Now we are a land of me, me, me shoppers

New research shows that friends and loved ones are missing out as people are buying more for themselves
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The Independent Online

It's bad news for those with a birthday coming up. There's a new mantra on the British high street, and it's "me, me, me". According to an authoritative new survey, the UK is becoming a nation of "selfish shoppers".

It's bad news for those with a birthday coming up. There's a new mantra on the British high street, and it's "me, me, me". According to an authoritative new survey, the UK is becoming a nation of "selfish shoppers".

The research, based on a study of 10,000 Britons, found that we are spending less on our nearest and dearest than we were two years ago - and much more on ourselves.

Young people in particular are splashing out increasing proportions of their income on clothes, shoes, CDs, DVDs and cosmetics for themselves, while neglecting gift-buying on traditional occasions. Meet the ungenerous generation: just don't expect a present.

The survey, conducted by market research agency TNS, found that in terms of total spend, "gifting" has dropped by 12 per cent since 2003. Over the same period, "self purchase" has risen by more than twice that figure.

Fiona Bell, business director of the TNS FashionTrak project, said the "selfish shopper" was becoming a fixture on the British high street. "We've certainly seen people buying more for themselves," she said. "Younger people in particular are spending a much lower proportion of their money on gifting, and are spoiling themselves instead."

One of the driving forces behind this growth in gluttonous consumerism is "fast fashion", Ms Bell said: the speedy and affordable mimicry of the latest catwalk trends by high street chains such as Zara, Mango and H&M.

"People have much bigger wardrobes now than they did only five years ago, and are spending far more on disposable clothing for themselves," Ms Bell said. "Fast fashion is a major factor in self purchase, as are supermarkets entering the clothing market."

In the clothing and footwear markets, researchers discovered that self purchase was up by 24 per cent, while among "entertainment" buys such as CDs, DVDs and computer games, the increase was 54 per cent. In 2004, the combined clothing, footwear and entertainment markets were worth £36m. Of this, £4.5m represented gifts.

Psychologist Dr David Lewis, a leading researcher into Britain's shopping habits and author of The Soul of the New Consumer, said the emergence of the "selfish shopper" was largely the result of more stressful, competitive lifestyles, and a broader shift in social ties.

"We are buying along similar lines to the famous L'Oréal tagline 'because I'm worth it'," Dr Lewis said. "People are validating their own self-worth through material gratification. They feel they deserve a new car, or deserve new clothes, because they're worth it - and they want to show the world they're worth it."

According to Dr Lewis, the simultaneous decline in gift giving was part of the same general change in attitude. "Society is getting more selfish, and part of the reason for that is that people are losing a sense of community," he said. "It is becoming every man for himself: people are feeling the only person they can trust is themselves, so they are the ones who deserve the goodies. The more people have, the more others can argue that they don't need or want presents."

The TNS report, based on fortnightly interviews of subjects aged 12 to 74, found that under-35s were the most mercenary when it came to shopping. Among this group, gifts accounted for less than 15 per cent of their high street outlay, with women from the Midlands and men from Scotland the worst offenders.

Scott Devine, 32, from Ayr, is a self-confessed "selfish shopper". A PR executive, he admits to treating himself to expensive clothes, haircuts and massages whenever he does well at work, and recently indulged in a pair of £180 Prada shoes after winning some new business.

"If I've achieved something at work I'll be indulgent, treat myself and say to hell with everyone else," Mr Devine said. "There just doesn't seem to be a culture of buying presents any more."

Sometimes, said Cindy Lardner, 38, a full-time mother of two from Gravesend, Kent, it is easier to buy your own. "I know what I like, so sometimes it's just better to pick out what you want. I don't feel guilty about spending on myself."

Susie Bailey, 24, from Leamington Spa, owned up to similar spending. "I spend a lot on clothes, make-up and shoes. There's no structure; I just go out and buy," she said.

Additional reporting by Janet Murray

WHAT HE SPENDS...

Name: Scott Devine

Age: 32

From: Ayr, Ayrshire

Job: public relations executive

Monthly spend on self ...

Clothes: £100

Shoes: £50

Hair: £40

Music (CDs and internet downloads): £30

DVDs: £15

Books/magazines: £80

Beauty products/ treatments: £40

Computing: £30

Hobbies (mountain bike/ photography): £110

Holiday fund: £500

Total: £995

Latest big buy: Prada shoes - £180

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