Christmas on the cards

PUBLISHED: 21:11 18 December 2001 | UPDATED: 11:02 03 March 2010

WHEN it comes to the art of spending, most women – and I count myself among them – need little in the way of persuasion.

Christmas or not, we're all too happy to enter into a little retail therapy on the high street, and very often we'll deny the size of our true bank balance in a state of blissful oblivion.

WHEN it comes to the art of spending, most women – and I count myself among them – need little in the way of persuasion.

Christmas or not, we're all too happy to enter into a little retail therapy on the high street, and very often we'll deny the size of our true bank balance in a state of blissful oblivion.

These days, men aren't averse to that unique shopping passion either.

In a generation of increasingly appearance-conscious male icons, and at a time when the fashion and beauty industries are just as keen on the male consumer as the female, suddenly the 'woman's sport' has become so much more appealing.

This, without question, is just great news for the stores.

Not only do they have the traditional female target on which to encourage their ever-increasing credit facilities, but they also have a new breed of masculine spendaholics too.

And it doesn't really matter what you're buying. Whether it's clothes, household goods, cosmetics or the larger electrical essentials, the majority or retailers have some form of scheme or plan to ease you into the idea of delayed payment.

To test the true extent of this consumer trend, I joined shoppers in Ipswich to see just how far my money would stretch – and it's fair to say, I've never felt richer.

For the first of the day's stops, I took a detour to one of Britain's best loved department stores – Debenhams.

You can buy pretty much anything and everything under the roof of this old favourite – from linen to lighting, clothes to cosmetics.

Debenhams are happy to sign their shoppers up for their in-store credit card, and it's as simple as filling out a few details on an application form.

Five minutes and a phone call later (the assistant is required to ring your details through to their store credit provider to check your history), I'm on my way for more shopping, with an allowance of £750.

Fancing a spot more clothes shopping (well, it is nearly Christmas and everyone knows that it puts a lot of pressure on your party wardrobe!) I decide to see what credit I can get from the popular female fashion stores.

For women, the choice is dangerously vast.

I find myself being tantalisingly offered cards in TopShop, Warehouse, River Island, Oasis, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins.

Just like Debenhams, I'm just a signature and a credit-check away from more credit. Collectively, I find myself with a total spending power well over £1,000 averaging £350 at each store.

Time for a quick inspection of what the sports world has to offer. I enquire at Ipswich's branch of JJB to find myself somewhat surprised at the spending potential here. This retailer claims it can give you up to £500 immediate credit on its store card, and providing you pass the credit check, you can shop virtually for free (well, at least in the short term) from the minute you sign on the dotted line.

Boots is another big and popular household name. The Ipswich store sells everything from your day-to-day cosmetics, to your lunchtime snack, your baby's clothes and your electrical goods and prescription glasses. Its loyalty Advantage Card has proved extremely popular, offering all kinds of 'point bonuses' in store. And now, Boots has joined hands with financial service Egg, in order to provide a Boots Advantage Credit Card.

You can use this card anywhere and gain redeemable points – so its bound to be attractive for an addicted shopper who realises that they are in fact getting something back everytime they spend.

Boots doesn't run their card exactly like a store card so you will have to send off an application and wait for approval – no immediate 'free money' with this store then.

Impressively, while this card could potentially give you a very high credit limit, it is explained very clearly on the corporate website, and an applicant is under no illusions that they will be charged £20 for each month they go over their limit of fail to keep up with payment.

If you want household goods aswell as clothes, gifts, jewellery and the like, Allders tends to be another popular choice for the town.

I discovered that this store's card boasts a massive credit limit of up to £2,000, and an application can simply be completed there and then (subject to the usual checks).

Still on the high street, the likes of Marks and Spencer offer their own credit card, Monsoon has a store card, and even Argos has its own credit card too.

Now, however much of an addicted shopper you are, you'd probably struggle to get to every single one of these pitstops and buy up to the credit limit in each.

(Besides, in one session of retail therapy, that's an awful lot of walking, a long time on the car-park, and a big weight on the hands for carrying all those bags!).

But nevertheless, the temptation is very obviously there.

On the whole, the shop assistants don't miss an opportunity to have you sign up for their cards, and let's face it, the idea of 'immediate money' is always going to be popular.

The trouble, however cautious you are, is that these bills eventually have to be paid, and very few of us are prepared to sit down and read the small print about interest rates and default penalties before we agree to sign.

At the most extreme level, it's the likes of these cards which are going to accumulate, and might eventually see us depressingly signing up for solve-all last-ditch efforts like those increasingly available lump-sum loans.

All in all, after a day on the high street, I'm inclined to be slightly more wary of my retail addiction. And, more specifically, I'll be looking well beyond those 10 per cent account-opening incentives.

Walking away with several thousand pounds in immediate credit is all well and good – but someone's going to have to pay the price eventually….and with the costly Christmas frivolities to look forward to this month, I'd rather spare myself the strife.


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