Travel English – Words and phrases to help you shop

We all love to shop. Well, most of us do! Whether we love it or not we have to shop to survive in our modern society. From buying essential items like food and toiletries to things we love to splurge on like clothes and books, shopping is an everyday activity for us. So it’s important to learn some easy words and phrases to help make our shopping trips go smoothly. Here are some of the most common English words, phrases and idioms that you can use the next time you head to the shop, mall or supermarket.


  • Excuse me, I’m looking for… – this is a very useful phrase to help speed up your shopping. You don’t want to waste time wandering around a huge store when you’re looking for one particular thing, so you can ask a sales assistant where it is instead. You can ask for a specific product – ‘I’m looking for shampoo/a charger for my phone’ – or for a department or shop section – ‘I’m looking for the lingerie department/the winter coats section.’

  • I’m just looking, thanks – often, shop assistants will ask you if you need any help, or if you’re shopping for anything in particular. This is what to say to let them know that you don’t want any help, and that you’re happy just browsing the store.

  • Could I try this on? – want to try something on and make sure it fits before you decide to buy it? Ask a sales assistant this question and they’ll let you know if and where there are changing rooms in store.

  • Do you have this in … – a bigger size/smaller size/blue/pink? These are just some of the questions you can ask a sales assistant if you want to try on or buy something in a different colour or size.

  • Could I return this please? – this is what to ask when you’d like a refund or exchange for something you’ve bought that you are unhappy with.


  • Can I pay by card? – while most stores will accept debit and credit card payments, some smaller shops might not, and this is the phrase to use to find out if you can use your card to pay for your shopping or whether you have to pay cash.

  • Are you in the queue? – the chances are, if you’re in a shop of any kind during a busy period, you’ll have to queue. This is the phrase to use if you want to politely check if someone is in the queue, so that you know whether you can skip ahead of them or not.

  • It’s on me – if you want to pay for something on behalf of someone else, or give someone a gift then you can say ‘It’s on me.’ What you mean is that the payment is on you, you’ll take care of it. This phrase is most often used when you’re out for a meal or for drinks – ‘Don’t worry about it, the bill’s on me.’

paying card shop


  • Pricey – if you think something is priced to highly or is too expensive then you can describe it as pricey. ‘Oh no, that’s too pricey for me,’ or ‘I’m afraid that’s a little too pricey for me today.’

  • Cheap – this is the opposite of pricey. It means a product is good value, or affordable. It can also be used in a negative way to describe something that’s off poor quality – ‘I would never wear that dress, it’s so cheaply made.’

Getting information

  • What time do you close? – sadly, there are only so many shopping hours in a day. This is the phrase to use when you’re trying to plan your shopping day and you want to find out what time I shop is open until.

  • Are you open on Sundays? – while many larger shops open on Sundays these days, not all shops do. This is the phrase to use if you think a store may shut its doors on a Sunday and you want to find out or sure.

Signs you might see

  • Out to lunch – this means the shop owner will be out for a while, typically an hour, so the shop will re-open a little later. Confusingly, it can also mean that you’re not fully in charge of your mental faculties, i.e., you’re crazy!

  • Buy one get one free/BOGOF/two for one – this is a special offer that you’ll see in lots of stores, offering you two of the same item for the price of one.

  • Clearance sale/closing down sale – when you see a sale sign you know that there will be bargains in store, as it means the shop has specially reduced its prices. These two types of sale just let you know why the shop has decided to lower its prices. If it’s having a clearance it’s trying to get rid of old stock cheaply to make way for new stock. If it’s having a closing down sale then ‘everything must go’ so prices are cut to get rid of as much stock as possible before the business shuts down.

  • Reduced to clear – if a product is reduced to clear that means its price has been lowered as the store owner wants to clear their shop of all of these products, often to make way for another, newer product.

checking label shop

Some shopping idioms

  • Go window shopping – nope. This doesn’t mean you’re going shopping for new windows. We’ve all been window shopping before. When you don’t have the money to shop for things, but wander round town staring in shop windows, daydreaming about owning what they have on display then you’re window shopping.

  • To shop around – if you’re looking for a bargain it’s a good idea to shop around. This means to visit several different stores, comparing the price of the same product, so you can buy it at the cheapest price.

  • To buy a lemon – this idiom isn’t talking about shopping for fruit. It means to buy something that proves to be worthless, usually when someone as bought a car. But why is lemon used to mean something that’s faulty or defective? No one knows for sure, but it could be because a lemon leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Pay through the nose – no one wants to pay through the nose for something. It means to pay a very high price for something. This is an idiom that creates a painful image when you think about it! In fact, it has a rather nasty origin, coming from the Viking punishment of slitting the nose from tip to eyebrow of anyone who refused to pay tax – ouch!

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