Last Updated Aug 18, 2009 6:41 AM EDT
This week, Japan announced it had grown GDP in the first three months of the year. This follows similar news from France and Germany. Yet, in the UK there is little sign of a sustained upswing. It appears shoppers are staying away from the high street altogether or spending less when they are there.
When they do spend, it is on value goods or articles where there is some element of self-production. The spirit of do-it-yourself seems to have found a home in the lives of shoppers and may be here for some time. The news that Tesco has trebled the sales of sewing machines indicates clothes buyers have accepted a new frugality for longer than the recession is likely to last. A good sewing machine is an expensive item to buy if it's only going to be used for the next six to 18 months.
Shoppers seem to be making purchases to offset the disappointment of not being able to make bigger ones in another area. John Lewis has seen weeks of growth recently, on the back of sales in homewares, as shoppers cut back on foreign holidays.
Shoppers are only buying big ticket items when they absolutely have to, which is why calls for a scrappage scheme for white goods is growing louder. Retailers are hoping that the encouragement the car scrappage scheme has fostered to buy new cars will be mirrored for washing machines.
So, what could be behind shoppers' reluctance to return to the spending with the same gusto they exhibited two years ago? All retailers know that the purchasing decision is laced with emotion. Shoppers need to be reassured that spending out on something is not going to backfire on them in any way in the future (either because they find the product is unsuitable or faulty, or because it might tie them to an uncomfortable financial commitment).
Could it be that shoppers feel guilty about the profligate spending they indulged in for the last decade? Have they realised that they've been lead by the nose chasing the carrot of cheap credit and now they are taking some control over their own behaviour? Buying ingredients and cooking yourself or repairing and altering clothes yourself not only saves money, it also gives you a feeling of the ability to look after yourself.
Clearly, economic conditions in the UK are still driving shoppers to keep their purses tightly clamped shut in the main. Only when consumer confidence in economic stability returns will we really see whether shoppers' spending behaviour has permanently changed, or whether the sewing machine is left to gather dust in the cupboard under the stairs.