Monday, March 02, 2009

Bargains Everywhere? Not that I can see....

So we're in a recession, officially.  Stores are under pressure and there is evidence of heavy discounting on large electrical goods.  These are all big ticket items and in most cases it would seem, old models and clearance stock.  I don't see any evidence of what I'd term "real deals"; the true "everything must go" sales.  Mitre 10 had a sale this weekend and it was the same vouchers as last year; normal prices appear to be the same, or slightly higher.

So what's going on.  Well, we know for a fact that it is biting in the UK.  Jobs losses both there, and in the US, are incredible.  Big stores are folding; bargains are to be had and there is very little discretionary spend.  Discretionary spend is essentially the bit of cash you have left over after all the bills and essentials (rent or mortgage) are paid; it is the bit you can choose to save or spend.

In NZ, discretionary spend over the last few years has all been borrowed i.e. you had nothing left after you paid the bills but felt so good about your house value and your job was safe, so you happily borrowed from the bank of Harvey Norman.....incidentally, I notice that the current rate on a GE Crediline Card is a truly ruinous 25.65% - as cash rates dropped (and borrowing rates), they haven't dropped a cent which is scandalous, greedy and perfectly legal.

So what to do?  There are very few real deals, and staple goods (food etc) are still expensive it seems; wage inflation is kept in check by the employee fear of losing their job (and so not making much fuss with their 2-4% pay rise) and apathy/arrogance by the dominant retail players.

The only way to force a bargain is to actually take a more conscious decision about how you spend your discretionary dollar and to shop around.  Alan has written a great summary of Powershop which offers a new way to control non-discretionary spend (which I'm also in two minds for the effort vs the risk) but your spare cash, which tends to be for the higher margin stuff, is where you have the power and can demand better pricing.  Power prices will always be dictated and the effort to manage this (as Alan points out) is high.

Since I've been in NZ, I have been bemused by the pricing of electrical goods and the absolute lack of stock; trying to buy an item and then refusing the "show model" which is the only one available has made me walk out of quite a few stores.  My latest hunt was for a Wii Remote so that the girls would stop fighting when we play a family game and have to share.  TradeMe Prices are in the $80 to $90 range, and Dick Smith offer $99.87 for the remote or $109 if you buy Wii Play which comes with a Wii Remote.  The Nunchuck comes in at an extra $49.87.

So what to do?  Well, since none of the Wellington stores (DSE, JB etc) have any, and the waiting list is "maybe a few weeks", I checked out eBay, ordered and today received a brand new Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo for the total cost, including shipping of $26, for NZ$90.78 from a lovely bloke in Hong Kong; that's only 60% of the price I'd pay here including the actual shipping.

Vote with your wallets and get smarter on discretionary spend; it's the only way to force down the high margins on those bargains that ain't.  The sad downside is such a tactic will undoubtedly cause at lease one retailer to fail, but that's greed for ya....