‘Tackled the Xmas Sales on Oxford Street and spent wayyy too much’: just one of many similar Facebook statuses filling up my homepage. It seems that an extraordinary number of people are willing to join the mass spending frenzy and most consumerist Christmas tradition more commonly known as the January Sales. All logic and rationality disappear as we find ourselves out of bed as early as 5 a.m to queue for the Next sale, a top we wouldn’t have even given a second glance to suddenly becomes irresistible with a 50% off tag and we are perfectly happy to rummage through racks of clothes more dishevelled than those on our bedroom floor.
This annual bout of insanity could surely only be worth it if we purchased genuine bargains. But is there such a thing as a ‘good deal’ or are the post-Christmas sales actually a time when consumers are most manipulated and ‘ripped-off’?
For a few lucky shoppers, great deals are possible. Products that have been on their wish-lists for some time now face big reductions, or they spot items they would have been willing to pay full price for. Expensive electrical goods can often be purchased much more cheaply, so it is the perfect time of year to splash out on a new TV or laptop. Unlike clothes, they go out of fashion infrequently, so it doesn’t matter if it was in stores six months ago.
The cyber shopper is also in luck. They can avoid the chaos of the shopping centres whilst taking advantage of slashed prices. Many companies, such as The Body Shop, are even offering free standard delivery for the period, another enticement.
But for most of us, we are influenced into spending far more than we normally would and on purchases we wouldn’t usually make. According to a survey conducted by insurer Sheila’s Wheels, half of the 1,000 adults questioned confessed to owning clothes bought in previous sales that they had never worn. Shops employ all kinds of tricks to make customers part with their money, including limited-time offers, pressuring shoppers into instant buying without hunting for better deals.
Another technique is ‘referencing pricing’, where discounts appear even more seductive in comparison to their previous price – “was £200, now £100”. Rather than cutting prices on current garments, the sales in clothes shops often consist of stock they couldn’t sell in previous seasons. And even if we aren’t deceived into buying a summer dress in the middle of the winter the stores have still succeeded into getting us into their stores and potentially even buying a non-sale item.
This year the pressure to hit the sales was even greater, with the 2.5% VAT rise commencing 4th January. Boxing Day saw 8,000 people ready to burst through Oxford Street Selfridges’ doors when they opened at 11 a.m, the next day shoppers in a North-West London shopping centre spending as much as £10, 000 a minute. Love them or hate them, this is one Christmas tradition which appears to be in no danger of dying out: the January sales are as much a part of modern Christmas culture as the presents themselves.