Revealed: Car boot sales' secrets

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The Independent Online
Car boot sales are not just standing in the rain and the mud to buy a video that you know will never work.

According to investigation, boot sales offer an anarchic, family, "carnivalesque" experience, are truly democratic and can earn a vendor pounds 800 a weekend.

The report, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, reveals that an estimated 1 million people go to car boot sales every weekend, not just to pick up bargains, but because they enjoy the experience of haggling and the theatrical performances of the sellers.

The secret of the sales' success since the 1970s, is the different experience they offer from the conventions and predictability of the shopping mall.

"Much of the pleasure comes from pitting one's skills against others; from knowing that things might not be what they seem, that they almost certainly won't work . . . but there's just a chance that they might - and that would make something a `real bargain'," Dr Louise Crewe, one of the authors of the report, said.

Although the opportunity to pick up bargains was one of the main draws, researchers found consumers were attracted by the spectacle and the ability of the boot fair to capture "the absurd, the grotesque, the ridiculous and the downright hilarious".

Regular sellers perform. Some adopt the style of the market-stall holder, others act like hawkers or peddlers and others take on the conventions of the fairground -"roll up, roll up" - or the comedy act.

"For [amateur booters] the sense of carnivalesque comes from . . . the sheer absurdity that they can participate in a phenomenon which entails getting up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning, driving to a remote location . . . parking with hundreds of others before daybreak, often in rain and mud." added Dr Crewe.

The report found boot sales attract people of every social class and age, scotching the notion that boot sales are the preserve of "recessionary Britain's underclass". Only 4 per cent were unemployed.

The average "booter" spends pounds 7.96 at each sale and buys eight items. Sellers can make a profit of about pounds 90 each and in some cases up to pounds 800 a weekend.

Many local authorities were worried about boot sales flouting retail legislation - especially trading standards. Many perceived them as places where petty criminals flourished.

But Dr Crewe said: "Car boot sales are clearly here for the long run."