Today we went to Bicester Village, an outlet shopping centre in Bicester, Oxfordshire, whilst visiting relatives. It’s one of a number of outlet shopping centres, where shops sell off old, excess or seconds stock at discount prices. However, Bicester Village is somewhat posher than others.
By this, I mean it has shops from the likes of Gucci, Alexander McQueen, D&G, various Saville Row tailers, and other luxury brands that are normally the preserve of the ‘1%’ who can actually afford these. If you’re happy with buying something that isn’t quite perfect, or from last season, then you can bag a significant discount.
Of course, despite these discounts, pretty much everything was still well out of our price range. Hooded jumpers for over £300 for example – and that’s a reduced price. In the end, we just bought some cheese and pasta from Carluccio’s and retreated to Starbucks for a coffee to warm up.
Visiting on a Sunday in the run up to Christmas meant it was very, very busy, although we got there before 11am so there were still a few parking spaces (top tip – use the car park next to Bicester Town railway station as it’s quieter). Sunday trading laws meant that some of the larger shops couldn’t open until 12pm, and when we went past just before then there was a queue of at least 100 people waiting to get into the Polo Ralph Lauren shop. This is despite it being one of three shops in the centre, and not the only brand to have multiple outlets – there were a couple of Calvin Klein shops as well, amongst others.
Also notable was that many of the signs were both in English and Chinese, and that UnionPay, a major card system in China akin to Visa and MasterCard, was accepted by many of the shops there. Hence there were many Chinese tourists shopping when we visited, although we heard a number of other foreign languages being spoken, and there was a wide variety of left hand drive luxury cars in the car park.
As a Northerner who doesn’t have a huge disposable income, coming to a place like this was profoundly weird, and from a social anthropology perspective it shows just how wide the gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is in this country. Many shops did not have anything for sale under £100 per item, and yet neither me nor most people I know would pay those sorts of prices, even though they’re already discounted. Whilst this sort of place isn’t quite for the ‘1%’, it’s certainly aimed at those in the 99th percentile. I’ll stick with my Marks & Spencers clothes.