If there is one thing I love, it is flinging myself head-first into a sale and emerging with an AMAZING bargain. Every year, it’s a challenge. So far this year, I have picked up a kitchen clock from Habitat (reduced by 70%) and some smart work tops from Hobbs, reduced from £££ to less than £20 each.
Over the years, I have honed a sales shopping strategy that works well for me. BBC Watchdog recently approached me to share some of my sales-shopping secrets with their views on Watchdog on Three (the online version of the programme, which broadcasts while the BBC1 version is off-air). It was good fun: a small camera crew came to Manchester city centre when I was at work, and we spent my lunch hour filming shoppers’ reactions to my tips and pointers:
You can view the three-minute clip here on the BBC3 website.
In the frame above, that’s me on the left: making a case for haggling with sales assistants in high street stores. Are you bolshy enough to give it a go? More details below, along with four more of my favourite tips and ploys for cleaning up at the January sales.
1. Budget BEFORE you splash the cash – not after.
It’s January. Everything is rubbish, including your bank balance. For the sweet love of Jesus, don’t go out shopping in the sales before you have been through your finances and worked out what you have to spend. I’m not asking you to draw up spreadsheets; all you need is one number.
Once you have that number, be hardcore. Don’t go over that number. If you find some amazingly unmissable bargains and want to bung them on your credit card, fine – but only if you know for sure that you can pay that balance in full as soon as your next pay cheque arrives.
If you know what you are looking for in the sales and you can draw up a sales shopping list, great. If you don’t, that’s fine but set a solid objective instead. For example: this year my clothes #salesgoals are smart tops for work, in black or navy.
2. Your smartphone is your wingman.
I first wrote about this trick in the post, How to get money off at Currys at PC World EVERY TIME. In short: I never venture out to the sales without my trusty smartphone to help me secure the best deals.
All you need is a good connection, the website of the store in which you are shopping, and a little chutzpah.
These days, most high street retailers have shopping websites with online exclusives, discount codes and all the same products they have in-store. So when you find the item you want in the store, look it up online. Is it more expensive to buy the item in-store rather than online? For example, is there an online exclusive or an applicable voucher code?
When the online version is cheaper, I show my phone to the sales assistant and ask them to match the price – they often do. If they don’t: well, in certain stores such as PC World, I have been known to stay online and arrange to Reserve The Item For Collection, at the store I am standing in…
On other occasions, I have found cheaper prices online simply because the price tags in the store aren’t up to date. A lot of the time, the freshly-discounted price will ring up at the till anyway – but it goes to show that a quick check online can show you which items have the best discounts and bargains. It’s handy for me because I tend to swoop in and buy when the sale prices hit rock bottom.
If you are new to haggling, you can find my quick and easy beginner’s guide here: Become an expert haggler. In short, two qualities – FRONT and PERSISTENCE – will get you everywhere. The second quality is deliciously British; the first doesn’t tend to come so naturally. Here are some of my tried and tested opening lines:
- If I buy [NUMBER OF] items, what discount can you do?
- I shop here regularly and saw this was on sale last week, but wasn’t able to make it here in time. Would you do a ‘latebird’ offer?
- Ouch! Is that the best price you can do? I’m sure I saw this cheaper in [COMPETITOR STORE].
- I’m rather taken with [PRODUCT], but my budget is only £X. Could you do it for £Y? That would really make my day.
It’s always worth asking: the worst sales assistants can say is no, and the end of sale season can afford them some additional room for manoeuvre.
4. Look out for old Christmas stock.
For rock-bottom prices, head to discount stores to pick up items for pennies. Right now you can find the end of the Christmas sale in Poundland, with items ranging from 5p-25p. In my experience, you’ll find the next steepest markdowns in large supermarkets: cards, gift wrap, ribbons and tags, cut down to bog all and gathering dust in the corners of discount aisles and shelves.
Stock up now for next Christmas: it may seem like an age away, but you know it will be here before we can blink twice…
5. Know your consumer rights.
We have all seen the signs in shops, spelling it out: if you want a refund on an item purchased in the sale, you are out of luck. But is this really the case?
I’d like to direct to the guidance published by the Government and last updated in September 2016. These extracts are taken directly from a GOV.UK webpage titled Accepting returns and giving refunds: the law. It is written for retailers and business-owners, and is admirably easy to follow. Here we go:
Customers have exactly the same rights to refunds when they buy items in a sale as when they buy them at full price.
Capiche? It couldn’t be any more clear, could it? So shop with confidence – and if any retailer tries to tell you otherwise, or fob you off with a credit note, click the link above and wave your smartphone in their direction (another good reason why your smartphone is your sales wingman). The webpage has a picture of the Crown on top and is stamped GOV.UK; you can’t get much more authoritative than that.
That said, it is important to note that there are certain circumstances when a retailer isn’t obliged to offer a refund. These are as follows:
You don’t have to refund a customer if they:
knew an item was faulty when they bought it
damaged an item by trying to repair it themselves or getting someone else to do it (though they may still have the right to a repair, replacement or partial refund)
no longer want an item (eg because it’s the wrong size or colour) unless they bought it without seeing it
You have to offer a refund for certain items only if they’re faulty, such as:
personalised items and custom-made items, eg curtains
perishable items, eg frozen food or flowers
newspapers and magazines
unwrapped CDs, DVDs and computer software
As for goods purchased in a sale online:
Online, mail and telephone order customers have the right to cancel their order for a limited time even if the goods aren’t faulty. Sales of this kind are known as ‘distance selling’.
You must offer a refund to customers if they’ve told you within 14 days of receiving their goods that they want to cancel. They have another 14 days to return the goods once they’ve told you.
You must refund the customer within 14 days of receiving the goods back. They don’t have to provide a reason.
Right now is my favourite time for sale-shopping: it’s the final week of January, when the markdowns go berserk before the sales end. So if you are currently bargain-hunting, I hope these pointers help you to get even more money off. If you have tips and ideas of your own, I’d love to hear about them and share them: please comment below or chew my ear on Twitter.
And if you have a friend or loved one who likes to shop in the sales, or who is hunting for money off something big right now, please do share this post with them. At the risk of sounding like a certain supermarket: every little helps, right?
Let’s all save some money!
Image credit: IMLSDCC (CC BY 2.0).