Make way for the frugalista



David Tusing  on Saturday, April 04, 2009  – 247 newspaper – Dubai

She’s here. The shop-till-you-drop era may be all but gone, at least for now, and women around the world may be embracing their new thriftiness, but marketers take heed – a new target consumer is emerging. And she’s called the frugalista.

As consumers respond to the downturn with a shift in purchasing habits, more women are combining frugality, fashion, family and environmental ethos, says a study by market research firm Euromonitor International.

“Women’s influence in making purchasing decisions is more important than ever, with many women extending their position as ‘chief purchasing officer’ to take in that of ‘chief thrift officer’ for the family,” it says. “They are being creative in order to keep up their fashion passions, maybe through clothes swapping and in order to keep their homes happy through growing their own vegetables, for instance.”

So who exactly is the frugalista? “She is someone who has an eye for hip, new fashion styles but now feels a greater need to understand the cost benefit analysis behind a purchasing decision,” says Danielle Wilson, Managing Director of PR company CS-PR, which focuses on female-orientated businesses. “She’s also the ‘big ticket’ purchaser who bought regardless of price, for stature and brand who has had a shift in attitude, a change in mentality and is now toning it down.”

Euromonitor, which calls the frugalista’s emergence the newest and biggest trend in consumerism since 2008, defines her as “a cash-poor, thrifty woman that is still keen on stylish consumerism and staying healthy”. “Frugalistas think of savvy ways of still being stylish and providing for themselves and their families,” it says, adding that retailers must adapt to this new demographic.

“Every player in the ‘food chain’ needs to adapt to the frugalista,” says Wilson, who also runs a designer bag rental website,, and a shopping guide portal

“This is a viable, growing target market and it needs the appropriate attention. Marketing departments need to create new catch phrases that capture the current sentiment and malls and shops need to do away with the lavish, ostentatious approach of the past and adopt a more realistic, understated approach that highlights quality over anything else.”

Meghna Kothari, the Director of Red Orange Events, which will organise the region’s first Woman Boutique Show in May, says retailers have to try a lot harder to come up with marketing strategies. “The previous approach might have been more conventional in terms of marketing, but today a more personalised approach will matter. Retailers should research and rework on who their target market is in the current situation, and come up with offers and deals that would interest a potential buyer.”

To be held in Dubai in May, the idea behind the show, says Kothari, is to “give aspiring women in the region a platform”.

“Women now have a different personality than what they were perceived to have before. There are so many entrepreneurs in the region, and those with strong personalities, and it’s prudent that marketers cater to them,” she says.

According to consultants She-conomy, 85 per cent of all brand purchases in the United States are made by women. While a number does not exist for the UAE, Wilson from CS-PR says woman as advertising target is still a largely untapped thought process.

“It’s one of the main reasons I started a female-focused PR company,” she says. “Due to the nature of the growth and demographics involved, most levels of retailers and marketers are still dominated by males. That’s not to say they don’t recognise the power of the woman buyer, they do, but it’s difficult to translate that into a meaningful message.

“Within the Mena region and scope of my businesses, women’s influence on purchases is substantial. We receive a lot of enquiries on our websites that clearly illustrate buying habits and 95 per cent of these enquiries, when asked for customer details, are women.”

The Lipstick Index, a loose economic theory often credited to Leonard Lauder, the former chief executive of cosmetic giant Estée Lauder Companies, is based on the ideology that when consumers face an uncertain and possibly threatening financial future, they turn to inexpensive indulgences. As such, sales of expensive cosmetics wane while that of more affordable items, such as the lipstick, shoot up.

In the Middle East, however, although there is an air of caution in spending decisions, there are certain luxuries that consumers do not want to give up, according to Euromonitor. “The outlook for consumers here is likely to be cautiously optimistic,” it says in its report. “But many Middle Eastern consumers have only just befriended consumerism, credit cards, and bling, and are not yet weary of this new-found luxury.

“These consumers will not be as willing to give up lavish and modern lifestyles as has been the trend in Western consumer-jaded countries. Although the Middle East is feeling the impact of the global credit crunch, no long-term attitude to frugality will be enshrined, which is good news for any companies advertising and reaching out to consumers here.”

The Institute for International Research (IIR), which organises a number of exhibitions in the UAE, is all set to launch the 12th Bride Show Dubai next week. An Abu Dhabi version was held in January. “We are expecting great things at The Bride Show Dubai. While we cannot say for certain whether some brides’ budgets may be reduced due to the current global economic climate, we do know that for the majority of brides in this region, the demand for the biggest, brightest and most expensive weddings is as high as ever,” says Daphne Cota, Exhibition Manager for the show.

According to a study conducted by IIR, more than 34 per cent of respondents would still spend between Dh100,000 and Dh250,000 on their wedding day. Running alongside the show will be two other exhibitions – Women’s Healthcare and Bride Home.

While the experts we spoke with could not say if the frugalista will be just a downturn phenomena, they agree her emergence could change the attitude of a whole generation for the better.

“Some frugalistas are embracing their new-found thriftiness so much that they are keen to continue living economically, even if the financial downturn ends,” says Euromonitor. “Women are likely to pass on the newly acquired thriftiness and housework skills.”

Kothari says: “People will definitely understand and value what they should really be spending on.”

According to Wilson, if the frugalista manages to bring the best out of an individual, a family or a business, then it will become a permanent fixture. “Most importantly, this may cause us to focus on and prioritise the things that are most important and dear to us and that can only be a good thing for the future,” she says.

“But the over riding theme is to change the message, especially in this region. The over the top, biggest, largest, most exclusive, ‘iconic’ themes are moving to the back of the line. They are being replaced by a cost conscious, practical, fun but reasonable and the understated. It’s now considered ‘cool’ to be credit crunch affected.”

Top tips for the Aspiring Frugalista 

- Prioritise your purchasing agenda: Build up a methodology of purchasing that may allow for a ‘special buy’ at the end of the month. Source different outlets and do your bulk shopping at large convenience stores instead of specialty chains. If numbers have been crunched properly, a reasonable pool of cash may be left to splurge on a pair of Sergio Rossi shoes or a cute summer Stella dress.

- Do not be afraid to be creative: Venture into areas, and buying tactics that were otherwise considered ‘beneath you’. Many wondrous bargains abound in areas such as Karama and Satwa as well as flea markets at Bastikiya and JBR.

While traffic and large crowds may put you off, on weekdays, they are tranquil shopping paradises.

- Rent, don’t buy: Women in large numbers are actively exploring this trend. Items such as bags, jewellery and certain other accessories can be safely and smartly rented without breaking the bank.

- Swaps: The biggest fashion event right now in the US and Europe are girlfriends getting together at someone’s house, each friend bringing an item or items from their wardrobe and then watching the match-making abilities of girls kick into gear.

- Utilise the internet: Online commerce is taking off and shopping online provides a currency hedge. Use your UAE-based credit card to snap up bargains in London while the pound flounders saving you travel fare that can be put towards that trip to the Maldives later in the year.  
(By Danielle Wilson,

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One Response to Make way for the frugalista

  1. Interesting article. The Oxford University Press named the word Frugalista finalist for the Word of the Year in 2008 and linked back to my blog, The Frugalista Files. Please contact me anytime to discuss anything related to frugalista. I own the trademark.

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