It's not that I don't want to buy stuff. I do. This weekend I spent five hours almost shopping. In the Apple shop I looked at headphones; I prodded buttons on the new Sony Reader electronic book in the Sony flagship store; I groped cashmere sweaters in Uniqlo. And I was not alone. All afternoon I was jostled by fellow browsers of every stripe who, like me, happily looked, prodded and groped the goodies.
But we didn't buy. Unlike the cafes of the West End, cash desks in the fashion and electronics stores were free of queues; pedestrians carrying shopping bags were as rare as red squirrels. After several hours of retail flirting I found myself in the electronics store Micro Anvika. I only had to touch an external hard drive for an eager assistant to sidle up beside me and offer a 10 per cent discount on the £100 retail price. I weighed the considerations: Christmas is coming so I shouldn't treat myself, we've not had the household bills in yet, and perhaps, if I scoured the internet I could find the same item for less ... Several factors, none of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has the power to control, might have made a difference. I might have felt that the hard drive was "necessary" rather than "extra", in which case I would have bought it. I could have won the £5m Scoop6 jackpot on Saturday (for along with many others I'm feeling unusually tempted by mad gambles right now). A couple of pounds off the price – for that is all a 2.5 per cent cut in VAT represents – would not have spurred me on to make the purchase.
For if the cut in sales tax is intended to get us shopaholics back off the wagon, I'm not sure it's enough. That a £399.99 32in flatscreen television will now cost £391.48 doesn't exactly get me reaching for my wallet. My instinct is that only the big, January-sales-type discounts of more than 20 per cent, like those that Marks & Spencer offered as a one-off fillip last week, will lure us back to the tills in significant numbers. There are simply too many other clouds on the horizon – job losses, tumbling house prices and scarcity of credit being the blackest – for minor fiscal adjustments to warm up cautious consumers. I'm quite happy to see the Government splurging billions on public projects. But I don't yet feel ready to join them ...Reuse content