Retail therapy or addiction?

With an estimated 10,000 car-boot sales taking place over the last spring Bank Holiday weekend – the traditional start to the car-boot sale season – findings from a shopping survey prove just how passionate the British are for a bargain, spending nearly 5bn a year on secondhand goods.

A recent survey, commissioned by Cash Converters, the secondhand retailer with 100 stores around the UK, puts a figure on the size of this largely unregulated market sector for the first time. It reveals that previous estimates were massively undervalued. The sector break down is shown on chart one.

Not just a nation of shopkeepers, a nation of shoppers too, bargain-addicted Britons made almost 145 million visits to car-boot sales alone last year (and that’s not including the booters themselves), that’s three visits a year each, spending, on average, 8.32 every time. The C2 and DE social groups visit car-boot sales three times as often as AB and C1s (about six times a year), and spend, on average, 7.73. However, class is no barrier to bargain hunters. The survey reveals that more ABs buy secondhand than buy the Financial Times, with 600,000 of them going two to three times a year or more, and spending on average 12.05.

While more women than men frequent charity and secondhand shops and car-boot sales, the amount they spend is actually lower – 7.63 as compared with 10.06. Women favour charity shops and secondhand shops for their bargain hunting, with 43 per cent and 29 per cent respectively visiting two to three times per year. Men prefer charity shops and car-boot sales, with 23 per cent and 20 per cent respectively visiting two to three times per year.

The single biggest attraction of these alternative retail outlets is the chance to pick up a bargain, as cited by 47 per cent of the sample. Thrifty British shoppers are also attracted by low prices (24 per cent) and value for money (18 per cent). And 13 per cent treat these shopping expeditions as a day out for the family.

The Cash Converters survey also highlights a number of pitfalls peculiar to this retail sector. The prospect of unwittingly buying faulty or stolen goods alarmed 25 per cent and 24 per cent of shoppers respectively. Seventeen per cent of people were concerned about the overall quality of goods purchased and the lack of a guarantee or warranty, together with the lack of after-sales protection (11 per cent). The prospect of haggling over the price worried eight per cent of people.

When selling secondhand goods, the single biggest concern was an inability to assess the value of an item, as cited by 13 per cent of people, closely followed once again, by a reluctance to haggle (12 per cent). Thousands of “professional” car-booters make in excess of 500 per week by being expert at precisely that.

Alan Street, chief executive of the Institute of Trading Standards, comments: “Many people are unaware of the lack of protection attached to buying goods from a car-boot sale. Buying from a private individual very much reduces the consumer’s rights in law. If the public have any doubts, they should contact their local trading standards office.”

Peter Cumins, chief executive officer of Cash Converters, offers advice to consumers: “Everyone loves a bargain and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, before you buy, ask yourself three questions. One, does this item do what it’s meant to do and do I have any comeback if it turns out to be broken or faulty when I get it home? Two, will the person I’m buying from still be here next week if I do have a problem? And three, am I likely to get a refund if my purchase is faulty or even turns out to be stolen?”

Naturally, Cumins entreats shoppers to bypass any problems they might have with these kinds of traders by heading straight for a Cash Converters shop, which offer 60-day warranties on goods and ID checking. But shoppers will still want to rummage around car-boot sales in search of bargains.

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