It was President Roosevelt who told the American public in 1933, under the shadow of the Great Depression, that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.
That is unless, of course, you are a woman and, in particular, Princess Anne. In which case, to all our other neuroses, we can add the fear of getting spotted, then pilloried widely for wearing the same dress twice.
A greater cynic than me might suggest that this is a conspiracy cooked up by picture editors, in the pay of the fast-fashion retailers, desperate for us to buy more new clothes.
It’s tough out there on the high street, so I’m certainly not going to criticise this wonderfully cunning plan, even if by chance it was true. No, I’m going to save my ire for the person who thought gladiator sandals were a good idea.
Anyway, back to FDR and the idea that fear and uncertainty are at the heart of our forthcoming recession. Consumer confidence is low, in part because there is uncertainty over jobs. Unemployment is at just over 5 per cent, but the broad socioeconomic conditions experienced by us and the global economy at large make it highly unlikely that we’ll get close to the 11 per cent figure we endured in the 1980s.
The worst case scenario is that we’ll hit 6 to 7 per cent. So, in essence, we’ve made 100 per cent of people worry, when only 2 per cent will lose their jobs. The level of worry is understandable, but disproportionate.
We should be more concerned about inertia – that death by a thousand cuts to the marketing budget, as you sit around and wait for the Government to sort out the financial challenges our customers are facing.
Back in FDR’s days, the Government may have been your best bet to solve it. But, as we all know, the real brains today work in retail, not Whitehall. If you know how to trade, sell, add value, serve and spend much of your time talking directly to your customers, then you have to be best-placed to turn this crisis of confidence around.
So what can we do? Well, how about giving customers reassurance with purchase insurance. For instance: “Buy this TV or any other big-ticket item today and if you become unemployed in the next six months, we’ll give you 25 per cent of the price back”. Remember, this will affect only 2 per cent of your customers.
Supermarkets could save us having to trudge to our nearest German discounter by better highlighting. For example, they could tell us that loose vegetables in season are cheaper than those that are out of season, which have been packed in plastic and flown in from Africa.
Your ATV may drop in the short term, but helping your customers make better choices and get better value will help you keep them in the long term.
It’ll also help turn the nation’s collective conversation away from the shocking price of food and petrol and on to more pressing concerns such as the colour of a Princess’s hat.
Jacqueline Gold, Chief executive, Ann Summers