The Fail of the Sale

Amelia Holloway 31 December 2018
Image Credit: Flickr, John Henderson

The lead up to Christmas saw the news peppered with headlines reporting a dismal state for retailers, as they slashed prices in a desperate attempt to increase revenue. Boxing Day sales were hoped to be the saving grace of a bad season in the retail industry, but it has failed to meet expectations once again. Is ‘fast fashion’ culture, demonised in the media for its negative environmental impact, also partly to blame for this financial faltering?

Instagram has grown, influencers have more followers, and people want to purchase more – meaning cheaper items to keep up with ‘on trend’ goods. This is fast fashion in a nut shell – a rejection of the seasonal renewal of the wardrobe, which compliments the traditional sales model, in favour of a never ending stream of new designs.  To keep up, retailers have to slash prices to shift old stock more regularly, at the cost of profit margins. Boxing day is the zenith of this trend, and this year more than half of all goods were reduced, with the average reduction being at a record high of 43%. Unsurprisingly, the fashion industry has been the worst hit, with Asos offering up to a staggering 89% off some items, selling at a loss despite having issued a profit warning earlier this year.

Image Credit: Flickr, GoToVan

Most economic criticisms of the fast fashion industry surround the low production costs, such as low wages, it rests upon. Its wider economic implications are widely assumed to be positive – why else would it be embraced by retailers? But what if this broader culture of increased buying yet decreased spending was actually the Achilles heel of consumerism. Many experts attributed the pre-Christmas sales failure to short term effects, such as damaged consumer confidence due to Brexit and the riots in Paris. But when longer term cultural shifts are taken into account, it is clear that fast fashion itself and the resulting increase in sales do more damage to consumer confidence than any external effect.

For sales to be effective, they rely on scarcity of both goods and prices. When this scarcity is removed, people rightly become suspicious that the so called ‘bargains’ they are being offered may not be a one-time thing. Research has revealed that this year, nine out of ten Black Friday products were cheaper at other times of the year. Just as you might ‘wish it could be Christmas every day’ but recognise that this would take away its excitement, a Boxing Day sale loses its pull when it continues throughout January and stretches back to November. When logically examined, it is clear that the speedier fast fashion gets, the more incompatible with the traditional seasonal sales model it becomes.

Maybe shoppers really are just becoming more in tune with the environmental issues of fast fashion, as high profile news outlets such as Fox urges consumers to stay home on both Black Friday and Boxing Day. Or maybe, more cynically, people simply can’t be bothered with it. High street signs screaming ‘sale’ no longer generate excitement, but weariness. This Boxing Day was the third consecutive year that footfall in shops has fallen.

Fast fashion is becoming not only a negative for the environment, but also the economy. As retailers drive it faster and faster, it won’t be long before they can’t keep up with their own pace. It may be wishful thinking, but consumerism as we know it seems close to self destruction.