Sale and Sensibility

Retail in Europe has been suffering.
Blame it on the weather – either too hot or too cold – on the economy – the Eurozone is not in the best shape ever – or on consumers’ mood – and here the reasons are as diverse as you can think of – the fact is that stores have not been selling much during the main months of the fashion season. And at the end of June, many stores seem to still have a lot of that season merchandise.
No longer really interested in the 10 or 20 percent-offs provided by mid-season sales, private sales events and various promotional activities, consumers seem to have been waiting for the real deal – namely the 50 percent-plus mark. Sweet deals on It-bags, season must-haves and timeless classics are all the rage.

Having been a lot in Paris for the past 5 weeks, I have become the witness of a new buying behaviour. I have been observing the crowds in the main shopping areas, especially in the department stores. France being one of the few places where official sale dates are regulated and dictated by the law, it was amazing for me to see how crowds have been moving at the same pace as as the discount rates. Six weeks ago, I enjoyed a peaceful stroll through Le Bon Marché, checking out the delightfully curated merchandise in an almost empty store. On a Saturday. Come 8 July, I stopped at Le Bon Marché after spending the day at Mode City, the lingerie and swimwear trade show, in need of some serious retail therapy. I was shocked. Never in my whole life had I seen so many people at Le Bon Marché (I have been coming for almost 20 years). From the ground floor accessories section to the designer floor and passing by the “younger” section located above the food hall, the store was literally packed. And I must say that the deals were really sweet and the merchandise premium: runway looks, season essentials and beautiful pieces were all there, for a fraction of the original price; clothes, shoes, bags and accessories, everything was there.
Sure I have witnessed the sale craze in New York City when Saks, Barneys and Bergdorf went on sale and where I could find a few interesting items but by no means the “iconic pieces” that have been gracing the pages of fashion magazines were to be found everywhere and in all shapes, sizes and colours. Unlike what has been happening in Paris.
A couple of days later, the same thing happened at Le Printemps. While walking around the Boulevard Haussmann area, I entered Le Printemps because I was a bit tired and it is usually much quieter than its much more famous and popular neighbor Galeries Lafayette. Not on that Tuesday. The department store was so full that I had to flee.

So what is happening? Has the economy hit so hard that it has already fundamentally changed the shoppers’ behaviour, making them rather wait a bit than pay full price? Have we all been for many years so influenced by the media to instantly buy so-called “it-items” of all kinds that we have become jaded – fed-up even- to keep on doing it and the slumpy economy just provided the perfect excuse to do so? Has fashion become so versatile and timeless, that it is no longer mandatory to walk around with “just in-season” looks? After many retail golden years fuelled by the emergence of new media and the subsequent overexposure of fashion, have we simply just changed? Sure, we still love fashion and outfits that have the power to make us feel shiny and new, but it seems that we no longer are prepared to pay the full retail price, because what we seem to love even more now is a real bargain. What do you think?


  • Jen says:

    I cannot agree more. As a boutique owner, I have been seeing this happen for a couple of years now… Maybe the frenetic rhythm of fashion and the overconsumption that goes with is getting to an end?

  • Maya,

    Thanks for sharing this!
    Over here in the U.S. Groupon/Living Social has consumers holding out for half-off only prices before they’ll purchase.

    I think there is a psychological element at play as well. With all the focus on the world economies not doing well, people feel they have to pull back. They don’t feel like being indulgent is okay at this time. But getting a deal makes them feel like they have their power back and that they are saving while spending.

    Retailers could clearly manipulate or adjust this – since the “thought” of getting a “deal” seems to really make people go nuts with spending glee. :)

    Thank you so much for giving us the scoop about what’s happening in Paris (sigh, soooo wish I was there!). Keep the posts coming. Love having your voice on the web.

    With love,

  • maya says:

    it’s so interesting what you are saying here. The retailer manipulation might already be happening and “fake” deals are in my opinion popping up everywhere, especially for services that do not have fixed prices…
    Thank you for your always wonderfully kind words.
    love, maya
    ps: I just started reading your book The Quest. So far, quite wonderful!

  • Massimo says:

    I am a standard consumer, not owning retail shops nor in any related business and probably more shopper than my wife :-)

    Definitely I am hearing more and more people cautious with their spending and waiting for the sales periods throughout Europe : global crisis has a deep impact.

    But moreover there are 2 behaviors (I know it will be obvious):
    - using online shopping (including groupon and other) to build pipeline, price ranges, availability and then negotiate directly at the shop
    - viceversa using the retail shop to tryout, negotiate and then jump on online offering

    I think there is no border any more between “street shop” and online, simply make use of the best of both for trying out, pricing, negotiating, offering…

    is it the end of “impulse-shopping”? or maybe it is a good time for more sensorial marketing or finally neuro-marketing will have a business case


    PS: I am deeply interested in all this :-)

  • Maya,

    Yay! Can’t wait to hear what you think about my book once you’re finished.

    Massimo brings up a good point about the Groupon phenom too – is that happening over there where customers are only buying via a vehicle like that?


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