Who is the real winner when you go sales shopping?

A tweet posted today by Northern Ireland newsagent Eugene Diamond/ @EDiamond136 notes that the usual Boxing Day traffic in his town has been strangely absent today.

Eugene’s own shop is in Ballymena, one of NI’s busiest shopping towns and one where the often rural-based customers are famous for their canny wits and bargaining powers. This is a town where big-name shops and spit-and-a-handshake dealing still sit beside each other. And many shoppers quite rightly love the place all the more for it.

It made me wonder if Ballymena shoppers were becoming wise to something I’ve believed for years: that there is simply no such thing as a sale.

Let me explain.

We aren’t surprised when a car sitting outside a showroom drops from £12,000 to £10,000 over Christmas. After all, the car is now older. It has a new market value of £10,000, so the new price has been adjusted to what is it worth. It isn’t in a ‘sale’, you haven’t saved £2,000 and the car would cost in or around £10,000 in any showroom in the country.

The same goes, then, for stock a shop will be glad to get off their shelves after Christmas. If it wasn’t wanted by a hoard of Christmas shoppers it wasn’t worth the RRP and has a new market value.

So, essentially, you get to stand in a queue at 6am to buy consumer rejects at the exact price they are worth in that shop and elsewhere. So that market value would often buy the same items online or elsewhere with a bit of looking around.

Yes, you may get to buy a year’s worth of kids’ clothes at a reduced price. But you may well pick up extra items and use finance to boot. And of course you can pick up brand clothes with the same reduced market value online from home.

As an aside, I’m not convinced the quality of the clothes at one of the major 6am sales can be said to be any better than the likes of Dunnes, where your pound would go just as far.

A special mention at this point for those famous sofa sales. You know the ones: “this £1,000 sofa (‘after sales price’) is now £400, with interest-free finance!!”.

Except it may well never be bought by anyone at £1,000, and someone has to pay for that finance (for one example, by costing you the discount you’d have negotiated at a local shop).

So, the sofa is a £400 sofa. Except it isn’t due to the cost of the finance, which we’ll guess at £50 (not to mention the loss of discount). So if it is a £350 sofa how much will have been spent making it? Does it now sound like the “£1,000 sofa” you are expecting to still look good when the finance finishes up years from now? Would you have bought a £350 sofa from Dunnes? If so, why not have a look around and if not…well, I really can’t see the difference.

Ultimately, and in my humble view, shop sales are a way of selling unwanted stock at the exact market value, meaning the item can be found elsewhere and online at the same price, with the chance of selling on even more things you didn’t know you wanted in the first place.

The shop isn’t losing a penny or doing you a favour. Except for some genuine household needs and/ or those addicted to a particular label, the new universal market value of the item means you can skip the 6am start, take a look online later or chat to a decent local shopkeeper in your own time.

The distasteful twist of asking shop staff to come into work before 6am on Boxing Day to fulfill all the above aside, I’ll concede that sale shopping does keep money circulating and stock moving off shelves as well as providing a genuine opportunity in some cases.

But more often than not as the customer I’m not sure you get the bargain you’ve counted on.

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