shopping secrets

Shopping secrets

12 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 13 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. Trick to get discount codes… just abandon online shopping baskets (works at Asos, H&M 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? Updated Dec 2021

    Martin recently tweeted a request to see where people were having successes, and we’ve added in some from the MSE team too. Again, it’s a bit of a lucky dip, but we’ve had reports (albeit unverified) at all the following 50 retailers. If you get lucky, please let us know in the Abandoned Basket Discounts MSE Forum thread.

    • Up to 50% discount codes: Asos, Beauty Bay, Bloom & Wild, Boohoo, Book Depository, Buyagift, Currys, Graham & Green, Dunelm, Euro Car Parts, Graze, Hamleys, H&M, Harvey Nichols, Lookfantastic, Monsoon, Moonpig, Mountain Warehouse, New Look, Not on the High Street, Radley, River Island, The Perfume Shop, Urban Outfitters, Victoria's Secret, Warehouse, Wayfair, WHSmith, Yankee Candle and Zalando.

    This includes Charlie who 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 Helen who tweeted:

    @MartinSLewis Had stuff in H&M basket – didn’t buy, was sent 20% off. Saved over £8.

    And this from Lucy:

    @MartinSLewis I recently found Asos gave a 20% discount for abandoning your cart. Warehouse and Monsoon gave 15%.

    • A £10-£150 off code: Asda, Boden, Cotton Traders, Ebookers, Lloyds Pharmacy, Ocado, Princess Cruises, Tesco Groceries, Very, Virgin Media, Virgin Wines and Waitrose.

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

    • 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 and Etsy sellers often send offers to buyers watching specific items, such as 10% or 30% off. 
  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 £20 (or £10 on books).

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

    As an example, a £19.99 candle gift set came with a £4.99 delivery charge, so costs £24.98 total. But the tool showed you could add a 34p car-permit holder, so you'd only pay £20.33, saving £4.65 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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  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 nine 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 and Nikon 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. 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 is clearance or end-of-line. Apparently the same goes for a 1 or a 4.

    MoneySaver Warren 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.

  5. 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 2021 found a black open back dress that was £119 in UK Zaras, but £85 in Spain. An embroidered party jacket was also £119 in the UK, but £85 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.

    illustration
  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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).

  9. 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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  10. 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.

    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.

  11. 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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  12. 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.

    illustration

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