Shoppers who bother to go to the High Street are being penalised

Shoe that costs 220pc more in store than online… and as our investigation reveals, shoppers who bother to go to the High Street really are being penalised

  • Many shops have slashed online prices while inflating tags for same item in-store
  • Reason for discrepancies include competing with online environment and costs 
  • India Sturgis attempted to price-match items at retailers in Essex and London 

Until now, shopping has been a straightforward affair. If the price tag on a shirt says £35, that’s the amount we expect to pay. If a dress label has ‘100 per cent wool’ on it, we know that, at some stage, we will shrink it.

But the High Street is changing thanks to consumer demand, closures, Covid and a cut-throat digital landscape. As more shops go online only, you’d be forgiven for assuming big fashion firms might try to tempt us back on to the High Street with in-store discounts and dependability.

Instead, an investigation by Femail found many that have slashed prices online are showing vastly inflated tags for the same products in-store — sometimes an incredible 220 per cent more.

The reason for such discrepancies boils down to two main factors: striving to compete in a highly competitive online environment and costs.

India Sturgis shared her attempt at price-matching items at High Street stores across Colchester and London. Pictured: The white River Island court shoe

Kyle Monk, Director of Insights at the British Retail Consortium, says: ‘Retailers can face numerous additional costs when selling from stores, including higher rents, business rates and staffing costs; this can sometimes translate to higher prices in store. For fashion, those visiting stores benefit from extras such as in-person customer service and fitting rooms.’

I went shopping on my local High Street in Colchester, Essex, and London to see what was going on, and to test whether, when challenged, stores would price-match their own cheaper online prices.

Cos, AllSaints, Hobbs and Next faired well, showing identical prices online and in-store. Others had higher in-store prices and when this was pointed out, not all offered a price-match, making it harder to trust buying in-store for best value, and surely sounding yet another death knell for our beleaguered High Street.

River Island

Out of a dozen items I pick up, four are cheaper online. At the till, when no discount comes up, I ask the sales assistant if they can price-match the website. She tells me it’s an online-only sale and not yet available in stores. I will have to pay full whack if I want them now. One pair of white court shoes cost £15 online, but are £48 in–store — a whopping 220 per cent more. When I tell an assistant the price difference, even she looks aghast. She suggests I either buy them online or, if I want, they can order the online version into the store (even though they already have a pair in stock). Then I can collect them tomorrow at the cheaper price. I tell her I need them today and she looks shocked, asking if I really want to pay that much right now, knowing they’re cheaper online. No, not really. despite the sales assistant trying to help, I leave feeling somehow cheated.

White toe cap court shoe

Price online: £15

Price in-store: £48

In-store premium: +220 per cent

Price match at the till? No

India found a 100 per cent in-store premium on a long sleeve tie dye shirt (pictured) at River Island 

Long sleeve tie dye shirt

Price online: £16

Price in-store: £32

In-store premium: +100 per cent

Black floral shirt dress

Price online: £35

Price in store: £48

In-store premium: +37 per cent

Purple floral dress

Price online: £28

Price in-store: £35

In-store premium: +25 per cent

Patterned halter neck jumpsuit

Price online: £22

Price instore: £38

In-store premium: +73 per cent

H&M

Although underwear and accessories in-store match online prices well, clothing fares differently.

I find a skirt and two dresses available for significantly less online within a few minutes.

Each is price-matched at the till and the sales assistant explains that in-store promotions frequently differ to online offerings, but that H&M will always match the cheaper price when shown.

Apparently I might even find things cheaper in-store than online, but we wouldn’t know what without looking everything up individually.

A sales assistant at H&M told India that in-store promotions frequently differ to online offerings. Pictured: voluminous white floral maxi dress

After going to the effort of looking something up online, the idea of having to present it at the till like Inspector Clouseau and request a price match will be excruciating for many of us in a busy shop.

Am I the only person mad enough to be doing this? No, she says, and anyone who takes the time to search out savings will be rewarded with money off at the till.

An H&M spokesperson confirmed prices may vary online and in-store, but when customers show the online price on their mobile device any price discrepancies will be matched.

If online purchases cost more than in-store you should contact customer services.

Voluminous white floral maxi dress

Price online: £12

H&M’s red smocking-detail dress (pictured) had a 50 per cent premium in-store 

Price in-store: £24.99

In-store premium: +108 per cent

Price match at the till? Yes.

Red floral skirt

Price online: £9

Price in-store: £12.99

In-store premium: +44 per cent

Red smocking-detail dress

Price online: £10

Price in-store: £14.99

In-store premium: +50 per cent

Slides

Price online: £12

Price in-store: £17.99

In-store premium: +50 per cent

Monsoon

There were a number of full price items that came up cheaper online. But as each was put through the till, the online discounts appeared as if by magic, ensuring in-store customers never pay more than online.

The problem is, had I not crosschecked the price, I would have been unaware of the savings until payment — meaning I would never have taken it off the rail to try on in the first place.

The assistant reassured me Monsoon would honour online discounts, even if they didn’t show up at checkout. I leave feeling sort of happy but also frustrated by the poorly signposted reductions that are doing the High Street no favours. Monsoon says: ‘As a general principle Monsoon sells its garments at the same price in-store and online, apart from certain specific short-term promotions.’

India said she would’ve been unaware of the savings at Monsoon until payment, if she had not crosschecked the prices

Navy split leg culottes

Price online: £19.50

Price in-store: £39

In-store premium: +100 per cent

Price match at the till? Yes

Daisy shirt in navy linen

Price online: £20.30

Price in store: £29

In-store premium: +43 per cent

Embroidered slip dress

Price online: £34

Price in-store: £49

In-store premium: +44 per cent

Blue Patch print stripe shirt dress

Price online: £32

Price in-store: £65

In-store premium: +103 per cent

Marks & Spencer

India said items in Marks & Spencer were well matched to the online prices, except a pink halter-neck cotton dress (pictured)

I spot a pink halter-neck cotton dress I could imagine slipping on before lunch during an upcoming holiday to the Dordogne. It’s tagged £45, but comes up as £22 online. When I mention the disparity at the till the salesperson says it’s fine to pay the lower amount. Everything else I look at, including accessories and underwear, is well matched to the online price.

An M&S spokesperson said: ‘All our clothing items are exactly the same price online and in-store – including in the sale. Even if an item isn’t yet labelled in-store as the lower price it will still scan through the till at the sale cost – just as this dress did.’

M&S Collection pure cotton tie-neck midaxi waisted dress

Price online: £22

Price in-store: £45

In-store premium: +105 per cent

Price match at the till? Yes.

Zara

India said the cashier in Zara let her have each item for the online amount, including a white blazer (pictured) with a 285 per cent premium in-store 

There are a few items, including a white blazer and oversized denim shirt, that have been discounted online but appear at full price in-store. One item even amounts to a 286 per cent increase. Even though it was out of stock online, the cashier let me have each for the online amount, reassuring me that the discount would be applied even if it didn’t have it on the label.

Zara says: ‘Our pricing is homogenous for customers whether shopping in-store or online. We understand some sale items in this particular store had not yet been relabelled with the newly updated discount price — this would have corrected at the till to ensure customers were not overcharged.’

Cropped white blazer

Price online: £12.99

Price in-store: £49.99

In-store premium: +285 per cent

Price match at the till? Yes.

Oversized white denim shirt

Price online: £12.99

Price in store: £29.99

In-store premium: +131 per cent

Satin crop top

Price online: £5.99

Price in store: £7.99

In-store premium: +33 per cent

In-store premium worked out to the nearest percentage. Prices accurate as of August 10, 2021, in some stores.

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