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7 January, 2005

Buy! Buy! Why?

I see Marks & Spencer is the latest high street retailer to report unexpectedly poor sales for the christmas period (traditionally the peak of the annual cycle).  M&S has been struggling for a while, so I wouldn't read too much into the results of that one firm, but if it is sector-wide, I start to wonder whether there's something systematic.

Might there be an increasing switch (oops - oxymoron) from over-the-counter purchases to online shopping? I suppose that'd be apparent if high street companies with online stores (e.g. Debenhams) perform better than those without (e.g. BHS, who offer a directory of store locations, but no online purchasing), though masked by company ownership - for all I know, the parent company of BHS might have successful web stores under a different brand name.

It'd be good if this was a sign of greater 'recycling' by customers. Previously, if someone bought a shirt, kept it for a while but never wore it, it'd remain in a wardrobe indefinitely. If someone else wanted an identical shirt, that'd be a second sale for the retailer. Now, the first customer might sell to the second via eBay or similar, thereby halving the retailer's potential profit.

It'd be even better if people were becoming less commercialised, but that's rather unlikely.

[Update: there's a similar story at El Reg.]

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