Reflecting consumers’ invincible conviction that they can buy what they want at bargain prices, and also shop owners’ readiness, to cut profit margins in order to increase turnover and improve liquidity by shifting stocks that have not yet found buyers, sales are a feature of British shopping. Traditionally they are seasonal, in mid-summer and at New Year, and Harrod’s sale features almost like Henley Regatta on the social calendar. But when retailing is slow, sales tend to come earlier and earlier, and some shops appear to have virtually continuous sales. All this encourages ‘cherrypicking’, the habit of shoppers to defer all but the most urgent purchases until they can buy what they want at reduced price in a sale. Shoppers at sales are entitled to the same protection as at any other time. Descriptions of materials used in manufacturing must be accurate, and the quality and suitability for purpose of goods should be comparable with that of similar ones, having regard to what may reasonably be expected at a given price level. If these standards are not met, the dissatisfied customer has a just complaint against the supplier. At sale time retailers generally offer a range of specially brought in cheap goods, but customers’ attention fixes particularly on stock previously available only at full price and now offered more cheaply. All statements about reductions are subject to a code agreed by retail associations under the 1987 Consumer Protection Act. A retailer is allowed to attract purchasers by announcing that the price of, say, £25 for an item represents a reduction (or ‘saving’) of £10 only if identical items have been on sale in the shop or (as it is sometimes interpreted) in a branch of the same chain at the higher price for twenty-eight days at some time in the previous six months (though there is no requirement to show that anyone actually paid so much during that period). If a sale is held when a new shop opens or a ‘cheap offer’ is made to introduce a fresh product, there is a requirement to announce when in the future the full price will be restored. The code covers prices, but not statements purporting to convey ideas of worth or value. These, like advertisements declaring, for example, that ‘everything must be cleared regardless of price’, are considered advertising hype that consumers should take with a pinch of salt.
   See also: discount stores; promotions
   Further reading
    Silberstein, S. (1994) Consumer Law, London: Sweet & Maxwell.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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