Tracking down great sale bargains
The purpose of the big January and summer sales used to be to shift out-of-season stock: warm winter coats in April and beachwear when the weather turned cold. Now, however, sales are becoming a permanent fixture as shops desperately try to encourage consumers to keep spending through the recession.
Restaurants and theatres are also getting in on the sale act, offering discount vouchers, cut-price menus and other incentives to get you to spend.
So, while we all need to make cutbacks, the occasional shopping trip or meal out needn’t spell bankruptcy.
The first way to find out if your favourite shop is holding a sale is to look on their website. Alternatively, signing up to weekly email newsletters means you will receive special offers and sales news in advance. In some instances, users receive discount vouchers or additional savings with online orders.
Online sales sections, such as Debenhams’ ‘Outlet Shop’, allow customers to trawl through reduced items without the usual headache and hassle of navigating the shops.
As well as looking on the shops’ websites, you could also get a hefty discount by signing up to voucher websites such as voucherseeker.co.uk, vouchercodes.co.uk, discountcodes.tv and myvouchercodes.co.uk. You can also download vouchers from Moneywise - and search for deals in your local area.
These all display vouchers from various shops and have increased massively in popularity thanks to the average consumer’s desire to get the best deal possible.
According to web traffic monitor hitwise.co.uk, UK internet searches for discount vouchers have increased by 133% over the past year and visits to these websites are up 45%.
Remember that the best discounts only last a short while so make sure you read the expiry date before placing an order or printing off a voucher. Also bear in mind that vouchers can’t always be used in conjunction with other reductions, so check the small print.
Knowing that a voucher is genuine will save you a lot of embarrassment too. Duncan Jennings, founder of vouchercodes.co.uk, recommends checking with the retailer if you have any doubts. “Don’t be afraid to call the shop and ask. This is better than making a long journey only to be disappointed at the till.”
There have been instances of fake voucher sites that trick customers into disclosing personal details, so go straight to one of the well-known websites rather than simply googling ‘voucher deals’.
With printable vouchers, look out for the shop’s logo. But be wary of email offers that get past your spam filter and don’t click through to an offer if it isn’t from a list that you subscribe to.
Even if you haven’t got a voucher or the shop isn’t running a sale, it’s always worth asking for a discount. Many shops are desperate to make a sale so might be inclined to offer you a better deal if you ask nicely.
But it’s not only on goods that you can bag yourself a bargain. Many restaurants have responded to the current climate by offering cheap deals. A good place to start is the various voucher websites and lovefoodlovedrink.co.uk, with its Credit Munch section has plenty of meal deals on offer for subscribers at a number of nationwide chains.
Joanna Scieranka, assistant manager at Café Rouge in Pinner, north-west London, cites the vouchers as the main reason for her restaurant’s busy start to the year. “Everybody comes in with the vouchers and, without them, we wouldn’t be nearly as busy,” she says.
“The good thing about our 50%-off voucher is that there’s no limit on the number of people that can use it, so parties of 10, for example, make huge savings.”
Before you order the most expensive item on the menu, however, check with your waiter or waitress that your voucher is valid for that item – drink isn’t usually included and sometimes the bigger discounts don’t apply at the weekends or after a certain time in the evening.
Restaurants such as Wagamama, and Giraffe also put up offers on their websites. And fast food outlets MacDonalds, Burger King and Subway frequently print vouchers in the papers or drop flyers through letterboxes.
Pizza Express, Zizzi and La Tasca also often print vouchers in the national newspapers.
If you’re flexible about when you eat out or don’t mind choosing from a reduced menu, then take advantage of lunchtime offers. Independent restaurants are more likely to get in on the act here, including pricier venues.
Swanky London eateries are also cutting the cost - go to toptable.co.uk and click on ‘A-list venues, High Street prices’ for other Cinderella destinations.
Theatreland is enjoying a booming start to 2009, but ticket providers are aware that potential audiences have less money to splash out on front-row seats.
The concessionary ticket booths in Leicester Square in London rarely offer the bargains you might hope for, so why not try lastminute.com and whatsonstage.com instead? Booking in advance might be your best option. Offers vary with each production so check with individual theatres.
Box office promoter Cameron Mackintosh, which is responsible for West End favourites Oliver! and Avenue Q among others, launched a crunch buster ticket last December. Go to crunchbustertickets.com or call 0844 482 5138 to see what deals are available and to book tickets.
If you don’t mind seeing a show at short notice, you could also see if the box office could offer you a discount on any shows that day.
While there aren’t sales as such at the cinema, concessions for senior citizens and children do apply. Vue Cinema’s Kids AM club runs on Saturday and Sunday mornings; it costs £1.70 a child and one adult goes for free with each child. Odeon Kids costs £2.50 a child and works the same way. Cineworld’s Movies for Juniors only operates on Saturday mornings, and charges £1 per child and £1 per adult.
Special ‘silver screen’ clubs for over-60s run at some branches of Odeon and Vue Cinema. For £3, the more mature cinema-goer gets a cup of tea included in the price, and biscuits as well if they go to Vue. If your cinema doesn’t run special senior screenings but you are over 60, you will still the get the benefit of a reduced OAP rate.
If you are a film junkie then consider buying Cineworld’s unlimited card. It costs £11.99 and holders can see as many films in a month as they like, although restrictions apply at some West End cinemas.
‘Orange Wednesdays’ have become synonymous with long queues at Vue cinemas thanks to two-for-one tickets for Orange mobile and broadband customers.
Don’t despair if you aren’t orange, so to speak. You can buy a basic Orange mobile phone, such as a Samsung B130 for £9.50. Once you’ve gone to the cinema a few times, you will more than recoup the cost of the phone from the savings on tickets.
How to haggle
* Smile and be polite and you’ll be off to a good start.
* Ask to speak to a manager or supervisor. They will have more leeway to offer discounts.
* Always ask for money off if an item isn’t in the condition it should be.
* Don’t be afraid to walk away. If they see you are serious, sales staff may run after you.
* Check price comparison websites such as pricerunner.co.uk before you go shopping.
* If booking for a big group at a restaurant, ask if there are any extras they can offer.
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