Belfast Telegraph

Shoppers here are as picky as Carrie and her Big Apple pals

Manhattan consumers have responded differently to the downturn than their Ulster counterparts. But it's not all Sex And The City, writes Donald McFetridge

I recently spent the best part of a week in New York and I was most interested to discover how American consumers - New Yorkers in particular - behave compared with their cousins here in Northern Ireland.

There were some similarities, but many differences and an assortment of noteworthy behavioural shopping patterns among New York consumers.

The streets were bustling with shoppers particularly in the central area (20th-44th Streets) on 5th, 6th and 7th Avenues. All three of these main shopping areas were ostensibly busy, yet few shoppers appeared to be carrying any shopping - even on Saturday afternoon.

The few shoppers who were carrying any evidence of their purchasing behaviour tended to be the more obvious tourists (principally British and Japanese) and those on shopping sprees from across the pond. The liveries on their shopping bags and parcels were from the more obvious stores - Abercrombie & Fitch, Nike, Banana Republic and Macy's.

Of course New York is not a city that lends itself to a great deal of window-shopping.

One of the most interesting facts that I found was the extremely high level of visual merchandising particularly on the Avenue of the Americas - the main fashion area.

This is one of the areas where Europeans lag far behind the US: if you can tempt consumers into your retail emporium you have a better chance of selling to them.

Interestingly, recent research demonstrates that when people go shopping they put 'to browse' top of their list and 'to buy' sixth on their list of consumer intentions. It is the retailer's job (nay, duty) to turn these browsers into buyers.

Arguably, Northern Ireland consumers have felt the recession a little less severely than some of their counterparts in other parts of the UK, but that is not to say that many here have not felt the impact when it comes to spending their disposable income.

While New York is awash with a vast array of cheap and cheerful drapery lines, many Northern Ireland consumers have had to 'trade down' or 'drop a level' in terms of their consumer spending patterns.

For example, instead of shopping at Next or Marks & Spencer they may now have decided to shop at stores such as Primark or Peacocks.

Or they simply make fewer shopping missions - as I believe is the case in Northern Ireland. This is just one example of the changing consumer dynamic: fewer trips with more purchases - perhaps even saving up for that 'must-have' item from the autumn collections.

Shoppers on both sides of the Atlantic set out on different types of shopping missions, employ different modes of shopping in different places and have very different needs.

A recent UK study found: "40% of all UK adults are willing to spend money to save time." In New York this figure is almost double; New Yorkers appear to be much more time-constrained than consumers in the UK.

Shoppers are seeking both value for money and value for time - a fact not to be ignored by the more far-sighted retailers in our midst.

In terms of convenience some shoppers are happier spending time to save money while others are happiest spending money to save time.

The differences between New York and Northern Ireland consumers are at their most extreme in this respect.

There is a lesson here for retailers. They need to make shopping easier for consumers; they need to make it more pleasant, more 'informed' and more rewarding if they are to continue to exist in today's highly competitive retail marketplace.

While the stereotype of the Manolo Blahnik-ed femme fatale of Sex And The City may prevail on the sidewalks of Manhattan, a more pragmatic, though equally discerning and demanding, type of consumer is to be found on the streets of Magherafelt and Moira.


From Belfast Telegraph