The German retail industry is facing hard times. With consumers holding tightly onto their purse strings, sales have taken a nosedive. Shops in several German cities increasingly wear a deserted look, others are struggling to stay afloat with desperate price reductions.
A slew of studies conducted on the tight-fisted behavior of German consumers, have all more or less come to the same conclusion -- the dour economic reality is to blame. While shopkeepers figure out how to get at Germans who don't spend money, researchers across Germany has been focusing on those that do.
In projects at government-financed universities, so-called consumer sociologists are involved in finding out more about the different types of consumers and what influences their shopping patterns.
The trend shopper
For instance, two researchers at the University of Dortmund recently discovered a new species of the modern consumer -- the trend shopper. One of the researchers, Ronald Hitzler explained that the trend shopper detests off the hook clothing -- whether it's cheap garb or famous luxury labels -- and hunts for what corresponds to his version of "trend."
"The trend shopper needs to know with what he can find acceptance tomorrow from the right kind of people. That means that he must know above all where and how he can get everything today, that would fit tomorrow with the right kind of people, what we call a 'must,'" Hitzler said.
The styler: extravagant and choosy
Hitzler's fellow researcher Michaela Pfadenhauer said her ethnological investigations in Munich's hi-fashion scene had also yielded a further rare and particularly extravagant type of trend hopper, known in research parlance as the "styler." The styler, Pfadenhauer, elaborated, is below 40, could be a male or a female and is usually single.
"'The styler has a so-called interesting profession, preferably in fashion or media or in the advertising industry, public relations, in gastronomy or in the so-called art and culture business," she said.
The styler usually has a high income and he can work flexibly, which means that he can has time and money for a particular lifestyle even during tough economic times.
"The styler rarely has kids, but almost always rich parents, who can, when needed, help him keep up his lifestyle. The styler has an urban lifestyle and lives and close to the 'scene,'" she said. "That means his fashionable old-style apartment is in the same neighborhood as all the hip clubs, bars and cafes that he frequents. And his apartment usually looks like them -- lots of room, minimal but expensive furniture, lots of improvisation."
100 euro for a T-shirt?
The consumer sociologists have concluded that the styler appears to define himself through his consumption. According to them, he seeks the attention of a small scene, which comprises hardly more than a thousand people in a metropolis, and thus attempts to stand apart from the crowd.
More importantly, the styler's biggest passion is exclusive shopping in the few "concept shops", where largely unknown designers offer their creations.
Pfadenhauer conceded these could appear downright strange and even outlandish to the "normal consumer" with its horrifically astronomical pricing for seeming self-stitched apparel, but pointed out that it contained certain irresistible features for the styler.
"For instance, this T-shirt was bought for five euros by the designer in a large department store," Pfadenhauer said, showing off a €100 shirt she bought in one of the concept stores.
"But I bet that the print was already on the T-shirt. It was then worked on, upgraded with these sequins that are terribly 'in' at the moment and this pink toile bow and was embroidered with these stars at the back. And the most important thing is this small label with the name of the designer. There are even some which say, 'this individual piece was made with love for you'," she said.
Such findings might appear frivolous to most at a time when Germany is facing a major economic downturn. But the research might also explain why some "concept shops" and luxury goods boutiques in German big cities are flourishing despite low consumer spending.