How to get freebies on the high street

mystery shopper

mystery shopperWe’re all watching the pennies and looking for the best deals on our shopping trips nowadays. But want to know how to get freebies so you can enjoy getting something for nothing?

You’d think stores would be less inclined to give things away in a poor economy. But on the contrary, they are much more likely to be generous in order to attract customers.

Follow our five simple steps, and you can bag yourself some goodies absolutely free.

1. Ask for it

In the competitive post-recession climate, high street stores will do anything to close a sale.

Use this to get freebies, by asking retailers to throw in extras with your normal purchase.

You’re well within your rights to haggle, but shops are more willing to give you something for free if you pay full price for a main item.

It costs them less – that’s why you’ll find lots of buy-one-get-one-free offers. Buy a computer and get a printer; buy a bike and get a helmet; buy a TV and get a DVD recorder.

Try not to haggle when a shop is busy. When there are crowds willing to buy, salespeople are unlikely to care as much about your business. Go at quieter times, like a midweek morning.

You may think that some stores will simply not accept haggling, and this may be true – but you’ll be surprised where you strike lucky, so do give it a go.

2. Know your rights – and ask for them

It goes against the grain for us Brits to make a fuss. But there’s nothing wrong with standing up for your consumer rights if you’ve been sold an unsatisfactory product. As a bonus you may be entitled to something free as compensation.

According to the Sale of Goods Act 1979, when you purchase a product you have a right to expect it to be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and as described by the seller.

When making a complaint, be firm and rational – but don’t play down the situation. State the facts – for example, you purchased shoes and wore them only once when a heel broke off.

Describe how this inconvenienced you. Were you at a wedding and had to limp around all day? Or did you have to run out and buy another pair at extra expense?

Be clear on what you want. Do you want another pair of the same shoes? Or have you lost confidence in their quality and you’d like to pick an alternative pair? In a case like this, it wouldn’t be overstepping the mark to ask for your money back – and something else as compensation for the inconvenience and cost of buying another pair.

The store will not want to lose a good customer, so reveal if you’re a regular, or likely to become one if this conversation ends well. Also stress that you will be telling others of your experience.

A Twitter survey discovered shops such as John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Boots, Barratts, Clarks, Gap and Next responded well to complaints. And all the major supermarkets will offer vouchers or loyalty points to say sorry for an unsatisfactory purchase.

3. Be a mystery shopper

Why not shop for free – and get paid in the process? Agencies can pay between £20 and £100 a day, for anything from trying out a new restaurant to having a pizza delivered. Or you could take some groceries home from your supermarket shop for nothing.

You’ll be given a brief and a checklist of things to look out for. You need to follow instructions, evaluate the response and provide feedback, usually through an online questionnaire.

You won’t have to accept all jobs offered but more regular work and nicer assignments – like free hotel stays – will come if you are flexible early on.

You will usually be asked to report on decor and tidiness, the quality of the service, and the ease of finding specific products. The companies want this information and your till receipts usually within 24 hours, so you’ll need to set aside time to fill in the forms.

If you’d like to give it a whirl, you’ll need to register with mystery shopping sites.

The leading ones are: Retail Eyes, Checkout, ESA, Gfk NOP, JKS Mystery Shopping, Mystery Shoppers Ltd, Performance in People, Retail Active, Retail Maxim, Retail Rapport Ltd, Storecheckers, Stratagem Marketchecker, TNS Global, T3 Retail Assessments.

Your shopping won’t be free at the time of purchase. You may have to buy a specific item – and get reimbursed later. And you will be classed as self-employed, so you’ll have to declare earnings to the Inland Revenue.

Mystery shopping is now highly regulated in the UK. The Market Research Society created a code of conduct, and standards are maintained by trade bodies such as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.

4. Do the clever card shuffle

Credit card companies are so desperate for your custom, they’ll offer freebies to get you to sign up. Get the card, grab the freebie, then ditch it.

Many offers will require you to make a purchase – but they don’t stipulate a minimum amount. So you could buy something as small as a pack of chewing gum on your credit card in order to collect your free gift. Pay it all off as soon as you get your bill, and cancel the card.

Store cards also offer opportunities to grab a freebie – but beware as many charge more than 25% interest. Shops will offer initial discounts for you to take one out, so get the maximum benefit by shopping in a group.

For example, Warehouse gives a 20% discount upon taking out a card. If you and four friends pick out something worth £20 each, the bill will come to £100 – meaning one item will be free.

You must be able to pay off the amount you spend in full, in order to be a winner. Then cancel the card; don’t be caught in the credit trap. If you don’t have self-control with card spending, forget these methods.

Also remember: lots of credit card or store card applications in a short space of time will lower your credit score. So spread out the freebie-grabbing over every few months.

5. Be a guinea pig

Become a guinea pig for stores and companies, in return for free products or services.

For example, hair models are always required, so salons can train their new stylists. Don’t be shy to ask in your local hairdressers if you can get a free haircut on a certain night – although you may have to be flexible about the style! Department store make-up counters will usually give you a free makeover, if you indicate you may be interested in buying some of their products in the future (but you don’t have to).

Morrisons is currently looking for taste testers. Successful applicants will get a £20 voucher on their next grocery shop, as well as getting to try all the latest products.

6. Get weekly freebie updates

Sign up to MyFamilyClub for free and you’ll get a weekly newsletter with a round-up of the best freebies and competitions.

Our team of researchers also scan the web and the high street every week to find the very best shopping deals for you, so you’ll also be kept updated with our top picks for sales, special offers, voucher discounts and other special deals.

And finally, you’ll receive our weekly Best Buys update, which scans supermarket prices for the essential products in all family shopping baskets – and tells you where to find the cheapest prices each week.