M&S has so many things that cost £39.50 – but why, asks Lynne Franks

Why do so many things in M&S cost £39.50? High street giant may have found a magical retail sweet-spot price

Holly Willoughby’s floral dress. A pair of ballet flats. Mom jeans. Gym leggings. A belted jacket. Duvet cover, lamp, and drinks tray.

No, this isn’t a memory test from the dearly departed TV show The Generation Game, but just a small selection of the hundreds of items on sale at M&S for £39.50 — from straw hats and sandals to 12-piece stoneware dinner sets.

Is there such a thing as a magical retail sweet-spot price where women consumers are subliminally convinced that they are get-ting value for money in their choice of purchase? Certainly, M&S seem to think so.

I’ve long been fascinated by the constantly fluctuating psychology of fashion retail. 

Floral tie-neck midi dress… for £39.50. Is there such a thing as a magical retail sweet-spot price where women consumers are subliminally convinced that they are get-ting value for money in their choice of purchase? Certainly, M&S seem to think so

Multi pocket orange bag


Straw widebrim hat, and monochrome landscape and florals bedding set

After all, I was considered the country’s top fashion PR for more than 20 years, advising most of the High Street and top department stores on how to connect and communicate with their customer.

I started London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Awards many years ago and was involved in all aspects of the industry, from textiles to green consumerism.

I’ve had my own shops over the years, too. I started one of the first fashion shops in Covent Garden in the eighties and today own the popular SEED eco-fashion and gift store in my Somerset town of Wincanton.

I know how costings are worked out when calculating the prices for customers, based on making, materials, shipping, running costs and of course profit. 

Chunky chelsea boots


Green tapered trousers, and geometric belted midi shirt dress

Pink leather ballet pumps

And I understand about rounding the numbers up — or down — when needing to create a price that rolls off the tongue. 

I would assume, therefore, that the cost of producing a straw hat is very different from a maxi-dress or a pair of jeans. 

However this doesn’t seem to be the case in the latest pricing phenomenon from our beloved M&S.

So what exactly is it about £39.50 that makes it the new retail sweet spot? 

I have a number of theories. 

One is that anything of quality that costs less than £30 is seen by the shopper as too cheap and could give the impression of exploitative labour which we are all very conscious about these days.

Draped V-neck blouse


Stainless steel medium stock pot, and Art Deco mirrored round tray

Per Una pure cotton embroidered sweatshirt


Metal and glass lantern (left) and Alexa tripod table lamp

Another is that, in these times of soaring inflation and drastically rising living costs, we simply can’t justify a price tag of over £40, the point at which an item is considered to be a luxury.

But why £39.50 and not £39.99? For decades, .99 and .95 have been known as ‘charm prices’ — so called because they make items appear cheaper than they really are due to people registering the lower left digit first. 

But are we growing wise to this retail trick?

I do know that prices have been proven by marketeers to be more effective if they contain a 50p rather than a round pound. 

And for a retailer like Marks & Spencer, which sells mostly to the middle-aged and middle-class of middle England, it is crucial to get that precise balance — not charging too much or too little.

It’s a very challenging time for retail. We are going out socialising again and the weeks leading up to Easter are traditionally the time when we would be buying our summer wardrobe.

The clever folk at M&S have decided that £39.50 is the acceptable price of treating ourselves – without going over the top. It could well prove to be a stroke of genius

But spending on non-essential goods right now seems to go against the grain. 

Every day we see images of the horrific situation in Ukraine. All this seems to be more of a priority than buying a new outfit. And rightly so.

Factor in, too, the unprecedented hikes in utility and petrol costs which affect us all, regardless of income, and the guilt of over-spending is huge.

So the clever folk at M&S have decided that £39.50 is the acceptable price of treating ourselves — without going over the top.

It could well prove to be a stroke of genius. 

After all, many forecasters are showing that the fashion for updating charity shop buys or creatively converting a well-loved vintage item from our own wardrobe is going to be the biggest coming trend, so it’s going to be even harder to sell new clothes.

Could £39.50 be the magic price to tempt women back to the tills?

Lynne Franks’ Frankly Speaking Podcast can be found at lynnefranks.com/podcasts.

SEED store is at seed-store.org

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