Friday, July 19, 2013

This Week In Go Away: Retail Creep

Creep You
What, you may ask, is Retail Creep? It is the practice of making available for purchase seasonal items a little earlier than the year before.

Nice phrase, huh?

Now, I'm going to quote a number at you. That number is $84,000,000,000.

Too big to visualize? OK, let's get manageable. $688.

The first is the total expected revenue in the United States for Back To School sales, which have been running at some stores for, I kid you not, weeks.

The latter is the average for how much each freaking household will spend.

The numbers are real, by the way. Ad Age. Shopping For Jebus, by comparison, comes in at $580 billion, but the per household bite is pretty similar, because, well, everybody shops for Jebus, but not everybody haz kids.

Now, um, I guess there will be a day when I spend that much. Perhaps when the eldest goes off to college (oh, she's going, I'm counting the days), and I need to do stuff like get her a dorm fridge, toaster, text books, housewares, et al. Though why I would have focused all of that pain at once, rather than add things to her room as she got near departure, I'll never know. Oh, and when I do purchase these things, I will do so in the same method in which I purchase stuff for myself -- which is to say, I will take advantage of clearance sales and/or buy used stuff online and the like. Because, well, I will be paying for a considerable chunk of the utter fiscal horror that is college, and she will be 18. There will be no reason for her to have top-line stuff, because she will trash it, because she will be 18 and surrounded by other 18 year olds. This is the way of the world.

But that's not how people are going to spend $688 per house, and we get to that number without all of those families having broods of children or the college dorm expense. No, what is going on here is top-line spending in a borderline prisoner's dilemma of turning the kids into referendums on their parent's style, and/or the child's ability to manipulate them into bigger buys. And all of that is fine, really, in that I am an American and in advertising to boot, but I'm here to let you all in on a terrible, terrible secret.

The longer that you make a buying "season", the more people will buy.

That's why Retail Creep exists. And why, unless we wise up, it will only continue.

Two weeks ago, as a natural consequence of a greater commitment to physical fitness, I decided to add a couple of pairs of shorts to my rotation. My daughters could use some more of them as well. So we went to the sporting goods store, in early July no less... and found exactly what we needed. On the clearance rack, for about 80% off list price, because who the hell would buy shorts in early July? Dammit, this is when you buy fall clothing! For, well, full price.

Do you know what happens if you miss all of the big back to school sales? You shop for similar stuff a week before school opens, and if your kid doesn't have the exact right notebook or protractor that the school put on its list, you tell your kid to throw you under the bus as an Irresponsible Parent to their teacher on the very off chance that anyone notices, and you pocket the 80% savings for not being a puppet. Hey, more money for the inevitable magazine / chocolate / sex toy sales to support the PTA later, right? Right. And no kid ever flunked a course because their 2-section bound notebook had 3-sections. Honest.

We're turned into a nation of panicky, fear-based hoarders, people. And, well, we're teaching our kids a terrible lesson. That marketing and advertising is smarter than your parents. That if the crowd all runs to do the same thing, you better do that thing faster and with more ruthless determination, rather than, well, think. And that living their life in anticipation for an event, or buying their way through the bummer that is said event, is how they should live.

That's all bullsquat. Grade A, premium grade, pays the bills in some indirect way for my family but remains complete and utter bullsquat.

Buy things when you need them, not months before. Be better than the panic. Improvise if you somehow aren't able to get something that sells out, rather than pule about it. End Retail Creep in our lifetime.

And then write smug blog posts on the slowest sports day of the year about how much better your life is for it.

Works for me!

(Oh, and don't worry: my two kids will get all of their books and supplies. They will be dressed appropriately, They will have stuff to decorate their locker and probably a new bookbag, and some new clothes not because its back to school, but because it's fall. They will dress in a manner that tells the teacher that they are here to learn and not distract, while also giving them some ownership of their own style. And all of that will happen for a sane price, and if said sane price is not achieved, we'll wait and get stuff later. Just like last year, when we didn't buy back to school stuff until, well, late August. You know, close to, um, Back to School.)

Editor's Note: Oh, and just this morning...

The National Retail Federation says families will spend less outfitting their children for school this year, laying out an average of $634.78 on clothes, apparel, supplies and electronics. That’s a considerable decline from last year’s $688.62...

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