Shopping secrets

11 tricks shops don't want you to know

A shop's job is to make money, and there's nowt wrong with that, but our job is to keep it in your pockets. So to help redress the balance, we've 11 things shops don't want you to know – many are insider secrets divulged by shop workers.

  1. Trick to get discount codes… just abandon online shopping baskets (works at Argos, Sainsbury's and more)

    Fail to finish your online order and companies often send you codes to tempt you back. There are no guarantees, and some are getting wise to it, but if you’re not in a hurry, why not try? Just…

    • Sign in or sign up for an account.
    • Pop what you want in your online shopping basket (higher value items work best).
    • Leave the site.
    • Check your email account over the next few days in case there’s a code.

    Where does it work?

    It’s a bit of a lucky dip, but we’ve had reports (albeit unverified) at all the following retailers. Martin recently asked for your experiences on Twitter, so we've boosted our list of firms from 56 to 82 – the most common were Argos, Currys and Morrisons. If you get lucky, please let us know in the Abandoned Basket Discounts MSE Forum thread.

    • Up to 50% discount codes: Asos, Baker Ross, Balsam Hill, Beauty Bay, Bloom & Wild, Boohoo, Book Depository, Boohooman, Boux Avenue, BrandAlley, Buyagift, Currys, Glasses Direct, Graham & Green, Dunelm, Euro Car Parts, Graze, Hamleys, H&M, Harvey Nichols, Homebase, Hush, Joseph Joseph, Just Eat, Lenovo, Lookfantastic, Monsoon, Moonpig, Mountain Warehouse, New Look, Ninja, Not on the High Street, Office, Patisserie Valerie, Peacocks, Pretty Little Thing, Radley, Reebok, River Island, Shein, Sports Direct, The Entertainer, The Perfume Shop, The White Company, Threadbare, Ugg, Urban Outfitters, Victoria's Secret, Warehouse, Wayfair, WHSmith, Yankee Candle and Zalando.

    Charlie emailed:

    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!

    • A £10-£150 off code: Argos, Asda, Boden, Cotton Traders, Deliveroo, Ebookers, Evans, Lloyds Pharmacy, Morrisons, Ocado, Princess Cruises, Sainsbury's, Shark, Tesco Groceries, Very, Virgin Media, Virgin Wines and Waitrose. 

    This includes CS Chamberlain who tweeted:

    @MartinSLewis This is my favourite game to play with Boden…Leave a full basket a few days and £10 voucher turns up in the post every time.

    And this from D:

    @MartinSLewis Sainsbury's do me £12 off a £60 shop. I have had it around 6 or 7 times now, as a I create a basket around a week in advance then add what I need the day I place the order for next day delivery.

    • A free delivery code. Dorothy Perkins, Emma Bridgewater, Furniture Village, JD Sports and Next.

    • Loyalty scheme offers: We've heard reports that M&S has sent customers who are members of its free Sparks loyalty scheme relevant offers after they've left items in their baskets. Boots Advantage card members have reported similar.

    • ‘Favourite’ specific items: MoneySavers have bagged Adidas discounts after ‘favouriting’ products (in other words, clicking the heart icon). Plus eBay, Vinted and Etsy sellers often send offers to buyers watching specific items, such as 10% or 30% off. 

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  2. Trick Amazon into giving you free delivery

    Amazon only offers free delivery on its goods (not those from third-party Marketplace sellers) if you spend at least £25 (or £10 on books).

    Standard delivery costs anything from 99p to £4.99, but clever tool Super Saver Delivery scours Amazon for filler items.

    Imagine Lois Price wanted a £24.99 candle gift set – she'd face £4.99 delivery, a total of £29.98. The tool reveals she could add a 22p safety-pin set, so she'd only pay £25.21 – and get some pins into the bargain. There's a full how-to, plus more cheeky tools, in 30+ Amazon Tricks.

  3. Prices ending in 7, 8 or 1 mean it's clearance – a perfect haggling opportunity

    clearance sale

    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 (for example £19.97, £109.98 etc), it usually means that model is clearance or end-of-line. Apparently the same goes for a 1 or a 4.

    MoneySaver Josh tweeted last month:

    @MoneySavingExp I worked at a big electrical store - yes those numbers mean it's clearance. If there is no more in stock, you can take the display item and then ask for an extra 20% off. And if you are really confident you could get the first few months of the care plan for free too.

    MoneySaver Warren also spilt the beans:

    @MoneySavingExp I've worked 22 years in retail and 7 is clearance - normally only display one left. 8 end of line and available but not made anymore. Normally very few left.

    If you suspect something's clearance stock, that can be a big help haggling (see our Haggle on the high street guide for tips). We've been told staff sometimes earn higher commission on this end-of-line stock. Also be wary if you ask for help and are steered towards some of this out-of-date stock.

  4. Buy Zara clothes at fraction of the price

    If you're planning a trip to Spain, 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 in 2015 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.

    A quick search in December 2023 found a long parka coat that was £90 in UK Zaras, but £67 in Spain. An red sequin maxi dress was £119 in the UK, but £86 in Spain. Some rhinestone ankle boots were £80 in the UK, but £51 in Spain.

    For more on how to work this, see Martin's Zara on the cheap blog.

    Got a top shopping secret that we haven't listed? Divulge it in the Shopping Secrets discussion.

  5. 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 November 2018 we asked people who tried to haggle at high street stores in the last year whether they were successful. At some shops, more than 50% said they'd managed to get a better deal, with B&Q, Homebase and Tesco among the best places to bag a bargain.

    Even at John Lewis – the pin-up store for middle England – 49% 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.

  6. 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 and Hot bargains, deals & steals pages. We'll also let you know the best via the weekly email (which comes out on Tuesday).

  7. You have 28 days to return goods bought online... if you do it right

    28 days return

    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 masterclass on keeping the upper hand if things go wrong, see Consumer Rights.

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  8. Don't assume when it's gone, it's gone – keep checking

    If your preferred online sale bargain is out of stock or not available in your size, all is not lost. Goods come in and out of stock at speed, as shoppers return goods or online baskets time out. So keep refreshing that page – it's always worth checking back later, as MSE Jenny found.

    When Zara's kids' sale went to 75% off, pickings initially looked slim. Yet different clothes and sizes were coming back in stock every 15 minutes.

    With a little refreshing of the sale page, my kids got new wardrobes in the next size up at 25% of the RRP.

  9. Can you haggle via online live chat?

    Spot a window offering live chat with a help person? Don't dismiss it. This can be a route to hidden deals, especially during sales, which are an invitation to haggle. Brian tweeted us:

    @MoneySavingExp Have tried online haggling a few times and always get a result. Best was a £300 off a £1,200 Dell laptop via online chat.

    To test this, we chatted to 18 retailers via live help, asking a few questions about a product before requesting a discount. We had mixed results, but it's always worth a punt.

    Five stores offered us discounts or pointed us towards them: 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. Asos flagged up a 25% discount code already on its site; Lululemon directed us to its 10% off welcome discount.

    B&Q, Epson and Nikon wouldn't discount, but did point us towards some helpful promo pages. The following wouldn't budge: Argos, Amazon, Apple, Cannon, Dunelm, Halfords, House of Fraser, Next, MAC Cosmetics, Schuh and Zara (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.

  10. 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

  11. 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, 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, see the PayPal Warning guide.

    Got a top shopping secret that we haven't listed? Divulge it in the Shopping Secrets discussion.

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