Thursday, January 13, 2011

No Holds Barred

by Blair Sabol

Who knew that this past holiday season would be such a shopping lollapalooza! Or was it? I still can’t figure it all out. According to retailers shoppers were back with a vengeance. And here I thought we had all had enough and were belt cinching.

Whatever happened to frugality being "the new black"? It seems the rich are sick of sitting on their money and the poor feel like spending whatever little they have left. Even the financial advisors insist we all high-dive it back into the stock market ASAP. I don't hear the word "bankrupt" mentioned in terms of our country's future anymore.

My NYC spies tell me that Fifth Avenue (not to mention ALL restaurants) was packed not just with holiday window shoppers but with all kinds of people carrying tons of status named jumbo shopping bags. Mostly Hermes. Hermes?

Of course nowadays we are stuck in holiday wipe out recovery mode. The sales are still going on even though the stores look so sadly "picked over" and "bottomed out." But during the Xmas season all I heard about was "door busting" Black Fridays and life threatening stampedes at Best Buy and Target. Old Navy had a line around the block at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving.

What caught my financial interest were all the "saving passes" and crash and burn sales. It has become a retail epidemic. I love the ongoing daily Joseph A. Banks TV ads of "buy one suit get two free. "First of all the main price is no bargain and who actually wants two extra suits? But these kind of offers put the heat under all online shoppers and ignited the street deal hunters. They call it "BOGO" promotion (Buy one get one free). Macy's, The Gap, and American Outfitters, Ann Taylor all took advantage of this technique.

The Wall Street Journal did a great account of all this during Xmas. Though they seemed skeptical of all the sales jargon. Stores know you will spend more in your bargain hunting process "as long as people feel like they are getting a deal." A markdown from $80 to $70 is a discount. But NO deal! Discounts on luxury items sound good but according to WSJ it ends up being 23% of the full value. Is that really a bargain? Apparently the discounts that are the most modest are the sanest. In other words ... "there is no free lunch." As for the outlet stores, they still reign. But $50 off a DVF wrap dress isn't all THAT when it takes you $60 in gas to get to the store in the first place.
The WSJ cites the public as "cognitive misers" and merely setting prices with the number "nine" at the end — whether it is $1.99 or $19.99, can make a consumer feel he/she "got a deal." Back this up into the recent influx of "phone wielding shoppers" and we have a new consumer explosion.

Apparently people scope all store aisles with their Droid phone and immediately tap into Amazon (and other sites) to buy items at meager prices. The "new shopping companion" is a price comparison APP called TheFind. Our culture is so "APPED up" as it is (from porn to plastic surgery to Priceline) why not a bargain hunting APP as well!!!
As for my town of Scottsdale, Arizona there has been a rumor that Loehman's might be closing. Obviously we are not one of THE fashion forward capitols. For the past year and especially during pre-Christmas, our Scottsdale Barney's looked like a morgue. The aisles were spookily empty except for the counter cleaning women. Then again our H&M and Forever 21 were 20 deep in front of every rack.

A week after Jared Loughner made his name and deranged mug shot famous, The Glockmeister gun stores reported huge blowout sales of all Glock 9mm.
Arizona is not a state of shoppers but of shooters instead. We don't go on shopping sprees but rather shooting sprees. This week after Jared Loughner made his name and deranged mug shot famous, The Glockmeister gun stores reported huge blowout sales of all Glock 9mm with extended magazines.

Don't forget we are an "open carry state." Which means "packing heat" is more important than owning any pair of Jimmy Choo shoes. My state's "fashion statement " has to do with guns and NFL jerseys. And we can "openly carry" in any bar. Talk about "lock and load-ed!" But I remember when I first arrived here (over 20 years ago) people warned me to never "flip the bird" to anyone while driving. I was told that most people have a gun on their front seat and would have gotten my head shot off.

Now to be fair, not all Arizonians are mass murderers. But we have always been a rootin’-tootin’ southwestern society. Whenever I hike way out in the desert I can’t help but notice that many of the grand cactuses have bullet holes riddled through them. And isolated shooting ranges rule here. Personally I have always loved that I live in the wild wild west. And I am sorry that Governor Jan Brewer feels like she has to revamp and apologize for our state's image.

What image? Our Sheriffs Joe Arpaio and Dupnik look like larger than life (and out of control) Flintstone caricatures. As for murderer Jared Loughner, unfortunately his "look" is extremely popular out here: young skullcapped and/or bald headed kids with "tatts" and body piercings and oversized T shirts and giant "pants on the ground." Face it ... pictures of fat faced sheriffs and deranged bald kids are our versions of New York Times's Bill Cunningham's "fashion on the street."
Personally I like being the nightly punchline of most Jon Stewart jokes. We have become "the new Dallas" (scene of Kennedy assassination). Unfortunately I had never heard of my Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords or the murdered Federal judge. But I am almost sadder that all our flags are currently flying half mast for this event when they should stay half mast everyday for all the dying unknown soldiers in the Middle East.

But I digress. Three days before the Tucson massacre there was another shooting at our immense Chandler Fashion Mall. The cops closed the mall for five hours and there were horrendous accounts of shoppers being locked in stores and Victoria's Secret shoppers diving under tubs of "on sale" bras. Luckily no one was killed. The police finally caught the criminal after he ran through Sears (gun in hand) and out the back and landed in a Baha Fresh eatery.

Between the Tucson incident (which also happened in a Safeway mini mall) and Chandler it makes me think twice about EVER going out and shopping. Thank God I'm tapped out of all holiday and post holiday sales and spending in general. "Shop till you drop" has taken on a new meaning for me.
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