Debenhams set up a pilot drive thru service outside its store in the Manchester Trafford Centre yesterday. Valentine's shoppers who wanted to buy a present without the effort, could pick up a gift without having to leave the car.
The company ran the service for one day only, allowing drivers to draw up to the first stand, order and pay, and then drive to the second stand to pick up their gifts. To make the process more straightforward for the company, they offered a choice of just five traditional Valentine's gifts - including a lingerie set and a chemise, trunks for men, perfume and champagne.
Christine Morgan from Debenhams said: "An extension to the current personal shopping service, our Drive Thru is the perfect solution for all those who have no clue what to buy, are strapped for time, or are cynical about Valentine's Day but secretly want to get someone a gift." It is now choosing whether to offer something similar for Mother's Day, Father's Day and Christmas.
Clearly this is a blatant publicity stunt. The fact that it set up the drive thru at this stage in February means it has an opportunity to push its Valentine's collection, and still leave the vast majority of people time to dash to the shops to buy a present.
I reality, if you really wanted to buy a present on 7 February, and you couldn't be bothered getting out of your car, you still have plenty of opportunity to buy online without having to bother getting up at all. You then wouldn't be restricted to just buying from Debenhams - and choosing from a small selection of products.
However, the idea does tap into a trend that companies have been trying to make work for them for the past five years - that of curation. The idea is that in the internet age, with access to endless retailers across the world, we have billions of potential items we could consider for Valentine's Day.
Clearly nobody can cope with that much choice. In fact, researchers have shown that with as few as ten choices we start to lose our ability to make a sensible rational decision, and we would much rather pick from a small handful of options.
What we are looking for, therefore is someone we trust to pick out a handful of absolute winners that we can pick from ourselves.
The challenge for retailers is to offer that curation. They have been trying this for a few years, by getting together with fashion and style icons to launch or curate specific ranges - including Alexa Chung's range for Marks & Spencer.
John Lewis, meanwhile, has built curation into its brand, positioning itself as a trusted retailer that has brought together winning products. Its stand-alone loved&found boutique, for example, brings together new brands and designers under a John Lewis brand with the strapline "Discovered. Loved. Curated'. It works on the basis that shoppers trust the department store to have picked the items that best suit them.
The drive thru concept is one unusual way of Debenhams proving that it too is capable of narrowing all the choice down to just a few guaranteed winners.
Whether it rolls out the drive thru concept again this year, and whether any other department stores follow suit, is up for debate. While it may provide some decent publicity, you have to ask whether a really exciting curated proposition consists of offering people lingerie, perfume and Champagne for Valentine's Day,
What is clear, however, is that retailers will be jostling for the chance to be our 'curators' of choice this year - so we can expect plenty more of these unusual publicity stunts and experiments in future.
Shopping: when spending more isn't always better
Shopping: when spending more isn't always better
The wine world is notoriously snobby, and the experts will tell you that there’s no way to buy a good bottle without spending at least £25. However, a study in 2011 at the Edinburgh International Science Fair demonstrated that people could only tell the difference between a cheap and expensive wine 53% of the time - which is roughly the result you'd get from flipping a coin.
Instead of focusing on price, it’s worth looking for wine awards. In December last year, for example, the International Wine Challenge awarded silver medals to Tesco Finest Fiano (selling for £5.49) and the Tesco Finest Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (priced at £5.99).
The price you’ll pay for your hotel room depends partly on type of room you choose, but also on a host of things that have nothing at all to do with the room itself. If you shop carefully, therefore, you can get more for less.
One of the most effective approaches is to use a ‘secret hotels’ service, which gives you details of the location and facilities, but doesn't tell you the name of the hotel you are booking until you have paid.
This enables hotels to slash their prices by as much as 50% without damaging their brand. If you book this way you can easily get a junior suite for less than the advertised double room rate at the same hotel.
Logically, the longer the interest-free period on your credit card, the more you’ll save. However, it doesn't always work out that way.
If you need to borrow for exactly the length of the interest-free period, then it’s a great option, but if you need to borrow for a longer or shorter time, it's a waste of money.
You have roughly a 40% chance of being tempted by the longer interest-free period into failing to pay off the debt in time - and being hit with high interest charges. In this instance, you may be better off with a long-term low rate.
Meanwhile, if you are one of the third of people who tend to pay off their card early, then you'd be better off paying a smaller balance transfer fee for a card with a shorter interest-free period.
If you need to buy new clothes, then choosing a product that has done minimal damage to the environment is clearly a kinder option than buying from a manufacturer that doesn't care about its impact on the world.
However, you will usually pay more for an environmentally-friendly brand, and there’s a far cheaper option that’s even kinder to the environment: buying second-hand clothes.
Your local charity shops will have items in perfect condition that would otherwise be going to landfill, so by buying them you meet three great criteria: you're saving the planet, saving money and helping a good cause.
You can pay anything up to 1,000 times more for water in a bottle than from the tap, so it stands to reason that it must be better.
However, instead of necessarily paying for superior water, we're paying for bottles, transportation and marketing, which might not be the kind of thing you value
On average we drink 33 litres of bottled water every year, and at an average cost of 48p per bottle, that's almost £16. You have to ask yourself if it's worth it.
Your expensive fashion headphones may look cool, but if you look around among the professionals, they won’t be wearing them.
The very best of the professional headphones cost the earth, so they're not a money-saving option. However, if you set a budget and check out the gadget magazines for their recommendations in your price range, not one of them recommends the fashion brands.
Instead of paying for branding, it's worth doing your research and paying for better sound.
We're loyal to brands for two reasons when it comes to medicines. The first is that they advertise, and they don’t mention the name of the active ingredient, so if we have a specific problem, all we know to ask for is the brand.
The second is a matter of trust, because we know the brand, and we can see it costs many times more than the generic versions of the same thing, so we trust that it is better.
In reality, the active ingredients are exactly the same, and if you don't know the generic drug that you can substitute for your expensive brand, you can simply ask your pharmacist - and look forward to spending a fraction of the amount your usual brand name medicines will set you back.
Pedigree pets are incredibly expensive. Even common breeds like springer spaniels will cost you several hundred pounds, while rarer breeds can set you back thousands.
It’s easy to assume you are paying for a well-bred pet, which will be free from medical problems. However, the breeding process means that pedigree pets tend to be prone to far more medical issues - which end up costing a fortune.
A mongrel dog or a moggy will often rack up far fewer vets bills, and there are usually an enormous number looking for new homes at the local rescue centre.
There’s an enormous advertising industry, pouring huge resources into convincing us that the more expensive beauty products are the best. In some cases this may be true, but it’s also worth keeping your eyes open for the cut-price beauty products recommended by the experts and winning awards.
A couple of examples stand out from recent coverage, including Boots Protect & Perfect for £23.95, which was so hotly tipped that it had a waiting list before its release in May last year. An even more affordable option is the £1.69 Bottle O’Butter moisturiser, which flew off the shelves thanks to an endorsement from the beauty press a while back.
Often in the mobile market, the more you pay, the more you get. So if you want a flash phone, all you can eat data, oodles of airtime and endless texts, you'll pay through the nose. The question you really need to ask yourself is whether you need all of this.
It’s worth checking your statements each month, and going back to look at them for the duration of your contract. Check your average use, then look at any extra you would have paid for the months when you went over this. In most cases, those who are paying for the very biggest mobile packages could save substantially by downshifting.