Free for all: The delights of window shopping

You don't need to spend money to have fun shopping. From test drives to complimentary coffee and cake, Harriet Walker goes for a browse

The desire to acquire is hard to shake off, even in troubled times. But here's a simple answer: this winter, rediscover the art of window shopping. Previously, the refuge of penniless masochists, cash-free shopping has now taken on a new dimension. "It's becoming more of an 'experience economy'," says Vincent Clay, trend reporter at consumer agency SCB Partners, of the new consumer trend. "People are focussing less on buying right now, so they're looking for things they can go and 'do', to come away with an experience." No matter what the sales assistants think, there's no shame in "only looking"; just remember Holly Golightly, a girl who even took her breakfast while window-shopping...



Eat

There is such a thing as a free lunch. Local farmers' markets are a good bet for tasters; in London, Borough Market's cheese samples and venison sausage have long nourished tight-fisted gourmands. Swipe a free Krispy Kreme at the Harrods Food Hall; stop in at the help-yourself trays at La Maison du Chocolat. You can pick up a free coffee in most branches of HSBC or in Nespresso stores. The seasoned scrounger knows that buying a cup of tea at Eat or Pret A Manger just before they shut entitles you to a free cake.



Drive

Motorists looking for cheap thrills can request a test drive from almost any dealership, either online or by just turning up, though do pretend to some extent that you have an interest in buying. Lexus now offer free 48-hour test drives of many models (www.lexus 48.co.uk), and Peugeot will loan their 207 for a day ( www.207testdrive.com ).



Property

Fancy some penthouse viewing and sour grapes, roll up to one of the urban development projects currently languishing empty. Skyline Central in Manchester ( www.westpro perties.co.uk ) has a 20-metre rooftop pool, and Citispace Leeds ( www.citispace.co.uk ) boasts a contemporary roof garden. Try prestigious London agents, like Henry & James or Savills, to discover the Belgravia's you can't afford.



Read

Gone are the days of the grumpy corner-shop owner barking "You read it, you buy it." Thanks to liaisons between Borders and Starbucks, or Waterstones and Costa Coffee, it's easy to pick up a book or magazine and do some perusing. Also try boutique bookshops like CB1 in Cambridge, and Porter Bookshop in Sheffield.



Wear

If you're determined to try on clothes you can't afford, most high street stores have well-designed changing rooms, and you won't be under pressure to buy. Topshop are relaxed, but beware smaller boutiques – you'll just end up embarrassed or out of pocket. Vintage stores are also good, and even better are clothes-swap, or "swishing" events ( www.swishing.org), which do charge a small fee on the door, but you're free to grab as you please – just leave a clothing donation.



See

Forget free art galleries: at Christmas, the big stores have stupendous window displays. Old favourites Selfridges put on an optimistic front and their theme this year is "the more, the merrier". Harrods, on the other hand, is channelling James Bond. Harvey Nichols' windows offer a fashion fantasy, so gorge yourself guiltlessly.



Play

Habitat and Ikea have kids play areas as standard. Also try the pet kingdom at Harrods; Hamleys has an array of wind-up and squeaky interactive toys, woofing and backflipping. Santa's grotto is free at Harrods ( www.harrods.com/christmas ) and Westfield London (uk.westfield .com). He is also doing the rounds at Selfridges stores, giving out free books; you can reserve a slot online at www.selfridges.co.uk , a booking fee of £2 is donated to charity, or just turn up.



Beauty

Testers and samples of skincare products are available from the counters in department stores – Kiehl's samples are especially generous, and Clarins will provide a whole range in miniature. And, of course, you can spritz a new perfume for free.



Electronics

You can get your gizmo fix gratis. Check emails for free at any Apple store, and most mobile phone shops will let you charge your phone for free. Spend an afternoon at the listening posts in Zavvi, HMV and Fopp for musical inspiration, then search for free downloads on the web. Department stores open up their gadget sections to shoppers at Christmas, so you can play on an Xbox with your mates, if you're prepared to fight off hordes of surly teenagers.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Senior Marketing Executive (B2C, Offline) - Wimbledon

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successfully con...

    Marketing Executive (B2C, Offline) - Wimbledon, SW London

    £23000 - £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An established and highly...

    Financial Controller

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is a busy and varied role w...

    Maths Teacher

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teacher require...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style