Retail in Therapy – Part I

Last Saturday, as I was preparing to head to the mall, my beloved and I had a brief conversation. No, dear friends, this conversation did not start with him saying “Again? Didn’t you just go shopping?” In fact quite the contrary, he expressed surprise that I was heading to our local mall at all, since I had only been there once since well before Thanksgiving. No, *really*, only once, and that was to shop with a friend. Wow!

Before you all applaud me for my amazing frugality I must clarify that I am not *buying* less, indeed not, in fact Mr. Commando has quipped that he has developed a close personal relationship with our UPS guy. I am still shopping; I am just not buying things at the mall much anymore. This has come on so gradually over the past several years even I hadn’t really noticed it much. How strange! I wonder why?

Clearly something has changed. And not just for me. a recent radio talk show discussed survey results that indicated shoppers are more frequently looking at merchandise in a store and then going home to buy it on line – and not always just for better prices or special deal, either. Some retailers have become so pushed with the cost of this behavior, that they charge customers a fee to try things on, which is applicable to merchandise you buy in the store!

Retailers spend a great deal of time and money in creating atmospheres, staff and merchandise to lure you – to make you feel good and to make you BUY. And yet, as I zoomed through our mall last Saturday I realized, sometimes it just doesn’t really work. The bright lighting and oddly quiet or loud atmospheres left me feeling a bit fuzzy and dazed. I was either bombarded by far too much merchandise crowding my senses or stood stranded in an austere, minimalist environs where one ridiculously expensive garment was suspended high above, with its five very small other sisters discreetly located near by.

In these tough economic times sales people tend to eye customers with that queer hungry look usually associated with a pack of starving animals as they view a lone, defenseless prey. Now, I am a big believer in building relationships with sales associates; they can truly enhance your shopping experience. A friend who shopped with me at my local mall once got a kick out of the hugs and how-are-you’s that greeted our entrance at the shoe stores, the boutiques, even Saks and Nordstrom. A testament to just how much time I used to log in the stores, of course, but those relationships have been great and the help was genuine – the sizes tracked down at other stores, the secret sales notifications, the extra samples at the make up counter. Fab! But the grasping, nearly desperate and wholly fake feeling “help” – not so much.

In some cases the merchandise selection has become frankly disappointing, too. The number of stores is reducing, no doubt, but so has the number of designers and product lines. While less glaringly obvious then a vacated store front, we have said sad farewells to some favorites – without even realizing it! How do you see what isn’t there? What has been left behind is clearly showing the imprint of our stumbling economy. Overall quality, even in typically reliable brands and at stores like Nordstom, has been more frequently disappointing. The fabrics thinner, the cuts stingier, linings – gone, glue replacing stitching in shoes, all the signs of cost reducing measures. Not surprising, but it definitely impacts the desire to buy.

So the merchandise, store environments and sales help need, well, help. And yet my spending hasn’t decreased. What is up with that?! Where and how *am* I, and others, getting their retail therapy? More on that in Part 2 – stay tuned. Meanwhile I would love to hear from all of you – has your shopping routine changed? Do you see a difference when you shop?

One Comment to “Retail in Therapy – Part I”

  1. I like my new friendship with the UPS (and FEDEX) guys. I can now identify their arrival by the sound of the truck, and meet them at the door. Sometimes I offer them a drink, and we chat a bit (weather, Ducati’s, strange neighbors). In this new era of cocooning brought forth by online shopping, this is a breakout new social opportunity, and I’m a social butterfly.

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