Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Shopping - The Hard Way

I went to the post office this morning to send out a book someone bought from me. When I got there I saw a woman, perhaps in her early forties, with an 18 month old child in her arm waiting for help. I asked if she was in line or not, and she said no, she was waiting for someone to give her a cart. She sounded rather put out that none of the post office staff would help her carry her parcels in, nor get her a cart.

As I thought about offering to help her carry her stuff in (I like helping people!), a dolly was brought out...."Don't you have a rolling cart? I can't use this with her..."

"I'll help you out," says me, and we go out to her white Hummer and pull out four or five boxes, one is quite large, the rest medium sized. One set of "stuff" is a bunch of toys in a plastic wash basin wrapped in plastic food wrap. It's about 3 feet long, 2 feet wide....She's hoping to get a box from the post office for this item, but I told her they probably won't have any of that size.

So we're in line talking about the stuff and how she's going to have to ship it priority for it to reach her son in New York by the weekend. Her son is having a baby and she's sending this array of toys. I warn her that priority mail can be expensive, especially on such big boxes. She didn't seem too concerned, but did say "Oh my...it'll probably cost me as much to mail it as it did to buy it all!"

I'd assumed that the toys were all hand-me-downs, but no, she'd been out and bought it all new, packed it, brought it to the post office and was about to pay through the nose for shipping. Do you see what's wrong here?!

"Why didn't you buy it online and just have it shipped to him?" I asked, ever the practical one. "I mean, Amazon has free shipping if you buy more than $25 of stuff, and you'd been click-click done in ten minutes. "Oh, that wouldn't be as much fun!" she laughed, pointing out with light sarcasm how enjoyable the crowds, lining up, getting price checks etc. can be. Two other ladies in line nodded and agreed...

I got the feeling they all thought I was right, but didn't want to give up their allegiance to shopping the old-fashioned way. I don't know why they'd do this (assuming I'm reading them correctly), but this lady seemed to have gone through the whole process in the hardest, and most expensive, way possible. I can only assume the current financial crisis hasn't reached up to her yet, but many people's lives have been hit hard, and attitudes to money are starting to change.

If you didn't know this already, its an interesting statistic: 70% of the American economy is made up of people shopping. Not companies buying aircraft or equipment, just you 'n' me wearing out shoes and passing time at the mall ("Recreational Shopping"?!). Americans have shown a remarkable willingness to spend more and more of their income on "stuff", and then to go further...they took out loans against the rapidly rising value of their houses, and spent that too, confident that living in debt was not a problem....until it was.

To me, this is a situation that can't go on much longer, and it seems to be coming to an end. This New York Times article says people are starting to live within their means, not buying anything on credit, not incurring more debt...just using good old cash, and saving for the things they want. This is much more sensible and is also a sustainable way of life - surely its better to have an economy built on something that CAN continue, rather than something which can't, isn't it?


Daniel Bowen said...

She drives a Hummer. Isn't it obvious she doesn't mind paying through the nose and doing things inefficiently?

I love Amazon et al. My 10-year-old cousin in England is getting all his birthday and Christmas presents via UK-based etailers!

Lilo said...

I love amazon. I bought tricycle for my niece through them. I also love the free shipping.

Brian said...

On a large scale things are continuing along this same line - people have tapped out their home equity loans and the two new fears are

(a) a rush of credit card defaults as people max out, then abandon, their cards and...you'll love this one...

(b) People taking out loans from their 401(k) (superannuation for you Aussies) Words cannot express how bad an idea this is. Borrowing from your own retirement funds!?

Lilo said...

I just checked out your flickr photos. Very nice!

Bill said...

In rural/low population areas (no Costco/Sam's/Wal-Mart) it's cheaper and more important, much easier to have Amazon Grocery ship most of your "dry goods" right to your door (free shipping).