Thursday, January 8, 2009

Musings on Shopping Season of 2008

y S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Before we get started here, let me assure the retailers of Las Cruces and the nation that I’m an all-American girl. I love to shop, and while I’m not a shopaholic, I have been known to occasionally shop until I drop, and I’m a big supporter of the holiday season. I’ve also worked as an employee for a big corporate chain and know the stress of being on the retail front lines.
So know that you are not dealing with a heartless curmudgeon when I tell you that I understand why retail sales dropped so sharply this holiday season.
The economy is a big factor, all right, but I don’t think it was the major reason. Maybe Americans are changing their values and thinking about what we truly value. Could it be that tough times remind us of what Christmas is really all about?
It’s time to change your ways, retail dudes, if you want us to change ours. And that goes for car dealers, too. Listen up. There will be some tips for you, too.
First of all, you should understand the difference between hunters and gatherers. I have a feeling many marketing decisions are still made primarily by the hunters, but most of your customers are creative gatherers.
And I emphasize the “creative” part. We are not wimps. We enjoy the search, or would like to, for bargains and perfect gifts and basics and treats for our loved ones and ourselves.
But shopping should not be a blood sport, much less a combat mission. As the tragic events of this shopping season have shown, trying to whip us into a frenzy can be dangerous, even fatal.
In a time when we’re cautious about spending, anyway, you should make it easier and more pleasant to patronize your store, rather than harder and more stressful and hazardous.
Even the hunters and highly competitive souls among my circle of family and friends decided to skip the early bird Black Friday Olympics this year.
In fact, Post-traumatic Black Friday Stress Syndrome convinced me to abandon the season all together, which is why I usually have most of my holiday shopping done (and usually at bargain prices) six months early. That’s real early bird shopping, without stress.
And you should help us, in these troubled times, cope with our stress, not add to it. That means you shouldn’t make us get up at dawn and meet all kinds of fake deadlines and feel like we have to wait in line and jump through hoops to get the best deals. Cut your hours if you have to, but hire a few more employees and pay them a little more, instead.
Take note that while online shopping declined a bit this holiday season, the figures were much better than retail statistics. That’s because online’s easier, and a lot more pleasant, even for those in your prime target groups, those people you’ve been ignoring, neglecting, maybe even abusing. I’m taking about people who like to shop and would still rather stop in person than online and who still control megabucks in this country: Baby Boomers and beyond.
And women. Car dealers, pay particular attention here, because this could be your last chance. I’ve done the research and made the final decision on every new car purchase since I was in my 20s, though I learned to take a guy with me as a “cover” after some very bad experiences. Last time, my guy missed our appointment, and I ended up doing the feint-and-parry dance all by myself. Armed with online research, I actually got a deal pretty close to dealer cost.
But it was an ordeal, and I decided that though I would like to support my local dealers and have a chance to test drive and shop and have intelligent discussions about options, next time, I’ll probably go through an online broker.
When you’re paying that much for something, it shouldn’t be an ordeal. Give us a cup of tea, pamper us a little, be honest and direct and efficient with us and skip at least a couple of rounds in the barter square dance. We’re all online now and probably know as much as you do about how low you (and “the boss”) will go.
Going greener is another big concern for many of us, and we’ve noticed that green shopping experiences are also more pleasant. Lately, I’ve been doing more and more of my shopping for everything from food to gifts and clothing at local crafts and farmers markets, festivals, specialty markets and smaller stores and galleries. Things are fresher, more creative, often cost less, and people are friendlier and more helpful.
Want us to stay with you, retailers? Why not try appealing to the best instead of the worst in us? Let’s declare an end to the era of arrogance and greed and experiment with concepts like integrity, respect, even intelligence. Or if that’s too hard, maybe we could boil it all down to one basic rule. The Golden one.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

For more on this, see a reader's intriguing response to this column that follows: