought for less in supermarkets.

"Supermarkets can definitely offer some deals on these sorts of things," says retail researcher for Which? Sarah Dennis.

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But while there are many benefits to online shopping there are also some very serious risks.

These were starkly highlighted at the end of last year when Scotland Yard's e-crime division revealed it had shut down about 1,200 scam websites targeting Christmas shoppers. Which? recommends that shoppers buy from sites featuring a padlock at the bottom right-hand corner of screen, which denotes security, and use a credit card for purchases for added protection.

Despite these concerns, however, consumers actually have more legal rights when buying goods online than when on the high street.

Richard Dodd, a spokesman for the Scottish Retail Consortium, explains: "When you buy goods in a store, the law actually says that you only have the right to return them if they were faulty or misdescribed, whereas when you buy goods online, you have a right within seven days to reject them simply because you have changed your mind."

And Mr Dodd says claims that online shopping was "killing the high street" are nonsense.

He says: "What you find these days is that buying online and buying in stores are complementary activities, so you will get customers who will look at goods in stores and if it's clothes they will try them on, and then they will shop around for the best prices online and buy them online.

"Others will do their research online and compare different retailers, and then either because they want the thing straight away, or because they want to feel it or try it on, they will then go and buy it in the store. They are complementary activities, one doesn't exclude the other.

"Generally speaking, the retailers selling online are the same retailers who are selling in stores. They are trying to target customers regardless of what type of outlet or shopping channel is in use."

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Whatever way we decide to shop, one thing is for sure: online shopping is only going to get bigger.