Monday, December 08, 2014

Retail Therapy

It's been a while, and not because I haven't been travelling; I've been travelling a little too much. On the other side of the planet now, new continent, new life, and simply put, no posts because too much has happened - is happening - to put into a post.
So, let me put it into many posts. Many, many posts.

In no discernible order.

Tonight, it's all about Shopping In America.

I'm standing in a Walmart on Black Friday. There were a dozen police cars parked outside, cops standing by to take down riots before they happen - more likely because of Ferguson, not 50% off, but they're there. Inside, the checkout line stretches all the way back to the back of the store, and that's quite a bit for a Walmart. Every 4th person is struggling to balance a giant, no-brand TV; that's been the flavor of the season, with Samsung especially going on a berserker marketing blitz that literally saw 2 Samsung ads for every one of any other company. Everyone's here in groups; 1 line holder, and 2-3 others zipping around bringing stuff back for the cart. It's a level of crazy consumerism, but it's nowhere near the crazy I was promised happens. Everyone's kind of... sober.
It's a scam, you know. The marketers know people expect deals, and save for them. They know the public's going to be in the stores on that Black Friday, money in hand, ready to buy, and boy, do they serve them up deals. Just not the deals they were looking for.
The good stuff isn't going to go at half off, or even a third. The cheap shit, the clearance sections, the overstocks and the to-be replaced is what's on the block; A year down the road it's gonna fail, and it's back in line for the season's next big thing. I generally hang onto TVs for 5 years, and I'm an anachronism. And a marketer's nightmare.
It's cold enough outside for fog breath, and the parking lot is full. A sea of cars, pickups, and station wagons, often with an excitable gaggle of people trying to tie a giant tv / mattress / unidentified box to the roof with ropes.
The Walgreen's down the road is deserted.

One of the things that kind of creeps up on you is how the retail space is full of old people. Really old people, like 60+. Why are they here? Why aren't the young people working? Is it a lower-wage thing they have to take because they can't do the more physically demanding jobs that pay more?

Retail is bizarre. There's so much stuff - rows and rows of minute variations of the same product, stacked up to warehouse ceiling heights. Back home if I wanted cornflakes, I'd have to choose between 5 boxes in the medical store across the road, one of which was too oversweetened and one had an obviously past-expiry-date look. Here, I drive 5 miles to browse through a thousand choices.

A Costco or Walmart on weekends is freakishly like being back home... all the Indians are out and ready to stock up.

Ikea. This probably can fill an entire post on its own. It's an experience unlike anything I've seen before. You get in, and you walk, walk, walk through worlds of ideal rooms and stacks and stacks of identically minimalist, slightly uncomfortable furniture, until exhausted, you finally reach the sign that says 'exit, lower level'. But that's the end. Exit is actually the same distance away on the lower level through all the things you can put on/in that furniture. It's like escaping from the Death Star by the time it's over.
They had some fantastic food, though.
The used section is a must-see before you go; Some actual good deals there, if you're not very... picky.
Then comes the assembly. It's the most fun I've had in months. Giant Lego. The stuff is extraordinarily designed - everything to fit together just so, and in no other configurations; no leftover screws, tabs, etc, and if there are, you did something wrong.

Everyone's got a loyalty program. Half of which are credit cards.

But, there's always a pattern, a system that can be cracked - and things get much easier once you do 2 things.
1. Know exactly what you're going to buy. Browsing is a black hole, it'll suck you in and spit you out impoverished and overburdened. Make the list, check it twice, proceed to step 2.
2. Know exactly where to get it. Everyone's got a focus area, either in what they sell or in how they sell it. Go to the wrong place, and you'll still find what you're looking for - it's impossible not to find things to buy - but it'll either be in the economy pack fit for a family of a dozen, or genetically modified, or hand-laundered by house elves in phoenix tears or something.

This applies to online as well.

Ok, time to sleep. More later. 

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