Bargains destined for bedroom and kitchen - but not the bookcase

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The Independent Online

This season's sale bargains are to be found in clothing, luxury kitchen goods and bed linen; but if you want to buy a digital camera at a low price, hang on until the spring. And, if you want good books that come cheap, avoid the January sales altogether.

This season's sale bargains are to be found in clothing, luxury kitchen goods and bed linen; but if you want to buy a digital camera at a low price, hang on until the spring. And, if you want good books that come cheap, avoid the January sales altogether.

These are the main pieces of advice on how to get value for money in the post-Christmas sales that emerge from an Independent on Sunday survey of experts.

In order to help readers to pick their way through the forest of fluorescent posters shrieking "20% off" this and "Half-price!!!!" that, we asked experts in various sectors what to look out for and what to avoid. Not all of them were sure that bargains could be found, and some thought that the annual high street mêlée is not worth the frayed tempers and trodden-on toes.

But the one area where there is no shortage of bargains is in clothing. According to Richard Hyman, chairman of retail analysts Verdict, this sector has had a tough time making serious profits for the past year or so, hence the number of clothes shops starting sales well before Christmas and others now about to launch a further round of discounts.

Mr Hyman attributes this to four factors. First, clothes shops had "two great years in 2001 and 2002, and people replenished their wardrobes". He continues: "Most do not do that every year. Second, this year has seen no strong 'must-have' fashion trends." Third, margins have been cut and consumers can buy more for the same real money. Fourth, says Mr Hyman, a cyclical trend has been at work. "Since the mid-1990s," he says, "the general trend has been people switching from self-adornment to home-adornment."

So with lots of bargains available, what to get and what to avoid? Susannah Frankel, fashion editor of The Independent,said: "If there's a lot of something left on a rail, then the chances are it wasn't very good in the first place. It is far better to buy classic things - things like cashmere coats, cashmere jumpers, or a leather jacket. The time to get them is now because, for most of us, they are prohibitively expensive the rest of the year."

Goods for the home are the other traditional sales purchase. Gill Smith, deputy editor of BBC Good Homes magazine, says consumers should be wary of any stores, especially certain furniture ones, that seem to have sales constantly on. Also to be avoided are goods, especially in china and glass departments, that are marked "special purchase" - a sure sign of stock bought in for sales.

As a general rule, Ms Smith recommends looking for discounts on luxury brands, rather than anonymous, ultra-low-price goods. But, she warns: "Designer stuff will go very quickly. You should do your homework first, and be there when the doors open."

Her other tips are luxury kitchen items and bed linen. ("This is always good to buy in the sales. Stores will soon be bringing in spring collections.") And some of the best bargains go to those with quirky taste. She says: "Buyers often get in things to see if they'll go, like red fridges. If they don't move, and they often don't, then you can get some very good brands at good prices."

As for computers, Dylan Armbrust, editor of Computer Active magazine, says that high street retailers such as Dixons will have pre-Christmas stock left over and will be keen to clear this out to make way for new lines. He advises also watching what the direct vendors such as Dell have to offer. And firms such as Time, which are high street and direct sale, often have, for the family market, some enticing bundles, which include printers, scanners and digital cameras. His other tip concerns big-store sales staff. "What we always warn against is people buying extended warranties, on which stores make big profits."

Finally, there are two areas where the sales may not be the best bet for a bargain. With digital cameras, says Jill Lubetkin, deputy editor of Digital Photo Buyer and User, February is the time when new products are announced, and so it is after that when superseded lines are discounted. But there will be good buys coming in SLR-type digicams, more of which are within many people's price range.

And books? Forget the mad scramble around the sales table, says The Independent on Sunday's literary editor Suzi Feay. "They are normally just out-of-date computer books, travel guides to obscure places and novels that really didn't sell." Most bookstores offer bargains all year round, and if you want really cheap books, then go to remainder shops or online bookstores.

Your guide to the sales

Department, luxury and fashion stores

Now on nationwide: Accessorize; Allders; Aquascutum; Army & Navy; Austin Reed; Barkers; Beales; Beatties; Benetton; Bhs; Burberry; Burtons; Ciro Citterio; Contessa Ladieswear; Country Casuals; Crabtree & Evelyn; Debenhams; Diesel; Dorothy Perkins; Dune; East; Episode; Faith; Fenwick; French Connection; Gap; Greenwoods; H&M; Harvey Nichols; Hobbs; House of Fraser; Jaeger; JD Sport; John Lewis; Kookaï; La Senza; Laura Ashley; Liberty; Long Tall Sally; Marks & Spencer; Miss Selfridge; Monsoon; New Look; Next; Nine West; Pineapple; Principles; Ravel; Reiss; River Island; Russell & Bromley; Sock Shop; Swarovski; Tie Rack; Top Man; Topshop.

From 2 January: High and Mighty

Now on in London: Alfred Dunhill, Jermyn Street and Royal Exchange; American Pie, Chiswick High Road; Christian Dior, Sloane Street; Church's Shoes, 201 Regent Street; Comme des Garçons, Brook Street; Cordings, Piccadilly; The Crombie Store, Jermyn Street; Dickens & Jones, Regent Street; Dolce & Gabbana, Old Bond Street; Duffer of St George, Short Gardens; Earl Jean, Ledbury Road; Emma Hope, Sloane Square; Emporio Armani, New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; Fendi, Sloane Street; Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly; Gieves & Hawkes, Savile Row and branches; Harvie & Hudson, Jermyn Street and Knightsbridge; Hermès, Sloane Street; Hilditch & Key, Jermyn Street and branches; Hugo Boss, Regent Street; Jean-Paul Gaultier, Draycott Avenue; Kent & Carey, Wandsworth Bridge Road; Mappin & Webb, Regent Street; Mulberry, Brompton Road; Polo Ralph Lauren, New Bond Street, Fulham Road; Prada, Sloane Street; Selfridges, Oxford Street; Thomas Pink; Tommy Hilfiger, Sloane Street; Wedgwood, Regent Street; Yves Saint Laurent, New Bond Street

From 29 December: Gucci, Royal Exchange; Harrods. From 2 January: Chanel, Old Bond Street; Conran Store, Conduit Street; Graham & Green, Elgin Crescent, Kings Road and Regent's Park Road. Early January: Paul Smith, Floral Street and branches

Books, music and movies

Now on nationwide: Blackwell's; Blockbuster Video; Books Etc; Borders; MVC; Ottakars; Tower; Virgin; Waterstones; Woolworths

From 29 December: HMV From 2 January: WH Smith

Now on in London: Copperfield's, Hartfield Road; Dover Bookshop, Earlham Street WC2

From early-mid January: Boosey & Hawkes, 295 Regent Street; Ray's Jazz at Foyles, Charing Cross Road

Home and furnishings

Now on nationwide: Allied Carpets; B&Q; Bensons; Cargo; Courts; DFS; Dolphin; Dreams; Fired Earth; Furnitureland; Furniture Village; Habitat; Harveys; Homebase; Land of Leather; Magnet; Miller Brothers; MFI; Moben; Muji; Multiyork; Paul Simon Curtain Superstores; Pier; Rosebys; Sharps; Staples' The Kitchen Studio; Wickes

From 7 January: Focus

Now on in London: Heal's, Tottenham Court Road; Purves & Purves, Tottenham Court Road

From 3 January: Designers Guild, King's Road

Electrical, computers and cameras

Now on nationwide: Carphone Warehouse; Maplin; Powerhouse

From 1 January: Dixons; Richer Sounds. From 3 January: Jessops. From early January: PC World

Now on in London: Kingsbury Electronics, Kingsbury Road; Sevenoaks Hi-Fi, Grays Inn Road

From 29 December: Coopers Electrical Superstore, Upper Richmond Road. From 7 January: Ryness Electrical, Edgeware Road

From end of January: Shasonic, Tottenham Court Road

Other chains

Now on nationwide: Asda; Body Shop; Boots; Mothercare; Past Times; Tesco