January Sales

Where will the best sale bargains be found this January.The traditional British January Sales seems to be under threat as shoppers increasingly move online to buy whatever it is they need.

A few years ago, it was common for us British shoppers to shake ourselves out of our post turkey torpor and head to the high street or out of town shopping parks for the most popular British pastime: shopping.

Many years ago, I worked in retail for a large and well known high street electronics retailer. I hated having to stir myself to go to work on Boxing Day to start the January Sale a few days early. These days though, the shopping frenzy seems to have died down and both the retail parks and high street are getting a trouncing from upstart online retailers and, of course the high-street retail names have moved online with a vengeance – anxious to maintain revenues and profit against the likes of Amazon, eBay and more recently Alibaba from China.

Is High Street Shopping Dying?

The trend for shoppers to buy online seems to have attained a status of inevitability and we have all seen the gaps on the high streets where once BHS, Austin Reed, Netto and others were thronged with shoppers. The out of town centres have seen Comet, Dixons, B&Q and others disappear. At the same time though retail experts are saying that, despite all the bad news, retail parks are actually seeing as many busy shops as they had in previous years.

B&Q, Curries and Homebase are still the biggest names in the business and retailers are telling us that they are seeing increasing numbers of shoppers at sale times!

Perhaps the death of retailing is not as inevitable as we might have been thinking?

But What About the Best Prices?

All these changes in retailing raise questions in my mind. For example, I always knew that many retailers would buy in stock specifically to sell at apparently low prices in the January sales but there were laws about pricing and how discounts should be shown that protected shoppers.

Online shopping is different – but it shouldn’t be!

For example, online retailers have their own tricks to play on unsuspecting buyers. Did you know that online stores can show different prices to different customers for the same product based upon their previous shopping history? I don’t know about you but the idea that I might pay less for a TV than you do because you have, in the past, shown a willingness to spend more money than me, or because you live in a wealthier area than me is disturbing. At least when I walk through the door of my local PC World we all see the same prices on the shelves and we can make our own choices!

How genuine is a sale when the prices are being manipulated customer by customer and when I might pay more than you because my shopping history shows me to be a soft touch?

I think that, on the whole I prefer to walk into a shop, even if crowded with people, see what is on offer and make my own choice as to the value.

But the other side of the coin is that online retailers are often able to offer prices that no bricks and mortar retailer can offer simply because their costs are lower – after all, there’s no shop to run and rent, no sales people to pay for, no fancy displays to build up and maintain and the shoppers even pay delivery fees on top of the normal prices – when was the last time you had a book delivered from WH Smith? Each delivery charge you pay to an online retailer is a hidden subsidy to the retailer’s profits!

What If I Change My Mind?

Some people are worried about what to do if they want to return goods because they don’t like them or if they are faulty. That’s understandable with online purchases given that with an online purchase it can be hard to see the actual quality of an item, to understand how it feels in the hand, how it will fit into a room. In a high-street shop, we can see all these things for ourselves, at first hand. Good online retailers have easy systems to enable return of purchases and, in the UK we have legislation that makes it a legal requirement that goods should be returnable to online retailers. Of course, in many cases if goods are returned the cost of delivery/postage is down to the customer; an extra, hidden, cost of online shopping. With normal retail purchases though there is no right of return at all – unless the goods are in some way faulty.

Which Way of Shopping is Best?

There’s costs and benefits to each type of shopping. If you regularly buy goods and regret having done so afterward then going online is probably a good choice. If you want to be able to check a purchase for quality before buying, then going to a retail store is likely the way to go.
One way of shopping that is becoming popular is for retail stores to integrate their online and ‘real world’ stores so that a customer can see something online and order it for collection at their local retail branch. Also, people can now visit the store to look over the offers and then complete the purchase online. This can give the best of both worlds and is what I often will do. The downside though is that such integration is hard to achieve for small businesses, giving the advantage to the large chain retailers which has its own set of disadvantages for those who like high street shopping.

The January Sales are Still Coming!

For the next few years there’s one thing upon which we can rely: there will still be January sales, even if they actually start right after Christmas. There will be bargains galore in both online and high street stores. I know that after Christmas, this year, I will be off around my local shops looking for bargains of all kinds – and so will you! We will also be looking online at what Amazon and the other big retailers are offering and thus we can consider ourselves fortunate to have such a broad choice of goods from around the world yet as close as our front door.
For shoppers, these days, it is probably the case that things have never been so good! We have a huge choice of goods, competition is bringing down prices for many items, we still have shops to go to and look around to see the range and check the quality – we have the best of both worlds.
My hope is that high street retailers find ways to survive and thrive against online competition because we really need both types of shopping – after all, what else will a family do on a Bank holiday Monday or Boxing Day if not to pile into the car and wander around B&Q, PC World and Boundary Mill?



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