What’s on Sale?

Recurrent discounts cutting into Fashion

By Aamir Bukhari

 

There is special buzz when you know you have bought something for far less than it previously was. We have all been there, felt that in some shape or form with our ever limited means it has become both an economic necessity but also sort of expected shopping behaviour. Like who buys full price anyway?
Go out to buy a decent white kurta you come across one priced at around PKR1900 because it is on sale and just walk another 100 m in a mall you spot another similar white kurta at a more swanky establishment for PKR11,000 .It is just so darn confusing . In the words of Julie Zerbo of Fashion Law, the proliferation of such pricing disparity appears to symbolize something significant: Consumers have lost touch with how much garments are supposed to reasonably and responsibly cost.” We are those consumers.
If you ask a businessman or worse a designer they shall attribute it to democratising fashion and how prices of garments and accessories have become increasingly affordable due to an array of technological and global factors.
Faiza who is a student studying computer science at a local university says she almost exclusively buys from discount sales, because there is always one going on and she keeps track of her favourite brand through their social media and SMS updates. But with kurtas that go as low as 1500 and bottoms around 500. It has ledFaiza and many others like her believe that these prices are how much clothing should cost, and anything above these prices reflects an unnecessary markup. That is where the problem is.
If the electricity, cotton, and even basic wage for labour is supposed to increase year on year in an inflationary economy like ours how can apparel be ethically priced at 1500 a kurta given the cost of printing, sewing etc ? And even if it does cost that cheap to buy and sell that kurta at such slow price what kind of quality should one expect from this garment?
Lower quality disposability makes buying clothing almost like buying groceries which are quite literally worn out and thrown because it’s more expensive to repair them and frankly most even don’t last few wearing.


But then there is a flipside to this too, with explosion of social media the pressure to constantly “express yourself”, you also have these extravagant statement pieces from designers or for the woke lot “artisanal” pieces. To say their prices are flagrantly sky high will be an understatement take for example a tulip shalwar for 19000 or shall we fancy you with a plain irish linen tunic for 39000. While the cost of labor and materials that go into making these exclusive garments in relatively smaller batches with presumably higher quality standard may contribute to this shocking figure on the price tag, but more often so they solely serve as outward indicators of status via exclusivity.
Even if you take into account the manufacturers and retailer’s point of view, some things make sense but others don’t; it largely seems like a proverbial rabbit hole. The Fashion industry and especially textile sector in Pakistan is using historic levels of promotion since past few years to counter declining customer traffic.
Brands like Gulahmed and Outfitters seem to go on sale on every other month to say they are in a permanent discount mode won’t be misleading. This is also one of the reasons you see the red black plaid shirt on every other boy or that baroque print lawn suit on every other lady in the market, there is hardly any customer left who would buy any of that brand’s products at full price anymore.
Dont believe us? Just visit one of the stores at the launches of new collection, the stores are comparatively deserted. But before we jump to conclusions and assume its because of the macroeconomic downturn or speculate that the brands are in the brink of a collapse, one can’t help but wonder that it could very well be their brand strategy.
Dessy Tsolova from Fashion Insiders suggests that “ This discounting strategy works by appealing to the shoppers who like to know how big a saving they are making when shopping, so basically by pretending to have everything permanently on sale is just the new way of getting shoppers through the doors.”
With one of the highest rates of inflation and rather dire economic climate, people from both ends of economic spectrum are being cautious and re-evaluating things before making a purchase. Impulse buying in Fashion is almost non existent.
So this leaves Fashion brands to come up with a “sale” even outside of the bi annual summer winter discount promotions, this may seem like a good idea but in essence brands end up unwillingly training their customers to wait for the next sale before they even think of buying.
Another more burning side effect of these constant or rather reoccurring sales is that they have moved the focus away from the brand’s unique value proposition and solely to the price. Hence you see the rat race of every brand going upto 40% even 50% off signalling trouble because price is the only competitive advantage they are left with. Designs look the same, people no longer care which brand they are buying from because they dont’ really feel the difference is worth considering.
A three-year study by Fung Global Retail & Technology and First Insight tracked clothing costs versus what global consumers are willing to pay has some bad news for fashion retailers: “On average, across all womens wear categories tested between January 2013 and June 2016, consumers were willing to pay only 76% of full price.”


The joint study looked at more than 57,000 women’s apparel and accessories items that First Insight tested with consumers. It found that clothing prices for many categories were decreasing, but so too were the dollar amounts shoppers were willing to spend.
“For years we have seen heavy discounting and this has created an atmosphere of distrust: consumers felt clothing wasn’t worth its full price” explains Glen Tooke, Consumer Insights Director at Kantar Worldpane
Put simply, consumers – with less options in a polarized market of extremes – have become increasingly out of touch with the value garments and accessories (for any/all of the reasons mentioned above), and so, why would they not also be out of touch with the cost.
So we know for sure this system is eventually doomed to fail, not only because it is unsustainable but also from a business point of view it is impractical in the long run. Brands are losing their unique selling propositions in favour of temporary growth in numbers. And the worst of all people are not excited about Fashion and the joy of buying and enjoying beautiful clothes.
So the question begs to be asked what we as buyers ARE going to do next time we see an insanely low priced T shirt do we buy it or reconsider buying fewer and better?