shopping secrets

Shopping Secrets

14 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 14 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.

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  1. Decipher hidden discount codes on price tags at Next and more

    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. 

    How to decode them

    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.

    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 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 (or 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 pencilled 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.

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  2. 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 (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.

  3. 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 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.

    Epson, Nikon and The Book People wouldn't discount, but did point us towards some helpful promo pages. The following wouldn't budge: Amazon, Apple, MAC Cosmetics and Schuh (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.

    haggle on live chat
  4. 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 £20.

    Standard delivery costs anything from £2.99p to £4.49, but clever tool Super Saver Delivery scours Amazon for filler items.

    As an example, a £19.99 paddling pool for dogs came with a £4.49 delivery charge, so costs £24.48 total. But the tool showed you could add a 51p pack of Trebor mints, so you'd only pay £20.50, saving £3.98 and getting some sweets into the bargain. There's a full how-to, plus more cheeky tools, in 20+ Amazon Tricks.

    Amazon delivery

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  5. 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:

    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 Jeannette:

    @MoneySavingExpert I left my Victoria's Secret shopping unfinished and it emailed 20% off and free delivery.

    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.

    shopping basket

    Here are 30 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, Lookfantastic, New Look, River Island, The Perfume Shop, Urban Outfitters, Victoria's Secret, WH Smith and Zalando.
    • A £10-£150 off code. Asda, Boden, Cotton Traders, eBay, Ebookers, Ocado, Princess Cruises, Tesco Groceries, Very, Virgin Media, Virgin Wines and Waitrose.
    • A free delivery code. Emma Bridgewater and Furniture Village.
    • 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.
  6. Buy Zara clothes at fraction of the price

    If you're planning a trip to Spain (once government restrictions are lifted), 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.

    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.

  7. 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 December 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.

  8. Bag a longer guarantee with John Lewis (you can combine this with its sale or price promise)

    John Lewis

    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 home appliances and five for all TVs.) This can be combined with any offer it's running or, to get cunning, 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. 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 picture 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.

    What to watch out for

    Neither of the price-matching tricks above apply to outlets or shops that are in administration/closing down. See full never knowingly undersold terms.

    It's also worth noting we investigated the John Lewis price promise in May 2017 and found it was failing to reduce the prices of products it was aware were being sold cheaper elsewhere. See our MSE investigation reveals John Lewis IS 'knowingly undersold' MSE News story for full details.

  9. 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 Wednesday).

  10. Special offer run out? Ask for a raincheck voucher


    If a special offer item is out of stock, Asda staff are allowed to give out 'Spark Vouchers' (previously called 'Smiley Vouchers') worth up to £1, when a customer's had a problem or something isn't right.

    One of these reasons is that a special offer product's out of stock. You can spend the vouchers on anything at Asda except tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets.

    A similar thing's been known to happen at Tesco, but whichever supermarket you use, it's always worth asking as it tends to be at the store manager's discretion.

    For more info on grocery shopping bargains – and how to make the most of supermarket coupons – see Extreme Couponing.

  11. 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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  12. Don't assume when it's gone, it's gone

    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. So it's always worth checking back later, as MSE Jenny found.

    Last time 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.

  13. 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

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  14. 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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