December 16th, 2011
03:56 PM GMT
London (CNN) – As the countdown to Christmas continues, shoppers across the world are pounding the pavements in search of the perfect present.
The festive season is a veritable godsend for retailers, many of which make much of their profits in the final month of the year.
Yet 2011 has seen such businesses battered by higher costs, with floods in Australia prompting a spike in wool prices and the Arab Spring pushing up the price of textiles.
At a time when stores should be passing on some of those costs, a cursory glance at shop fronts in central London confirms what many analysts have suspected for some time: The only way to get people through the door is to offer a discount.
Sarah Linfield and Stephanie Eason were among the few gift-hunters to be carrying bags on Carnaby Street this week. But both said they bought their items in the sales, which this year started weeks before the holiday period.
Eason said she foresaw an austere Christmas and took the opportunity of an interview to remind CNN’s younger viewers that “this year it’s one present per person. One only!”
Linfield said the prospect of a recession was ever-present in people’s minds, causing them to be more careful with their cash.
Last month retail sales across the UK slumped 0.4%. Stripping out daily essentials like petrol for cars, the figures were even more bleak: Down 0.7%, a picture which the British Retail Consortium described as “utterly miserable.”
But it’s not just price cuts that are playing the Christmas Grinch for Britain’s boutiques. Counterfeits also catching the eye of many a thrifty customer.
A survey by UK law firm Clarke Willmott found more than a fifth of people said they would buy fake goods because they are cheaper.
The report offers some interesting - if unexpected - insights into spending habits of the sexes, various age groups, and income levels.
• Men are 50% more likely than women to buy fake goods
• 14% of those asked said they would buy a fake because the recession had eroded their buying power
• The unemployed are the most likely to buy phoney products
• Those aged between 25 and 34 are more likely to succumb to the appeal of fakes
Even more puzzling: People’s attitudes towards receiving forgeries.
Again, more than a fifth of respondents said they would be happy to receive a counterfeit present, especially if the giver couldn’t afford the real thing.
This means attitudes towards cheaper copies are changing.
In an era of low budgets but high aspirations, those wishing to “keep up with the Joneses” would rather have a rip off than a more economical, unbranded good. But shoppers do worry about falling prey to unreal items, especially online. Some 61% of respondents said they were worried about being conned into buying a fake.
Roy Crozier, an intellectual property partner with Clarke Willmott, says the trend isn’t just confined to high-end fashion and jewellery. Purchasers are being duped by suspect car parts and electronic goods as well.
“As always, if it looks too good to be true then it probably is,” he says.
The UK offers a snapshot of a global trend, which threatens luxury labels and branded businesses across Europe and beyond.
The world market for knock-offs is expected to grow to between $1.2 and $1.8 trillion by 2015.
For retailers Christmas is usually a time for cheer. But in Britain cuts and counterfeits may mean shoppers aren't spending as much this year.
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