Monday, March 30, 2009

Winners in a downturn,

These are dark days for conspicuous consumption. ‘It’ bags are the ultimate fashion faux pas, Net-a-porter are delivering in unmarked, brown paper packages, and City workers have today been forced to shed their designer suits for fear of being targeted by protesters. This does not mean, however, that luxe living has died, it has just gone undercover. In conversations with some of my friends working in various niche stores around London this weekend, it seems there will be some luxury winners in a downturn.

Chantal Coady, owner of Rococo Chocolates, says there was a moment when ‘everyone seemed to be like a rabbit stuck in headlights’ but since Christmas and now heading towards Easter, sales have shown that chocolate is the ‘little luxury’ few are prepared to go without.

Purchasing habits at both Rococo and their Marylebone neighbours, Cologne & Cotton, also reveal an interesting new trend – where staying in has become the new going out. Consumers are saving on expensive restaurants and nights in hotels, splurging instead on after-dinner chocolates and new bed linen for overnight guests. We’ve even seen upmarket Waitrose mimic Marks & Spencer in their ‘dine in for 2 for £10’ offers.

The shopping experience as a whole has also become much more important to consumers, as they try to get more for their money than just a material purchase. Hosiery company, Tabio, have staff who are brilliantly trained to help shoppers put an entire look together, rather than just buying a pair of socks. While back over at Rococo, they have placed their master chocolatier in the window of their Motcomb Street shop, educating passers-by (and, hopefully, future customers) in the art of chocolate making.

Chantal sums up the new mood succinctly: ‘no-one can afford to look to their laurels, we all have to be there for the customers and make sure we are doing what they want.’ And what is it customers want? The good old days without the bad old guilt.