Down for the count

November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving’s over, not a minute too soon. A friend in retail pops in to say that she survived Black Friday (and Saturday, and Sunday) at her local Gap-derivative by hiding in closets and shooing customers off the floor when they asked questions: “They can help you at check-out.” “Have you tried customer service?” NPR reports “a promising start” to the gruesome season: “The average holiday shopper spent $398.62 this weekend, up 9.1 percent from $365.34 last year. Total spending reached an estimated $52.4 billion.”

That’s a lot of patriotism. Imagine what could be done with the money if it were raised for something durable, like education or libraries. Roads and bridges? Family planning?

Me, I could never make it in retail. I lack a certain je ne sais quoi — obedience, mainly, and the eagerness required to make customers feel good about buying things they don’t need. I also won’t pretend to look busy when there’s nothing to do — a cardinal sin in the market place. At J. C. Penney’s, years ago – it was my first paying job – they put me on the floor selling shoes. Apart from wearing them all my life I had no training for this. I certainly didn’t know why I had to straighten them every five minutes when they were already lined up like missiles on Moscow. I thought the customer always came first. When weary mothers asked if the cheaper, Penney’s-brand sneakers would last their kids the summer, I told them the truth.

“Oh, no,” I said. I was raised on George Washington and Honest Abe: “You’d do better to buy an expensive pair now, rather than come back in August and pay twice.”

Needless to say, I wasn’t a winning member of the Penney’s team. After a month, they put me in sporting goods selling rifles (!) and then in menswear, where I spent a long evening — my last—measuring suits to be sent to the tailor. Again, no training. I just put the chalk marks where I thought they should go and never went back.

Now The Wall Street Journal warns that we are not to be misled by the jingling tills of Black Friday: “Widespread hype about stores opening on Thanksgiving night merely prodded shoppers to spend sooner, not necessarily buy more overall. Smart-phone coupons and TV and Web advertising have fooled consumers into believing this year’s deals were better than in the past.” Apparently no amount of fooling can get people to remember that all the deals are better in January and that “holiday stress” is optional. This proven willingness to be led by the nose was the spark of the #Occupy movement. Any game can be changed by refusing to play.

Of course it’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. On the bright side, Christmas does stem the tide of those endless TV commercials for car insurance, prescription drugs, cell phone service, online dating and toilet paper (“It’s time to get real about what happens in the bathroom!”). Anything that spares us a minute of “Flo” or Cymbalta® has the thanks of a grateful nation.

This just in! Cheerful Stores Drive Away Stressed Christmas Shoppers, Experts Warn


5 Responses to “Down for the count”

  1. John Hayes Says:

    $398 billion–Good grief! Loved the JC Penney story.

  2. Peter Kurth Says:

    Guaranteed authentic!

  3. Liz Williams Says:

    Hmm, Peter is that guy in the Christmas card a dead ringer for Lenin or am I seeing things?

  4. Peggy Luigs Says:

    Ugh! You have that picture of that woman who drives me crazy in the insurance commercials. I wouldn’t buy anything from them just because of the commercials.

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