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Even a shopaholic needs persuading

My name is Karen Coxall and I am a shopaholic. Oh, I have an excuse – as a retail professional I need to understand the market from a consumer point of view.

But give me a few minutes near a shop – even Watford Gap services – and you can guarantee I’ll buy something.

However, the gloomy headlines made me nervous so I decided to visit the high street to try to understand the situation. Was the media exaggerating? And, in my current state of caution, what would still tempt me to buy?

Outwardly, little seems to have changed: the high street itself was still busy. But as I visited an increasing range of retailers, I began to understand that the effects were targeted.

Luxury is still fine: this target market does not worry about gas bills. In shops aimed at the younger market – less cautious and with no experience of recession – cash is also still being spent. Value and discount retailers are quite busy. But shops aimed at the middle market are where the trouble is. Affected by the rising cost of basics and burnt by the last downturn, mid-market shoppers are cautious. The days of the impulse and the ‘must-have’ buy are over, and only certain things prompted me to buy.

It was a ‘no’ to racks of basic products with no discernible style difference to cheaper supermarket options, but a ‘yes’ to quality, individual product. I also said ‘yes’ to items that work hard – brilliant accessories that update other outfits, plus safe trans-seasonal clothes.

A good retail experience becomes more important now: strongly merchandised displays, good availability and great service help to sway the cautious mind. Times are tough but money is still being spent, and retailers that understand that will still attract sales.

Karen Coxall is a partner at Itim Consulting

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