“I resent paying for anything at full price at the moment,” grumbled one empty-handed shopper to another at a bus stop in London's Oxford Street this week.
It is a sentiment echoed by weary shoppers up and down the country. Faced with a sea of promotional activity and the very public collapse of household retail names, consumers are invariably bringing their recession depression in to their leisure activities.
As this disgruntled pair nodded solemnly to each other over their less than fruitful shopping experience, it is hard to imagine that they did not come across a plethora of discounted products on their trip.
However, their reluctance to buy perhaps signals that to rely on percentage off signs alone is not the way to some shoppers' hearts. The quality of the product and the in-store presentation is still key, particularly for middle-market shoppers, who are just too demanding these days to be seduced only by price.
Two weeks ago, Marks & Spencer pitted itself against Debenhams in the battle for high street shoppers with its 20 per cent off promotion, in the middle of Debenhams' own three-day Sale.
A fortnight ago the decision was greeted with great fanfare and speculation over the state of both business' trading. M&S had not done such a promotion in four years and Debenhams was offering£200 million worth of price cuts.
The fact that today they have gone head to head again has led to further cynicism over the motives. Two weeks ago, a recce down London's Oxford Street revealed those consumers that were shopping - and numbers felt thin on the ground - were clutching M&S, Debenhams and Primark bags.
A success then for both? But at what price? Debenhams extended its Sale to cover five days and M&S has repeated the same promotion today. Debenhams said footfall was up by two thirds over its five-day promotion, but declined to talk about sales or conversions. And at what price to margins and reputation?
Fashion discounting will not hit Primark
Loyal customers will not want to pay full price and new customers seduced by the cuts are unlikely to revisit when they return to prime trading.
And are they right to bring themselves in line with Primark's value positioning? Debenhams' strategy for turning the business around has been to turn its back on entry price points and go more upmarket by focusing on its higher positioned Designers at Debenhams range. M&S has been criticised for broadening its fashion offer too wide and encroaching in to value-fashion entry level price points.
However, the value fashion behemoth that is Primark still continues to chug along nicely. Its shoppers still want cheap fashion and most are of a profile largely unaffected by the credit crunch. Internationally, its opportunities are only limited by the speed at which they are allowed to open stores. It opened in Rotterdam earlier this week, proving it continues uncurtailed by the downturn.
And Primark's customers are also unabashed by the furore that accompanies Primark and its ethical credentials. Tomorrow, timed to coincide with its AGM, you can expect protestors outside its Oxford Street store. Whether it makes Primark's loyal shoppers stop and think and change their well considered shopping plans seems unlikely.
Retailers could do worse than try to emulate the success of Primark.
Moss Bros stake sale a positive
Meanwhile, Sir Philip Green's decision to sell his 28 per cent stake in Moss Bros to a trust represented by menswear supplier Simon Berwin is another rare positive story in the retail sector. Green, apparently unaware of Berwin's long-time interest in the former Baugur holding, sold the stake on after Berwin contacted him to explain its importance to him.
Berwin earnestly wants to bring stability and success back to the menswear retailer, which does possess good opportunities, particularly with its hire business. Berwin, who via the trust, now holds 29.9 per cent of Moss Bros, will have significant clout over the retailer's future. Whether he will flex his muscle over incumbent management choices remains to be seen.
It is also a positive for the future of the retailer's brands and hire business that “the lines of communication are open” now between Green and Berwin.
Berwin said that Green acted like a “gentleman” when he realised Berwin's interest. The two new friends will work together well to ensure a future for the business.
Green is also no doubt one happy gentleman retailer after making£1.1 million selling his stake, just two weeks after he bought it.