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Old 09-29-2013, 11:15 AM   #1
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Cool Americans tell it: Why they stopped shopping. Part III Target Carts Americans aren’t shopping like

Americans tell it: Why they stopped shopping. Part III
Target Carts

Americans aren’t shopping like they used to, and in this series of posts they tell me why.

It began with a column I wrote on Aug. 25 inviting readers to write me about why they are no longer buying like they used to buy. Click here to read that column. Since then, I continue to receive missives. Click here to read my most recent column in The Wall Street Journal Sunday.

Basically, since the 2008 financial crisis, consumers have lost ground every year for five years. This has serious implications because consumers represent more than two-thirds of the economic activity in this country.

Scroll down to read the comments readers have sent me, and please tell me your own thoughts by posting in the comments section at the end of this blog.

Also, you don’t have to read them in any particular order, but there are two other parts to this series of reader comments:

Click here to read Americans tell it: Why they stopped shopping. Part I.

Click here to read “Why they stopped shopping. Part II.

Here is Part III:

I’ll break down the buying population into three age groups.

20 to 40. These people don’t have very many good paying jobs; the jobs they do have don’t pay very much money; and they are afraid of losing their pitiful part time jobs…hence, they don’t spend what little extra they have, if any. They are afraid to spend, even if they could.

40 to 60. Many of these people now realize that an impoverished retirement awaits them. They never saved any money for retirement and they now know that lean days are ahead of them. Consequently, they are now busy saving everything they can which means that they won’t spend any more than absolutely necessary.

60 to 80. These people fall into two categories. Category One is people who have no money to spend because they have no excess income coming in.

In the second category are people like me who have plenty of money but no need to spend it. They no longer work (have no need for business suits); they already have a large house ( crammed with furniture); and their walls are already full of art and photographs ( no need to buy any more things at the local antiques stores). So, even the folks with plenty of money have no compelling need to spend any of it.

All of this adds up to a very tough selling environment for the retailers who will never see “the good olde days” again.

We used to look down on those third world countries who didn’t have anything and who could not properly take advantage of whatever advantages they did have. Unfortunately for us, we have now become one of those third countries.

I’d like to tell the retailers that “help is on the way”. But, it isn’t !!

I look at all the empty parking spaces at my local mall and think that maybe this is just a course correction (whether forced or not) in the rampant consumerism that we displayed as a country before the crash. Maybe a short vacation is worth more to people now than a whole closet full of shoes!

People think (more) before they buy. I used to get my favorite bread at an Orowheat outlet store for half price, but sometime during the recession, the company closed the store and the notice on the site stated simply that they are not in the discount bread service. So, instead of obeying the mandate of the Orowheat company and paying $5.00 per loaf for my bread, I now make my own, by hand, at home. I did get a bread maker, but it broke in short order, so I don’t intend to buy another.

Overall, my family is like many others in the US who are not “suffering”, but have simply made adjustments and have changed our ideas of what is important and what isn’t. I make bread, cook with my grown daughter, improve the house and yard, fix stuff instead of buying new stuff, and develop hobbies that usually cost nothing or very little (hiking, gardening, reading, writing to Al!) because I lost my job in the recession and now actually have time to do these things.

It’s almost like we’ve been forced to re-examine ourselves and our values, and hopefully have become wiser, better people for it.

Well, it is a jungle of madness at Penneys specifically. Early Spring of 2012 I needed to replace my coffee maker and after having read a good review of the JC Penney Cook brand of coffee maker, I thought I’d make a quick trip to Penneys to pick one up. Nope. They no longer choose to carry it. (And their choice of coffee makers or any other small appliance in the Fort Collins store was non-existant! It looked like they had just finished having a very successful Clearance sale! (When in fact it was lack of attention to the department in general) While I was in the store, I thought I might purchase a tablecloth or two and/or some place mats. None in the Fort Collins store at all. My husband I and I recently hoped to buy some polo-style shirts with pockets. No 100% cotton shirts fit the bill, and there were a measly 2 t-shirts that did. When we walked by what was once the kitchen goods area it was mostly empty space with the exception of a glaringly UGLY set of glass statue of French cooks that didn’t even double as kitchy cookie jars. Oh sure, there were a few small kitchen tools like spatulas, but nothing you couldn’t buy from Bed, Bath & Target. Boy that guy from Apple Ron Johnson? sure pulled a fast one over someone at Penney’s with that screwy floor plan. Not shopper friendly, or pretty, or appealing. Boutique? Ha! I get that he thought the teenagers were doing all the buying there. Teenagers sure leave a mess in their wake in the dressing rooms, I’ll give you that one—

Penney’s has misunderstood their competition and market for quite some time now. Hell, I’m old enough to remember the time they stopped advertising in a Sunday flyer. Not that I can remember the year, but I do remember the shock. Penney’s quit making a very popular bra, and their ladies pantie quality is so bad that the pieces from 5 years ago fit and wear better than the ones purchased yesterday. The mens “tidy whitey” briefs quality is also about 30% lower quality than it was 7 years ago. I wanted to buy a brief a bit updated for my man like the colored cotton we had in the drawer from say, 4 years ago, and again, not an option from the store here. I’d be willing to bet their website would not produce satisfaction in that department either.

Lets talk Sears. They don’t want you to shop there either. Want you to be satisfied shopping their website, and when it comes to parts for the Kenmore vacuum cleaner, what a headache. When it comes time to purchase another vacuum, even though Consumer Reports may rate it at the top, the dread of parts and the fact that they ship the vac to Denver for service is part of the brand consideration. My husband has had such bad experiences with Sears delivery and repair of Washing Machines and dryers he refuses to consider the machine even if it is rated (by Consumer Reports) as one of the quietest or most efficient or most reliable. KMart is confusing, What are they selling besides “gold jewelry 60% off?” I rarely find the old standbys I used to shop for also (100% cotton summer shorts & tops, garden and patio supplies, Christmas lights).

Meanwhile Target has gotten a bit better in recent years, even though they have really unfriendly return policies and Target is generally overpriced. My co-workers used to joke that Target was the king of out-of stock. (Sale ad items) I also appreciate the quiet shopping at Target (no muzak or any piped in sounds).

And finally, grocery. I am grossly offended by the “buy 10 items off this page and receive $5.00 off your shopping order!” While I have read that marketing studies show consumers respond better to “buy one get one 50% off” than they do to “25% off”; I have a had time believing the consumer feels really good buying 10 items of any particular junk food for a measly $5 when the typical food shopping bill is over $100 without buying convenience foods or much meat. Of course I had to press the gas station person once to give me the correct price earned per my “points system” and I don’t play that game any more either. I am really getting burned out on these “dollar earned” things that you have to redeem next week or miss out on too.(Safeway, Kohls, Walgreens) I realize the younger generation has a more competitive streak and more time to shop than I do, but I’m not sure I see them having more expendable income. I’ve e-mailed Safeway more than once about their incorrect price labeling and plastic grocery bags that don’t even make it out of the store without breaking. Safeway can’t seem to get the hang of how to separate themselves above the normal grocery shopping experience either. (Let’s look at the success of Whole Foods, shall we?)

And lastly, I see Penneys and Safeway making the mistake of thinking of their employees of a liability instead of an asset. They didn’t learn anything from the days when Walmart hired the top marketing and management staff from Sears and Kmart and Target, did they?

To set the framework, both my husband and I are white-collar, middle class earners. We live in a modest town home in the suburban Chicago area.

For quite some time, the mindset was “you can have it all.” Well, as the recession has proven, we cannot have it all. That being the case, one has to decide what things in life are a priority. We all need to be more conservative and realistic as a society and be more patient.

Well, since my salary has stagnated over the last 10 years, my home dove in value and now we are finally “even” with no equity whatsoever but still have to pay to repair things and upkeep, etc.; prices of gasoline and normal everyday food products, etc. have escalated, and with the need to assist an extended family member who has been out of work for months, I buy what I “REALLY need” not just what I “need” when it comes to material things like clothing or appliances or durable goods. The bathroom rugs may look a bit more worn, the towels are a bit older and small stuff like that can be dealt with. Our carpet needs replacing but we are waiting, etc., etc.

I still spend at the grocery store for good, at least medium quality food, and we do to eat out once a week as the eating out is “family time” after church when we sit and relax and shares the important things like what is happening in our lives, our thoughts and our spirtual lives.

I can skip the “new” whatever and feel the time and together experiences as a family are more important budget expenditures.We both drive vehicles that have 115,000 plus miles on them and keep them up and hope to make them last another two years. I wonder if the reason the auto industry is doing well is lots of people have older vehicles, like we do, and perhaps got to the point where they felt that “had” to replace them. I will spend money to go to community theatre or for some vacation time as, again, these are investments in relationships and not just “things.” I do not update my cell phone or computers every year – I try get it to last three years. We bought smart phones on this sort of schedule. We curbed back on the cable channels for my husband who loves sports and is more the TV watcher than I am. Still haven’t done in the land line since we are on the emergency team for our Village but this is a “need” due to those responsibilities.

We are a “quick fix” society and the way the economy and debt has overwhelmed our society is NOT a quick fix. I figure at least another five years for things to even settle down. Why can’t the retailers figure this out? Normal is NOT at the spend-thrift level we were all at before. A more conservative lifestyle IS the new normal. We are “baby boomers”, both just turned 60 and HAVE to look at the long-term. We are both looking to work until age 70 so we can get the higher Social Security since our 401(k) accounts took a bit hit in the recession. We read the fine print on those SS statements that have a disclaimer that the benefit is an estimate depending on funding. With the issues of Social Security having been robbed by the government to pay for other items, we figure that if we can work until 70 and then we are told the full-benefit earned is reduced, at least we will get more than retiring at 66. There are alot of us boomers out there and perhaps some others have the same mindset?

I am a “baby boomer” (age 64), I have everything, and what more could I possibly want? I am supposed to be downsizing at this point, not buying more junk. I already
own 50 neckties, three cars, four TVs, etc. Why should I blow money on
Chinese junk at Target and Walmart when I can save money for retirement? I
think the population is aging, and older people just don’t shop as much or
need as much. As far as the younger generation, all they want is one or two
sets of grubbies, a hoodie, sneakers and their DEVICE.

I’m also wary of inflated prices at all these stores. And inflation will
continue-or get worse-after I retire and get on a fixed income.

Finally, I’ve put the brakes on TRAVEL to all these stores. With $4 gas, it
just has to stop somewhere. And there are revenuer cops, photocop, traffic
and all the other factors that have made driving less enjoyable or
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Old 09-29-2013, 03:56 PM   #2
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thanks, Penn. Thats a GOOD read.
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