Monday, 21 March 2011

When Special is the Norm

Christmas special offers, long gone. The January sales, well and truly over. What strikes you though, as you walk along the High Street, is that special offers still scream at you from shop windows. ‘Madness!’ is announced in Shoezone. In the perpetual home of discount Holland & Barrett, the posters herald ‘Buy one get one half price’ on everything in the store. I turn around and the 99p Store have their banner ‘When it’s gone, its gone!’ and indeed it will be, but there’ll be another to replace it.

There’s nothing new in retailers pushing these messages, indeed in the UK it verges on being an art form. Our supermarkets do it, pound shops do it, value retailers do it. Playing on the psychology of ‘everyone loves a bargain.’ It works.

Competition has heightened due to the combination of goods costing less relative to income over the last 20 years, and the increasing sophistication of retailers in terms of what they can offer and how they present it. The abundance of ‘3 for 2’, BOGOF, ‘2 for 1’ has created the expectation of significant discount being the norm from Maltesers to Magnet kitchens.

Yet, there are some places where serious discounting just doesn’t happen. I don’t see an Apple Mac or iPod at 50% off, and I don’t expect to. This is about value not discount. Yes, it’s a different marketplace to grocery products, not an everyday purchase. The desirability of the product and the message of the brand mean that we buy into it big time and expect to pay. And what’s more our sense of reward and contentment are generally higher.

So does brand matter in all of this, or is it price that’s king? The reality is that it’s both and that people are somewhat flexible in attitude and action. Our individual preferences and loyalties combine with the practicalities of budget, convenience and time.

I tend to shop local, so my supermarkets are predominantly Co-op and Morrison’s and my good and friendly local convenience store and newsagents. The market as well for fruit and veg. There are occasional forays to a Tesco or a Sainsbury’s for a change of scene and variety. No Asda or Watirose locally so they really are an adventure. My neighbour is a committed Ocado user, another favours Tesco home delivery, another a weekly ‘big shop’ at Sainsbury’s. Then there’s Philip opposite. ‘Bargain’ is his middle name and he’s a heat seeking discount missile who hits the spot on a daily basis.

The times are a changing. Food will become more expensive, not necessarily a bad thing if it results in us all being more thoughtful and less wasteful. Rather than chasing bargains, that often encourage over-buying, we can control our grocery bill by not  throwing away the alleged 25-35% of food we already buy. This could result in effectively being what we pay (for the use of) two now, becoming the price of three, without the accompanying graphic cacophony.

I think there is a fundamental shift imminent alongside a new sense of responsibility. Trends of scarcity, moderation and vigilance will model our behaviours. Discount may be forever with us, but our response to it will become more considered. My mantra will be to not be bamboozled by those special offers.

By Pauline