A shop's job is to make money, and there's nowt wrong with that, but our job is to keep it in our pockets. So to help redress the balance, we've 15 things shops don't want you to know – many are insider secrets divulged by shop workers.
Whether it's hidden codes on price tags that reveal if things'll be on sale shortly, abandoning shopping baskets to score discounts or haggling via online help chats, often ways to save are hidden.
15 shopping secrets, including...
Decipher hidden discount codes on store price tags
Store tags can be a hidden information treasure trove. In preparation for sales, shop staff scribble numbers, letters or dots on price tags. If you spot these mysterious markings on a full-price item you want to buy, hold off – they often mean the item's about to be reduced.
We've spotted this particular system widely used at Next, but MoneySavers and retail insiders tell us others, including Monsoon and River Island, do the same. Here's what to look for and how to make sense of the shop workers' notes, so you can get a head-start before the sales officially begin.
How to decode them
Some typical Next codes are B14, G4, P7, OB9 and S13. Ignore the letters, which seem to relate to where sale items are to be located in store, and you're left with just a number – that's generally the price this item's going down to.
Now for the proof. We snapped the photo below in a Next store.
On the left, an item priced at £26 with a cryptic 'S13' marked in biro. A couple of days later, it was £13 in the sale (half-price). On the right, an £8 item marked 'G4'. This became £4 in the sale.... and so on.
Of course, you won't know when the sale's going to start and staff are unlikely to tell (they may not even know themselves). But MoneySavers who've worked in shops using this system tell us it's normally within a week of pencil marks appearing.
Here's what a couple of insiders told us (MoneySavers are everywhere):
I used to work as a sales assistant in the lead up to Monsoon/Accessorize sales. We penciled the new price on the label, so we can pen it on later. 40E meant it was going down to £40.50, 40A was £40 on the nose.– minicooper272
I used to work in River Island and light pencil marks such as 015 would mean an item would go down to £15 or 0015 down to £1.50.– jenniewb
So while inspecting the tags won't guarantee a bargain, as items can always sell out while you're waiting for the sale to officially start, it's sometimes possible to pay half as much just by waiting a couple of days.
Keep an eye on shop layouts too
Often shops arrange clothes by colour or this season's look, rather than categories such as jeans and tops – a technique designed to drag you deeper into the store.
However, a few days before a sale, staff often re-sort garments by type. So if you spot them fiddling with the racks, wait before purchasing.
Prices ending in 7, 8 or 1 mean it's clearance – a perfect haggling opportunity
Large electrical shops sometimes use price codes to secretly communicate to staff which models need to be shifted quickly to make way for new stock.
According to shop staff we asked and forumites with inside knowledge, the key to these codes lies in the last digit of a price. While most prices end in 9 (or 0), if one ends in 7 or 8 (eg, £19.97, £109.98, etc), it usually means that model has been discontinued. If the price ends with a 1, eg, £5.91, the item is often especially old clearance stock.
If you suspect something's clearance stock, that can be a big help haggling (see our Haggle on the High Street guide for tips). Also be wary if you ask for help and are steered towards some of this out-of-date stock.
Haggle via online help chats
Spot a window offering live chat with a help person? Don't dismiss it – this can be a route to hidden deals, as one MoneySaver who tweeted us found:
Haggled on trainers using Nike's help chat window – £20 off just like that.
To test this, we chatted to 10 retailers via live help, asking a few questions about a product before requesting a discount.
Three stores offered us discounts: Nike a 10%-off code; Dell £55 off a £779 laptop; and Dyson an extra £10 off a £350 vacuum that was already in the sale, plus a free tool kit.
Nikon, Epson and The Book People wouldn't discount, but did point us towards some helpful promo pages. The following wouldn't budge: Amazon, Apple, Schuh and MAC cosmetics (though anecdotally some folk have managed to get 5% off at Apple this way, so it's always worth a punt).
If you've a discount code that isn't working, it's worth noting help people sometimes dish out new ones via live chat.
If you've successfully haggled via live chat, please let us know in the Shopping Secrets discussion.
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Trick Amazon into giving you free delivery
Amazon used to offer free delivery on its goods (not those from third-party Marketplace sellers) if you spent £10, but in May it increased that to £20.
Delivery costs anything from £1.50 to £6, but clever tool Super Saver Delivery scours Amazon for filler items.
As an example, a £19.73 hairdryer came with a £6.01 delivery charge, so costs £25.74 total. But the tool showed you could add a 33p Snickers, so you'd only pay £20.06, saving £5.68 and getting a choccy bar into the bargain. There's a full how-to, plus more cheeky tools, in 20+ Amazon Tricks.
Abandon online shopping baskets to tease 'em into giving you a code
Fail to finish your online order and companies often send you codes to tempt you back. As Charlie emailed in August:
Was browsing Asos’s wedding dresses yesterday and added one to my basket, then left the site for the night. This morning I had a nice surprise email from Asos offering 20% off, as they'd noticed me window shopping. Got £37 off my wedding dress!”
And this from Michaela:
@MartinSLewis I leave shopping in basket on the Tesco grocery site & they send me £12 off a shop. Done it three times now.
Here's how to try it.
- Step 1. Sign in or sign up for an account. Or they won't know who you are.
- Step 2. Pop something in your basket. Generally higher-value items work better for a bigger discount. However, there's always the risk they could send you a £25 off £100 code when you're only actually looking to spend £50.
- Step 3. Leave the site. Close the window and get on with other things.
- Step 4. Check your email account. You may well find a code or offer lands in your inbox in the next day or so – no guarantees though.
- Step 5. Log back in and use the code – but check your basket first. Make sure you've removed anything unwanted before checking out.
Be prepared to get nothing – this is far from guaranteed. Assume that you won't win but hope that you do.
Here are 26 discounts MoneySavers reckon they've nabbed. Some are from MSE team members and their friends' experiences, including H&M and Boohoo. For others, we've no concrete proof, but it's worth a try.
If you get lucky, please let us know in the Abandoned Basket Discounts forum thread.
- A 5% - 50% discount code. Asos, Boohoo, Book Depository, Buyagift, Currys, Graze, H&M, New Look, Lookfantastic, The Perfume Shop, River Island, Urban Outfitters and WH Smith.
- A £10 - £150 off code. Asda, Boden, eBay, Ebookers, Ocado, Princess Cruises, Tesco Groceries, Very, Virgin Wines, Virgin Media and Waitrose.
- A free delivery code. Emma Bridgewater and Furniture Village.
Got a top shopping secret that we haven't listed? Divulge it in the Shopping Secrets discussion.
Buy Zara clothes at fraction of the price
If you're planning a trip to Spain (not France, not Germany), stop shopping at Zara right now. The giant Spanish fashion brand sells clothes in its native country far cheaper than here, so wait until you go if you're planning a purchase.
In fact, the Zara Spain website has an English language option, so you can easily compare prices before you go. The savings can be huge, as Janine tweeted us: "I bought a £99 lace jacket for £58."
Our research last year showed on average Zara in Spain was 38% cheaper. The weakened pound means items might cost slightly more than they would have from Zara in Spain now, but they usually still work out cheaper than in the UK.
For more on how to work this, see Martin's Zara on the cheap tricks blog.
Many high street shops give 10% off, just for asking
There's absolutely nothing wrong with asking for a discount. In fact, it's built into some shops' official policies. A former member of staff at one big DIY store even told Martin they'd been told if anyone asks for a discount, just to give 10% off.
To test this, in May 2016 we asked people who tried to haggle at over 40 high street stores in the last year whether they were successful. At some shops, more than 60% said they'd managed to get a better deal, with Carphone Warehouse, Homebase and Tesco among the best places to bag a bargain.
Even at John Lewis – pin-up store for middle England – 72% of people managed it (see the full poll results). So it's always worth seeing if you can knock the price down. Our High Street Haggling guide offers a crash course.
Buy a discounted gift card, get up to £11 off another
Shops rarely reduce gift cards, but online marketplace Zeek flogs unwanted gift cards and e-vouchers from hundreds of retailers, usually with 2%-25% off.
Right now, if you sign up and buy any card you'll get £11 to spend on your next purchase. It's for newbies only – that's someone who's never signed up to Zeek before, whether they've bought something or not.
Sign up via this Zeek link* to get the £11 off your next purchase.
While you need to buy two gift cards to make this work, they could both be for the same store – if they're available.
Here's how you could do it
We found £10 John Lewis e-vouchers for £9.80. Buy one, use the £11 credit on the second and you'd pay £9.80 for £20. But you'll lose £1 of the credit, unless you want a £100 voucher, as you can only buy in £10 and £100 denominations when we checked.
We also spotted £15 Debenhams cards for £14. This way you can get the full £11 off, as you can buy £30 of cards for £17. We also found Starbucks vouchers where you'll also get the full £11 credit on the second purchase.
What to watch out for. As this deal appeared in our weekly email, Zeek will be swamped with people buying gift cards by the time you go to buy your second card. As you've six months to spend the credit, if you can't find the card you want for your second purchase, try again in a few weeks.
But only do this if your initial spend is on a gift card for a shop you were planning to spend at anyway. Then if you don't get the card you want for your next purchase, you haven't lost out.
A few retailers say their gift cards can't be sold on, so check the store's terms first, though biggies such as Argos and John Lewis told us it's fine.
When must I do this?
The deal will end on Thursday 6 October, or when 3,000 newbies have made their first purchase having signed up via our link. Here's how to do it...
- Step 1: Sign up. Via the link above (or download its app via that link).
- Step 2: Buy your first card or e-voucher. If you don't buy your first card straight after signing up, check the Zeek link again to confirm there are still £11 credits available. The £11 credit will hit your account within 24 hours of the first purchase – you have six months from its arrival to use it.
- Step 3: Use your £11 credit on the second purchase. Zeek won't send an email reminder, so don't forget to check. At checkout, the £11 will show as a discount.
Planning to spend a bit less?
The deal above is good if you're planning to spend £15 or more at a certain retailer. If you're spending less, there are codes for £5 off your first Zeek purchase, eg, this on the Skint Dad blog.
Other key points
How and when will I get my gift card/e-vouchers?
Zeek says e-vouchers should arrive instantly, while physical cards take seven working days. (The seller forwards the card or e-voucher to Zeek, which checks it's legit, then forwards it.) Zeek only shows expiry dates if the gift card runs out in the next six months – otherwise it doesn't show them, so always check.
It doesn't offer refunds, unless the card's inactive, has an inaccurate balance or doesn't arrive. Then it gives a 60-day money-back guarantee. If a retailer refused to accept a gift card because resale is against its T&Cs, Zeek would usually give you a refund, the online marketplace told us, though it's on a case-by-case basis.
Spend your cards ASAP
We usually warn against giving gift cards as gifts, because if the firm goes bust, they're usually worthless. Plus people lose them or let them run out. So the real trick here isn't to use them as gifts, but to buy discounted cards for yourself if you're already planning to spend at a certain store, then spend them ASAP.
The good news is, as gift cards count as cash, you can usually combine them with sales or codes for effectively a double discount.
Also try eBay
You can also buy gift vouchers via eBay*, though it doesn't sell e-vouchers, only physical gift cards. But unlike Zeek, eBay won't check that gift cards work and have the correct balance on them.
eBay's Money Back Guarantee does cover gift cards, but PayPal's Buyer Protection scheme does not, so you'll have to go via eBay to resolve any problems. Some sellers cheekily sell free discount vouchers, so read descriptions carefully.
Play John Lewis's price promise to bag a longer guarantee – then get a refund
Most electricals come with a one-year guarantee, but buy them from John Lewis and it gives a two-year guarantee. (It's three for John Lewis own-brand and five for all TVs.) To get cunning, couple this with its 'never knowingly undersold' policy.
It promises to match the price of identical items that you find cheaper at any retailer with physical stores in the UK. The shop doesn't need to be within a certain distance, but it can't be web- or mail order-only.
However, John Lewis does take into account 'service conditions' when comparing. These include stock availability, delivery and installation costs.
Find the cheapest price for what you want, and take proof, such as a pic on your phone, to John Lewis. Get it to match the price and you get the guarantee too.
If your product breaks down under guarantee, John Lewis will repair or replace it (it doesn't cover accidents). See full details.
The John Lewis refund trick – check the price AFTER you've bought it (not just electricals)
If you buy anything from John Lewis (not just electricals), in store or online, check the price afterwards to see if it drops. While the 'never knowingly undersold' slogan is famous, the fact it applies AFTER you've bought the item is less well known.
Find an identical item on sale for less within 28 days after purchase, and you get the difference back using the method you paid by. The cheaper price can be at any UK retailer with physical stores or at John Lewis itself.
If you bought online, just fill in its online form – if it was in a store, go into any John Lewis shop.
Neither of the price-matching tricks above apply to outlets or shops that are in administration/closing down. See full never knowingly undersold terms.
Find the best day to bag deals for your shop
Found something you want to buy online, but can't find a discount code? Don't despair. Try waiting until Tuesday or Wednesday, then checking our Discount Vouchers page again.
Our deals team number crunched more than 50 vouchers' terms to find the most common day deals start. The most popular day was Wednesday (13 deals launched), closely followed by Tuesday (12).
In fact, 50% of them started working on a Tuesday or Wednesday. The third most popular day was Monday.
Retailers presumably do this so they're ready in good time for the weekend. That said, hot deals come out every day, so it's always worth checking our Vouchers, Hot Bargains and Sales pages. We'll also let you know the best via the weekly email (which comes out on Wednesday).
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Special offer run out? Get a rain check voucher
If a special offer item is out of stock, some supermarkets will give you a voucher. Here's a couple of examples:
- Sainsbury's Special Coupons. If a special offer's run out, Sainsbury's shop assistants dish out Special Coupons, allowing you to buy the same product from a different brand at the special offer price.
For example, if it was doing 500 bags of PG Tips for £1, you'd be able to get 500 bags of Tetley for the same price – even if the usual price of both isn't the same.
It's at the shop assistant's discretion and some haven't heard of them, but MoneySavers report that politely explaining about the coupons can help. Coupons must be used on the same day as you get them.
- Asda Smiley Vouchers. Asda staff are allowed to give out 'Smiley Vouchers' worth up to £1, when a customer's had a problem or something isn't quite right. One of these reasons is that a special offer product's out of stock. Again, vouchers are at shop assistants' discretion, so a friendly smile goes a long way.
You can spend the vouchers on anything at Asda except tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets.
For more info on grocery shopping bargains – and how to make the most of supermarket coupons – see Extreme Couponing Tips.
You have 28 days to return goods bought online... if you do it right
Unlike buying in store, buy online and the Consumer Contracts Regulations mean you can cancel the order within 14 days of arrival for any reason. You've then ANOTHER 14 days to send it back. So be sure to email them before the first 14 days are up. The exception is personalised or perishable items.
In store, you're only due a refund on faulty goods, so buy the wrong size or colour and you've no rights (though some stores' returns policies allow it). For a full masterclass on keeping the upper hand if things go wrong, see the Consumer Rights guide.
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Some 'designer' clothes are manufactured specifically for outlets
You might assume outlets sell last season's stock, but some garments have never graced the rack of a posh boutique. A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation in 2013 revealed some clothing at TK Maxx and Bicester Village outlet in Oxfordshire was made specifically for outlets.
Researchers visited over 100 of Bicester's shops to ask staff if clothing was 'authentic previous season'. At almost half they were told at least some lines were manufactured solely to be sold in outlets.
The investigation also found many items in TK Maxx were actually own-brand products – using a multitude of names such as like Arabella and Addison, Kenar, Amaryllis Amphora and Frederik Anderson of Copenhagen.
While there are bargains to be had, take RRPs with a pinch of salt. Big discounts are still possible. Many big name retailers also flog unsold lines via online outlets – check our Outlet Discounts page lists current deals.
When we asked Bicester Village about this, it told us: "All stores at Bicester Village are required to display statements informing shoppers of the origins of the goods on sale. We are satisfied everything sold here is of the highest quality and value for money."
TK Maxx said: "We take great issue with the characterisation of TK Maxx by Dispatches in December 2013, as integrity is at the heart of our business. The vast majority of products we sell are brand name merchandise sold at a significant discount to the high street price. A small fraction of the products we sell are in-house labels to supplement our offerings."
Returning goods? Shops can often override the need for receipt
First up, it's important to note that if you've purchased faulty goods, you just need to prove you purchased them to be able to get a refund – this could be the receipt, but other legit records, such as bank statements, should be fine. See Consumer Rights for more.
Otherwise, if you've no legal right but are just using a store's returns policy, they usually specify you need a receipt. However, if you've lost it, don't despair – one insider tells us that shop staff often have the ability and discretion to override the need for a receipt. So take in your credit card statement instead, flash a friendly smile and you might get lucky.
I used to work in M&S and there's a function on the till where if you key in a code, it comes up with all the different prices a product's had and what days it changed.
So if you had a bank statement showing what you paid we could look the price on that day [to give a refund]. It's all down to the shop assistant you get though – some are tighter than others. – karenx
Don't use PayPal to pay on a credit card
Retailers increasingly encourage customers to pay via PayPal. But do this on a credit card, and it scuppers valuable extra protection for items over £100.
Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 says if you pay for something costing between £100 and £30,000, specifically on a credit card, the card company is jointly liable with the retailer.
In other words, if what you've bought is faulty, broken or doesn't arrive, the credit card firm is obliged to put you right.
However, Section 75 only applies where there is a 'direct relationship' between a debt and the product. In simple terms, with Paypal, you pay it and it pays the retailer, so you don't have Section 75 protection.
We're hearing more reports of people falling foul of this, such as Sharon Fisher, who tweeted us: "Is it true Section 75 on credit cards doesn't cover you for PayPal/Amazon 3rd party purchases? Tried to claim." For full info, read the PayPal Warning guide.
Got a top shopping secret that we haven't listed? Divulge it in the Shopping Secrets discussion.