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Life / Shopping
Go shopping in the UK
Shopping (c) Hemera Technologies Inc
  London shops
  Food and drink
  Buying clothes
  Books and stationery
  Cutting your hair
  Online shopping
  VAT refunds
  Ethical shopping


This page gives a brief introduction to shopping in the UK.

Note that some shops offer discounts to students (perhaps 5-10%), especially in towns with many students. Often they will display a sign in the window advertising this, but sometimes you need to ask directly. To prove you are a student, you may need to show your ISIC or NUS card.

If you are paying a large bill, ask if there is a discount if you pay by cash (the person you are paying will not have to pay the charges of a credit card company)

"Time Out" London's Best Shops
Publisher: Time Out
Date: October 2011

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Harrods at night
(Brompton Road, Knightsbridge)

(Regent Street)

The oldest shop in London (1567)
(Portsmouth Street, near Holborn)

Famous London shopping streets: Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street, Sloane Street, Knightsbridge.
For a guide to the shops along London's main shopping streets, see:
Major department stores in London include the following:

Shop name Address Nearest Tube Website
Debenhams 334-348 Oxford Street Bond Street
Fenwick 63 New Bond Street Bond Street
Fortnum & Mason 181 Piccadilly Green Park
Harrods 87-135 Brompton Road Knightsbridge
Harvey Nichols 109-125 Knightsbridge Knightsbridge
John Lewis 278-306 Oxford Street Oxford Circus
Liberty 210-220 Regent Street Oxford Circus
Marks & Spencer 458 Oxford Street Marble Arch
Selfridges 400 Oxford Street Bond Street

The largest shopping centres within easy reach of London include these:

Shop name Area Nearest Tube/train station Website
Westfield Stratford City East London Tube: Stratford
Bluewater Kent Train: Greenhithe
Westfield London West London Tube: White City / Wood Lane
Brent Cross North London Tube: Brent Cross

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Some ideas about possible ways to reduce the amount of money you spend on eating and drinking:
- Eating in school or university canteens will usually be cheaper than commercial cafes or restaurants
- Cooking for yourself will be cheaper than buying ready-made meals
- When travelling, consider taking some snacks or a picnic with you
- Eating local and seasonal food is cheaper; it may be more expensive if you try to eat in the same way as in your home country
- It is cheaper to buy alcohol in a supermarket or in a drinks shop, but you cannot open it there (they are known as "off-licences")

It is usually cheapest to buy food from a large supermarket such as:
Marks & Spencer:

When you pay for your shopping in a supermarket and pay using a debit card (such as Switch), you may be asked, "Would you like some cashback?" Cashback is just a way of obtaining money, equivalent to using a cash machine.

Some ideas about ways to save money for regular food shopping:
- If you use the same supermarket regularly, you should apply for its loyalty card; show this each time you shop to collect "points" which can later be used to buy things.
- Check "best before" or "use by" dates to make sure that you don't waste food. Supermarkets may sell fresh food cheaply if it is close to its "use by" date, especially just before a day on which the shop is closed.
- Goods sold using the supermarket's own label may be cheaper than branded goods, and the quality is often similar.
- Supermarkets often have special offers such as "two for the price of one". You can find details on their websites.
- It is often cheaper to buy larger packs than individual portions. You may want to shop together with a friend and split larger packs between you.
- Fruit and vegetables are usually cheaper and fresher if bought from a market (see Markets) or at a greengrocer's rather than from a supermarket

Time Out London's Best Restaurants
Publisher: Time Out Group Ltd
Date: October 2011
Harden's Good Cheap Eats in London
Editors: Richard Harden, Peter Harden
Publisher: Harden's Limited
Date: March 2009

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Farmers' markets are run by local producers who are selling directly. To find the locations and times of these markets, see:

Vegetable stall

Fruit stall

There are many well-known markets in London. Some of the most famous markets are:

Camden Market Market:
Crafts, clothes, food stalls. The main markets are on Saturday and Sunday. Near Camden Town underground station.

Borough Food Market:
Fine food market on Saturday (also on Thursday and Friday afternoons). Near London Bridge underground station.

Petticoat Lane Market, Brick Lane Market, Old Spitalfields Market:
Clothes, leather goods, records, toys, organic food. The main markets are open on Sunday morning. Near Liverpool Street underground station.

Columbia Road Flower Market:
Flowers, plants and vegetables. Open on Sunday morning. Near Old Street underground station.

Portobello Road Market:
Antiques, fruit and vegetables, clothes and books. The antique market is on Saturday. Near Notting Hill Gate underground station.
This market was shown in the film Notting Hill.

Covent Garden Apple Market:
Crafts (Tuesday to Sunday) or antiques (Monday). Near Covent Garden underground station.
The story for the film My Fair Lady was based in this area, but the flower, fruit and vegetable market is no longer here.

Berwick Street Market:
Fruit and vegetables. On Berwick Street and Rupert Street, in the area known as Soho. Open Monday to Saturday, 9am - 6pm (there may be bargains shortly before closing time). Near Piccadilly Circus underground station.

Greenwich Market:
Crafts, antiques, books. Near Cutty Sark station (Docklands Light Railway).

The London Market Guide
Authors: Andrew Kershman, Ally Ireson
Publisher: Metro Publications
Date: November 2008

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Burton (menswear) offers 10% discount to students (you need to provide a valid student identification number)
Dorothy Perkins (womenswear) offer 10% discount to anyone ordering online

Designer discount stores sell designer goods at reduced prices. See:

Cheap second-hand clothes and other items may be available from charity shops, located in many high streets

Summer sales

The biggest sales are usually after Christmas (late December / early January; see: Ideas/Gifts/JanuarySales).
Summer sales are in July or August.

Although sale signs appear to say something like "Sale: 50% off", if you read the small letters it may read "Sale: up to 50% off, on selected items only".

If you are small, some shops offer petite ranges
The most common labels for clothes are: S (small), M (medium), L (large), XL (extra large), XXL (extra extra large)

British shoe sizes are different from those in other countries, so always ask to be measured and try on shoes before buying them.

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Ask bookshops if they offer student discounts (10% discounts are fairly common). Some bookshops have special student promotions - often at the start of the academic year (in September or October).
Some bookshops sell second-hand books (for example: popular course books) at reduced prices. Bookshops which are close to universities are most likely to have this kind of service. Student unions sometimes organise second-hand academic book sales on campus.
Many books are cheaper if bought online through companies such as Amazon: Shop/Company/Amazon. Used books are often available through this service.
Second-hand academic books can be bought online from:

Two of the biggest stationery companies are Ryman and WH Smith

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A man's hairdresser is also known as a barber.
Usually you do not make an appointment at a barber's shop - you go to the shop and wait for your turn.
You should try to remember who was already in the shop when you arrived, and who arrived after you.
The basic service is just a haircut; you should ask if you want your hair washed or if you want a shave

The parts of the hair are known as the back, sides, top and fringe (at the front; known as bangs in American English). The areas in front of the ears are known as sideburns. At the back the hair can be tapered or square.
If you want short hair, you can ask for a short back and sides.
You can specify the length of hair which is cut using a shaver as number 1 (shortest), number 2, number 3 or number 4 (longest).
If you comb your hair to one side, you should ask for a parting, either on the left or right.
You can ask for a trim or a tidy-up if you don't want much to be cut from the top and fringe.
It is common to give a tip of about 10% to the hairdresser.

A hair salon is more expensive than a barber's shop. You normally need to make an appointment before going.
Some are just for women, but many are unisex (for either men or women).
If you have a particular style that you want, it may be easiest to show a photograph to the hairdresser.
If you have hair that is different from British hair, you may want to look for a specialist hairdresser, for example for Afro-Caribbean or oriental hair.
There may be different charges if your hair is cut by a senior stylist, junior stylist or apprentice (a learner).
If you want to save money, you may be able to get a free haircut by an apprentice.
Some of the services offered are washing/shampooing, cutting, styling, colouring, blow-drying, hair extensions, a perm, and colouring/highlights. Some hair salons also offer beauty treatment.

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Many goods can be bought more cheaply if you order them using the internet. In most cases you will need to pay using a credit card or debit card.

This website includes links to books and other products which can be bought from Amazon. For more information about how to buy using this service, see: Shop/Company/Amazon.

To buy goods using an online auction service, register at:
To compare online prices, try a site such as

See: Life/Post for details about how to take delivery of a parcel in the UK.

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If you buy some expensive goods less than 3 months before you leave the UK, you may be able to reclaim VAT (value added tax). The current rate of VAT in the UK is 20%. This table shows how much you may be able to claim back, depending on the value of your purchase and the current rate of VAT. Note that while the VAT rate is 20% the reclaim amount is 16.66% of the amount spent (16.66% = 20 / 120):

VAT reclaim counter,
Heathrow Airport
Reclaim amount
(if VAT=20%)

To be able to claim a VAT refund:

- You must be from a country which is outside the EU (European Union)
- You must leave the UK (and the EU) within 3 months of the date when you make your purchase
- If you are a student then you must be about to finish your studies in the UK. After you have left you must be planning to remain outside of the UK for a period of at least 12 months
- You must buy from a shop which takes part in the "Retail Export Scheme" (these shops will display a "Tax-free shopping" sign in their window)
- Usually you must spend more than a minimum amount in the shop (for example: £50 or £100)

This is how you claim the money:

(1) At the shop
- When you have decided everything you want to buy, tell the sales assistant that you would like to reclaim the VAT
- The shop will provide you with a VAT reclaim form for you to complete (the number of the usual form is VAT 407)
- The shop will ask you to show your passport

(2) At the airport
- Make sure that you pack both the form and the goods you have bought in your hand luggage
- Show the form, the goods and your passport to the Customs officer at the airport from which you will leave the EU. Your form will be stamped
- There may be a special box where you can post your VAT refund claim, in the Departures area of the airport (if you forget to do this, you can also post it after you have returned to your country). Sometimes there is a Cash Refund Office in the airport where you can obtain the money immediately. Alternatively, you can have the refund added directly to your credit card or bank account, or ask for a cheque to be sent to you.

Note the following points:

- You cannot reclaim VAT on services, such as hotel or restaurant bills
- You cannot reclaim VAT on goods for which the tax is not applied (for example, for books or children's clothes)
- You cannot reclaim VAT if the shop did not issue you with a VAT reclaim form at the time of purchase
- You cannot reclaim VAT on goods bought by mail order or through the internet
- Shops normally charge an administration fee, so the amount you save may be small if you have spent the minimum amount. For example, if the charge is £5 and you have spent £50, you will only get back £3.33 (= £8.33 - £5.00)

Further information:

The government office which is responsible for VAT is called Customs and Excise, which is part of HM Revenue & Customs. You can find out full details of the rules about VAT reclaims on their website:
You can also ask for information by telephoning the Customs' National Advice Service: 0845 010 9000 (calls are charged at local rates).

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In recent years many people have become more aware of the ethical issues connected with business, and wish to buy products from companies which behave in a certain way. For example, "fair trade" companies such as Traidcraft ( ensure that the producers of their products in developing countries are paid in a fair and consistent way.

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Buy presents: Ideas/Gifts
January sales: Ideas/Gifts/JanuarySales
British food and drink: Britain/Food

Home page: Home

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