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Shopping in Britain is quite easy but you might like to invite a friend to go with you for the first time in case it all appears a bit strange. 

When to shop

Shops are usually open 9.00am-5.30pm Monday-Saturday, and in some areas shops might close for an afternoon on one of these days.  On Sundays, some shops stay closed and Onionothers open – but for less hours than the other days in the week. Supermarkets generally have longer opening hours than smaller shops (some are open 24 hours a day!).


In many shops you help yourself to goods off the shelf and place them in a basket or trolley.  When you have completed your selection you take it to a counter where you pay for what you have selected. This is called ‘self service’.  In smaller shops you will sometimes find an assistant who will help you.  In this case just ask them for what you want.


A supermarket is probably a good place to start because it is self service and you can walk around and choose items that you like. Supermarkets often have an information desk where you can get information about what you need to buy.  When you go into a supermarket, always collect a trolley or basket.  Many supermarkets supply some international foods.  The main supermarket chains in the UK are : Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Safeway, Morrisons and Asda, but you will also find some discount supermarkets called Netto, Lidl and Aldi.

A few guidelines

If you’re not sure what a good deal is, ask someone to go Apple shopping with you and show you where to get the best product for your price range.

Everything should have a price on or near it and the law says that the shop has to sell it to you for the lowest price that it is marked at.

Most big stores use bar codes and scan the items at the checkout, the price will be shown near the product (eg on the shelf).

Always get a receipt so that you can change things if there’s a problem.


The pricing of goods may be very different from your own country. Different shops often sell the same goods at different prices.  You may be able to save money by comparing prices in several shops.

Here are some ideas of what things cost at the moment:

Onions (per kg) £0.64
Potatoes (per kg) £0.50
Tomatoes (per kg) £1.58
Apples (per kg) £0.99
Margarine (per kg) £0.95
Orange juice (per litre) £0.64
Beef (per kg) £8.00
Lamb (per kg) £9.00
Pork (per kg) £5.00
Chicken (per kg) £3.50
Peppers Cheese (per 500g) £2.50
Milk (per 558ml / pint) £0.32
Eggs (for 6) £0.75
Bread (per 800g loaf) £0.55
Dried pasta (per kg) £0.60
Basmati rice (per kg) £0.95
Cornflakes (per kg) £1.33
Flour (per 1.5kg) £0.44
Sugar (per kg) £0.73
Instant coffee (per 100g) £2.14
Teabags (for 80) £0.99
Washing powder for clothes (per kg) £1.56
Shampoo (per 200ml) £1.65
Soap (4 x 125g bars) £0.99

These prices are based on a Sainsbury’s supermarket in London in 2005.  Prices may vary between different supermarkets and at different times of year.


Virtually all prices in shops are fixed so you will not be able to bargain, unless the goods are damaged, in which case the shopkeeper may agree to a lower price.  However, if you are purchasing something from a newspaper or other advert, it is usual to bargain.

Charity shops

Many of the charity organisations such as Help the Aged or Oxfam have shops.  Goods are donated to the shop, which then sells them to raise money for the charity.  It is worth finding out what charity shops there are in your area.  They are often a source of good quality second hand goods such as clothes, kitchen utensils, furniture or children’s clothing at very cheap prices.  You may be fortunate and just find what you want but it is worth having a look round each time you go into town.  You may spot something that you know you will need in the future!

Claiming back VAT

All shops pay a tax on the goods they sell.  This is called Value Added Tax (VAT).  The tax is part of the price you pay.  If you are only visiting the UK for a few months, you may reclaim the VAT you pay.  To do this, always ensure you get a note from the shop listing all of the goods you buy and the price you pay.  This note is called a receipt.  You should also ask the shop for a tax refund document. You need to present the completed document and the goods to Customs when you leave the UK.  For more details, visit HM Revenue & Customs website.

Images: welcoming international students
in Guildford