Forget “sales”: UK retail needs something better.

Forget “sales”: UK retail needs something better.

UK Retail is in a permanent sale. Our high streets are awash with signs screaming “SALE”. There’s 25%, 50%, now 75% off (try not to notice that ultra-small “up to”). Final reductions never seem to end.

The vast majority of these sales come in red. It’s the dominant colour in shop windows, whether it’s used for background or lettering. If the former, the text will be white. If the latter, it will be the background that’s white. Add in block capitals and font variations and the UK high street has been hijacked by a lack of imagination.

Western colour theory will have you believe red is a dynamic colour. It drives a call to action and carries an assertiveness that consumers will flock to. Perhaps in isolation, but does it still have that impact when every shop window has a red sale sign in it?

An unscientific experiment

In a completely unscientific exercise over a cup of coffee, I watched two clothes shops for twenty minutes. One had “sale” signs, the other did not. Both had roughly the same number of customers, and the same number who seemed to walk out with purchases. People who looked in the “sale” shop seemed no more or less likely to pop next door than those who browsed the non-sale shop first.

Competing for custom with screaming sale signs doesn’t seem to be working. They’re so ubiquitous they’re being ignored. Consumers expect low prices sale or not.

Break the sales cycle

Footfall is slowing down. Fewer people mean fewer to buy things. Spending growth has fallen. More shops are closing than opening. Barely a week goes past without the failure or rescue of another high street brand.

A sale isn’t a source of competitive advantage. It’s a me-too play, table stakes at best to stay in a game that might not be worth playing. Get it right and you may keep your head above water. Misjudge your pricing and you could see margins and profits fall and long-term brand damage.

It’s time to ditch the red sale sign and reclaim the shopfront. Start investing in displays making your shop attractive and eye catching. Rotate your displays to catch the latest trends from Instagram, show off the Beyonce-lite outfit you’re stocking. Do whatever it takes to get people to see you’re more than just a 50% off bargain basement.

Are you brave enough?

Sadly, I can’t see many retailers dropping their red sale signs anytime soon. If anything, they’ll probably get more shouty as desperation creeps in. It’s a shame, there’s some great stores out there being swamped by the red sale craze.

About Ross A Hall

A business researcher and writer, I help companies find new markets, form strategies and build successful businesses.

Find out more about my work.

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