It was the week Britain went discount crazy. The sharp uptick in monthly inflation on Wednesday was a fitting backdrop for the launch of Jack’s, a new budget chain from Tesco that the supermarket hopes will park a tank on Lidl and Aldi’s lawn.
The rising cost of living has propelled more of us to the door of the continental discounters. I am proud to admit that I frequent their aisles.
This week, Aldi’s new range of cast iron cookware sold out online after Fleet Street picked up on its similarities to posh French brand Le Creuset, which sells casserole dishes for £295. A near identical-looking red Aldi casserole would have cost just £25, providing you were quick enough to snap one up.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone” is a phrase beloved of the discount groups, and unsurprisingly was emblazoned on lurid red signs inside the new Jack’s store near Cambridge.
The special offers aisle tempts you to spend money on things you don’t need — a sentiment immortalised by the Irish singer songwriter Andy Conway. Look up “The Lidl Song” on YouTube to hear how he ended up buying scuba gear, a lawnmower, head torch, football and garden decking — but forgot the milk.
But how can we bag a discount on stuff that we actually need?
My top tip when shopping online is to search for the name of the retailer plus “promo code” before you go to the checkout — if you’re lucky, you might get 20 per cent off. At the very least, you can usually find a code for free delivery. But I have been alerted to another way of getting a discount. Using your friends.
You and your pals can save money on anything from fashion to hotel bookings and even gas bills by becoming an online advocate for brands you already use.
“Refer a friend” programmes are becoming increasingly common, offering rewards of £100 or more if you convince a friend to sign up by passing on a unique code (this usually generates a discount for them too).
This is especially popular with apps and online retailers, because “referral marketing” is a much cheaper way of attracting customers than conventional advertising. “Turn your customers into influencers” is how one specialist website puts it.
Of course, like many digital ideas, referral marketing is nothing new.
Years ago, as a kitchen-obsessed advocate of the Lakeland catalogue, I would regularly fill in cards with the names and addresses of friends and family who had marvelled at my array of silicone bakeware and kitchen gadgets.
They would be sent a catalogue, and if they placed an order, I’d be sent a Lakeland gift voucher to further my habit. When I left the Investors Chronicle 10 years ago, my mocked-up “leaving page” contained the headline: “FT post room staff crushed under weight of Barrett’s Lakeland delivery”.
Lakeland no longer runs the offer, and has grown from a catalogue business into an online retailer with a chain of shops. But there are plenty of other businesses clamouring for an e-intro to your friends.
Ted Baker will give you and a friend £25 off online, although you each have to spend £150 or more on full-price items to qualify. Hobbs offers 20 per cent off online for friends you refer, and as your reward, there’s £20 off your next purchase over £100.
I am not trendy enough to shop in Missguided, but FT Money’s new reporter Nikou Asgari tell me the retailer offers £5 off full price items online for you and a friend if you pass on a code.
This is a cheap way of marketing to the Instagram generation. Social media is the perfect forum to “brand thyself” and share your personal discount code alongside a selfie of you modelling your new outfit. Although you risk being rapidly “unfriended”.
But referral marketing really comes into its own for mundane things you’re much less likely to rave about to your friends.
Bulb, an energy company, offers £50 to you and any friends you can convince to sign up as new customers. Its website says: “If you refer about 15 people that could be free energy for a year. Result.”
Many broadband, mobile phone and TV deals have linked rewards if you convince a friend to sign up. Three, O2 and BT Mobile have various deals offering £25 Amazon vouchers to both sides, and Virgin Media will offer you both £50 credit in some circumstances.
In banking, Nationwide offers £100 each to customers whose friends switch their current account (including two direct debits). Refer the maximum number of five friends a year, and you will get £500.
Predictably, digital services are awash with refer a friend deals. Tap “free rides” on the Uber app to find a code you can share with multiple friends worth a few pounds (this also works for Uber Eats). Airbnb users can receive up to £75 for each friend they invite. Booking.com offers £15 credit for you and up to 10 friends a year — so long as they use your unique link and this even applies to friends who have booked using the website before.
Home-delivered food boxes and wine clubs have too many referral deals to mention.
Treatwell, the health and beauty booking app, offers £100 credit to customers who convince their favourite salon, nail bar or hairdressers to sign up.
The terms and conditions attached to these kinds of deals can be extensive. Often your “friend” cannot live at the same address as you. And while some friends will leap at the chance of saving a few quid, others might think you’re a cheapskate.
Another route is to ask friends online if they are already a customer of any service you’re thinking of signing up to. However, the cash sums on offer may not be enough to compensate for a potential downside of being a brand advocate — being blamed by your friends if their broadband stops working, their wine is corked or their new jumper unravels after one wash.
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