January sales shopping: retail therapy or anxiety inducing?

Every January, shops pull out all the stops to get us to spend, spend spend. For some, the January sales can be a great time to grab a bargain and enjoy being out with friends. For others, it’s a nightmare you dread being stuck in.

After months of excitement and preparation, Christmas has come and gone and the eagerly awaited January sales are finally here. It’s a time when people flock to the shops seeking bargains, maybe to make them feel better about all the seasons expenditure, or to make savvy purchases for all the upcoming birthdays and special events, saving a good fortune.

For some hitting the sale is an essential British tradition that must be maintained. It is an escape from the stress of Christmas and essentially a feel good element of the holiday period – retail therapy, something I never quite understood or related to in any way.

In fact, I have always detested shopping, except for books, stationery or toys. I guess it is partly my personality, and partly the physical aspect of my disability. I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy (UCMD) with a respiratory problem, and I use a wheelchair. Crowded places are not my favourite thing.

To top it off, most shops don’t have suitable changing rooms so I can’t try things on, and because I am quite petite with slightly complicated posture, finding clothes and shoes is a challenge. I therefore try my best to avoid shopping until it is vital.

But I wanted to explore other views and to find out if I was the only one who avoided the January sales, so I asked two friends. One of them hates shopping full stop. In fact, she avoids it at all cost opting to shop online rather than face the crowded shops. Like me, her reasons were a mixture of personality traits and access issues.

My other friend is the opposite: she loves shopping with a passion, and all year around, not just for the sales. She was the perfect person to interview for this article…

Anjum is young woman in her early thirties with cerebral palsy, a fairly independent and confident person who very often ventures out alone. She has no qualms about going shopping during the sales, it is one of her passions after all. But when I asked her if she has any plans to go to the January sales this year, she smiled and said; “after last year, no way.”

Last year Anjum wanted a wardrobe change, and what a better time to implement this than the January sales. So she headed for London Westfield Shopping centre, which made the most sense as all the high street shops are under one roof, saving her from going in and out of the cold.

But her trip ended up being a nightmare. Anjum recalls how she felt incredibly vulnerable as the shops were so crowded, making it hard to find things and see them properly. Worse still, in the chaos Anjum got squashed as someone fell into her. She went on to explain how “shop assistants, who are usually quite happy to help me try tops on and stuff, were rude and short , saying that they were too busy.”

Being slightly visually impaired Anjum needs guidance sometimes. On this trip, she ended up having to rely on a nice stranger to help her use the lifts in Zara after the shop’s security guard said he couldn’t leave his designated spot. He instead just gave directions, even though Anjum explained that; “due to my eyes and co-ordination I can’t find my way easily.”

After completing her shopping on the second floor Anjum asked a shop assistant to help her downstairs. Although they said they would, she was left waiting for 45 minutes.  After asking again, the shop assistant said she would run downstairs to get the security as she couldn’t take Anjum herself, which was not clear why but since Anjum was too tired she did not to question it.

After waiting further, Anjum understandably got fed up and instead walked around trying to spot another kind stranger who may help. She recalls: “I needed to be home for my carer and it was getting dark, which makes me slightly nervous, so I could not wait for security guard to come.”

The shocking part of all of this was that these shop assistants kept asking Anjum if she had anyone with her as in their view is that she should not be left to come out on her own and need to be accompanied by someone!

But Anjum’s ordeal didn’t end there. She headed to the taxi rank asking the first taxi driver she saw to take her home, but the driver replied: “Sorry, I can’t get out of my taxi to get the ramp out.” Anjum could not understand what would prevent the driver from getting the ramp out, it was a taxi rank after all, so there were no restriction. But when she pointed this out to the driver, his answer was: “It is not the main taxi rank, you have to go to the other one.”

Having been through this ordeal, I asked Anjum if she has any top tips for others who, like herself, love shopping and don’t necessary want to miss out on the whole sales experience. Her reply was simple: online preparation.

If I look online and have an idea of what I want then I phone the shop in question and ask them to keep it back for me. I’ll also inform them that I need help. When they expect you, most shops aren’t so bad, many even tell you when to come in so they can help you.

But realistically, most people with a disability can’t just randomly go to any shop, any time they want.

Nothing will ever curb Anjum’s love for shopping, but her experience of the sales has, as she puts it, “made me feel anxious, as I realise how frail I am as a disabled person and how certain situations can be very difficult. People take shopping for granted, but I find it needs planning.”

I guess shopping can be a form of therapy, but for some it is a stressful nightmare.

By Raya AlJadir

January sales shopping: do you love it or hate it? We’d love to know, so get in touch by messaging us on Facebook or emailing us at

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Raya Al-Jadir

A fellow at the Carter Centre for Mental Health Journalism, Raya writes about culture, literature and health for Disability Horizons. As a freelance writer, she has worked with a range of publications, such as The Independent, Huffington Post, and the UAE The National newspaper. She also runs her own blog, Careless.
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