Shopping: Must Be a Better Way
Ordinarily, I enjoy shopping - wandering through the stores, looking at the pretty things, wondering who buys them and for what reason.
I read labels, compare prices. Like every red-blooded American woman (as compared to the blue-bloods) I crave bargains. But retailers - desperate to move merchandise in hard times - have let things get out of hand. You really need a playbook.
Starting early November, my mailbox and newspaper overflow with circulars advertising significant percents off certain merchandise on certain days, sometimes only certain hours of certain days. Sometimes the exclusions list is longer than the inclusions. Sometimes the mail is addressed to "our preferred customer," which makes me feel so special.
In order to benefit, you need to keep said cards and circulars in the car, in chronological order since entering them into your electronic calendar would take forever. Then, plan your day around early-bird and late-night specials.
Do not forget which stores have price-matching; for this, you'll need to present the ad and hope the cashier knows what he's doing so you don't hold up a line of impatient shoppers. Better take in the entire circular, with date, because outdated reductions will not be matched.
Watch for coupons spit out with register receipts. I got one for $5 at PetSmart. Now my black cat Lucky is eating Fancy Feast instead of Friskies.
Are we there yet? Heavens, no.
Senior discounts (5 to 15 percent) go over big in these parts, understandably. But why can't the stores agree on a day, so Granny doesn't trek to Burke Outlet on Monday, Ross and Goody's on Tuesday, Kohl's on Wednesday, and Harris Teeter on Thursday?
Once inside the store, the customer is faced with rack signs offering additional discounts on sale but not regularly priced merchandise. Or vice versa - I'm not sure. Either way, who do they think they're kidding? Regularly priced merchandise doesn't exist.
Which raises the question: If stores can take 50 percent off before Christmas and still make a profit, what must the mark-up be? And why is one brand of earrings 30 percent off, another 40 percent and another 50 percent? Why not just reduce all earrings 40 percent and absorb the difference?
My real worry is not the silly math, the promissory ads or the complicated calendar. I just don't know who's going to buy all the stuff stacked in the stores. Shoppers cannot possibly make a dent in sweaters piled like skyscrapers. In loungewear, I'm smothered by fluffy bathrobes, overwhelmed by sentient electronics, and stomped by thousands of boots in the shoe department.
(Note: The master plan has the customer buying $10 earrings for Sis and $89 boots, reduced from $150 today only, with coupon, for herself, before global warming eradicates winter altogether.)
Why do retailers stock so much? The plethora makes me want to escape with my frequent flyer miles to a place where nothing's for sale.
Still in the question mode: Why did the new owners of Pinecrest Plaza decide to start parking lot renovations during the Christmas rush? And how many wrecks must happen before a traffic light is installed at the Morganton Road exit?
Of course, we can shop exclusively online or from catalogs. I started saving catalogs after Halloween. My pile numbers 42 and weighs about 9 pounds. Funny that I keep getting duplicates. Even triplicates. I'd hope Norm Thompson and Serengeti would get the message when I didn't order the first two times. Sorry, Norm. No, actually, I'm not sorry because you only ship orders over $49 free and everything I like is $48.99.
As Christmas approaches I fear near-apoplectic levels of price-cutting and deal-making. The pundits agree; wait, they say, until a week before when the circular-makers, waving white flags of surrender (originally 500-thread-count pillowcases, $25 per pair), will circle the shopping public and toss 62-inch TVs and cashmere V-necks, Margaritaville Makers and multifunction flashlights, Carolina shot glasses and woolly bedroom booties to the multitudes, free of charge, so they don't have to advertise yet another reduction.
I'm not anti-commerce, or anti-Christmas, or anti-advertising, or anti-anything. I'm just a poor, confused pro-shopper pulled in a dozen directions, looking for the best deal and wishing that merchants would take a deep breath and a swig of eggnog and put the sled back behind the reindeer, where it belongs.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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