SHOPPING is all about justification. “I need that extra jumper because...”. And when it comes to justifying our purchases, we turn to one of two options. “Because I’m worth it” or “because it’s cheap”. Buying decisions, beyond bare essentials, are about treats and bargains.
That’s true even in cash-strapped times like the present. Earlier this year, Euromonitor’s study of 16,000 consumers around the world revealed that 59 per cent of us like to find bargains, rising to 64 per cent for women, while 30 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men acknowledge they regularly buy themselves small treats – in Brazil, it’s as high as 42 per cent.
This then is one way to understand the relative success of Asos. Its retail concept is brilliant, not just for its innovative digital approach but because it offers both treats (fashionable clothes) and bargains (online discounts) in one. No wonder it managed year-on-year growth of eight per cent in its UK sales over the quarter to 30 June this year, when others are left turning to the weather to explain away their dismal numbers.
From this perspective, it’s also possible to see the problem Marks and Spencer is facing. Its non-food sales were down 6.8 per cent over the quarter like-for-like because too many people think M&S clothes are neither a thrilling indulgence nor a bargain. Its food business, meanwhile, grew 0.6 per cent, because it’s not just selling any food, but some of the nation’s favourite treats. Bargain pants or lacy luxuries, M&S shouldn’t wear a middle of the road strategy.
Marc Sidwell is City A.M.’s managing editor