Material morality

April 16, 2010, 5:58 PM GMT+0

You would be forgiven for thinking that everyday codes of conduct do not apply when sale season hits the shops, but our survey suggests there might be a moral method to the madness.

When asked how the public would react if they spotted the last stocked item of a coveted garment disappearing into the changing rooms with another customer, the responses were surprising. 61% would simply wait for the customer to try the item and hope that they don’t buy it, a mere four percent would plead with the customer, but a further 20% would give up far more easily – and would leave the shop without complaint. Only three percent of the public would attempt to snatch the item when no one was looking, which should give hope to shoppers everywhere who fear braving the sales may be a sartorial step too far.

Perhaps even more surprising, though, is that this moral code extends to the shopkeepers as well as fellow shoppers. We asked the public how they would respond to a sales assistant who underestimated a £20 item at a till as £10. If we are to believe the stereotype of the cut-throat customer, a genuinely impromptu half price item would be overwhelmingly tempting, and we could expect that everyone would lie. But 65% of the population would simply correct the assistant, paying full price.

For the remainder, however, the moral waters are markedly murky. 23% would clearly swayed by the temptation of a one-off bargain – they would plead ignorance and hope the assistant would just go ahead with the sale. The rest conform to the merciless shopper stereotype: seven percent would lie, agreeing that the item costs £10 instead of £20.

So it seems that while most are out to grab a bargain but not at any cost, a handful of anonymous shoppers are ready to fib or nab to secure the right item at the right price. We would do well to be cautious, as the weight of morals and manners might be felt strongly by some, but come the sales it would seem that it’s clothes, not codes, that count.

For survey details and full results, please click here