There is plenty of evidence for the irrationality of shoppers. At the most fundamental level we exaggerate the pleasure we will get from the new things we buy. The shine wears off pretty quickly. We say we like choice but actually find it difficult to cope with it beyond a relatively modest level. And we get taken in by marketing as is revealed by research published this morning. Apparently, we systematically overstate the cheapness of some stores (e.g. Argos, Zara) while overstating the cost of others (Sainsbury’s, John Lewis, Primark).
But the main irrationality we need to look out for at Christmas is simply spending more than we can afford. I was looking this morning for research I remember reading a few years ago about the tendency of low income families to go into debt at Christmas. A number of charities have warned that poor families not only take on debt but also end up paying exorbitant interest rates, for example on store cards.
In our current economic circumstances higher retail sales are seen as a good news story. But, without being a party pooper, it is important that there are voices out there warning people of debt and making it culturally easier for families that are hard pressed to agree to a more frugal Christmas. I’m on a very comfortable income but since I adopted the simple strategy of assuming that every pre-Xmas discount offer is substantially less than the equivalent available in January I have found it much easier to avoid temptation.
Public services, commercial corporations and spontaneous social movements: what's the power they all lack? How might public service reform not flounder through shoehorning dynamism into a universalist and planned approach? How might businesses become genuinely socially responsible rather than merely intoning fine sounding rhetoric?