Cash is king, except in Kingston

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IN THEORY, cash is king in the recession. March down to your beleaguered local shopping centre, pocket bulging with tenners, and watch them wilt as you name your price.

In practice, it doesn't quite work. Down on the average high street, lurid sales signs, apparently open-ended promotions, interest-free credit and 'lowest-price-in-town' promises abound. Discounts for cash are few and far between.

In Kingston, Surrey, prices have already beeen pared to the bone, sometimes by up to 40 per cent, and I found few shops prepared to go any further for cash.

In Bentalls, the local department store, there was no joy when I offered to pay on the nail to reduce the cost of furniture, a television or video.

'Our sale has finished. No, we do not discount for a cash buyer, although we do have a 'lowest price' guarantee,' the assistant said. This guarantee, however, did not cover video recorders sold in Tottenham Court Road, London's bazaar-like centre for electrical consumer goods. 'Madam] They are pirates. We are retailers.'

At Habitat a man paid for an expensive sofa - 'selling like hot cakes, Sir' - with a tall stack of pounds 20 notes. I sensed, accurately, that there was no hope of a cash discount. It was the same story down at Argos. Design Fireplaces escaped the question only because it appeared to have closed down.

There was greater success at Perring, a furniture store, where the sale had already taken 10 or 15 per cent off prices. I was offered a further 10 per cent off any item for cash. After the end of the sale there would still be some bargains, 'but nothing as generous as 10 per cent,' the assistant said. 'Look at it this way. August is usually the slowest month for retailing unless you're selling ice cream.'

The sale would be ending after the August Bank Holiday, he warned. 'Mind you, there'll be the autumn promotion after that. . .'

But the best August discounts I found were at CH Furniture, where 25 per cent had already come off sofas, tables and armchairs. One small armchair that cost pounds 660 originally came down to pounds 510 in the sale, and was offered to me for pounds 460 for cash. 'Prices,' the salesman said, 'are always open to negotiation.'

(Photograph omitted)