Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It ends and begins on Septemeber 2nd

On September 2nd, a group of about 300 American consumers will hit a personal milestone. With the exception of a few items like undergarments, they will not have purchased any new clothing for a full calendar year. The will have completed their pledge to The Great American Apparel Diet. The first annual diet was launched in 2009.

Often times when people remove something from their lives for a set period of time they race out and indulge once they’ve met their goal. Like, if I gave up baked sweets for a year? I’d have a huge sheet cake waiting for me to jump upon and roll around in so that every pore of my body could soak up that butter, cream, vanilla, sugar…

I don’t have the impression these consumers are going to be renting U-Hauls to hold all the goods from some wild shopping frenzy after September 2nd.

I imagine they’ll simply sign up for another year of not buying new. I imagine they’ll recruit friends to join.

Radically changing your shopping behavior in America is a personal and spiritual journey. We’re blasted practically everywhere we go to purchase items, many items that serve no real personal purpose.

It’s time to consider if you’re ready to join this group for the coming year. Should you take this challenge and hold to it, I promise other parts of your life will change too, all for the better. I’ll sponsor you. Email me when you’re fighting the urge.

Yes, many people treat me like I’m “cute” because I shop reuse. This is not fluff. This is how we choose to spend our money, our personal resources.

Me? I'm now in need to go out an buy a batch of cupcakes.

If you know of other retail diets, please list them in the comments.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pushing the re-set button on American retail

My mental back-burner's been simmering since the former post, “A Plea to Anthropologie.”

I fell short on a few critical points about this business proposal. Keep in mind, the mission of this blog is "dedicated to a robust reuse market." We do this by offering tips, testimonials, photos and stories from our readers. Sometimes we must pull back our sleeves and climb out on the fragile limb of brainstorming alternatives to the current retail system. Strange how this can be such a touchy subject.

Our American retail system has effectively constructed many mental obstacles on our consumer highway. New product retailers cling fast to their current MO - which is slowly (and not so slowly in some cases) destroying their customers' purchasing power. Even the most simple business model shows we can't buy much if we have no money. Who wins then? Example, do we wait until we’ve tapped all the global oil wells before we are forced by a monumental crisis to significantly make change?There is such a thing as change that can benefit both retailer and consumer. It's time.

It messes with my brain to witness how short-sighted the American cultural ecosystem has become. We’re short-sighted on energy, education, economics, health care. Even our eating habits are short- sighted. Short attention spans, anyone?

Obviously businesses are in business to first make a profit, or they can't do anything else, but that doesn't mean that's all they can ever do. Sadly, whenever someone hints that businesses consider having a social conscience, the market stops smiling and wags that nasty finger, declaring such a gesture would be one from a"socialist" or "anti-capitalist." Tell you what. Businesses better start caring about their American customers. Guess what guys, the majority of us? We've just about maxed out on credit and have little assets left. If you don't think it necessary to care about the health of your customers, I recommend you move your retail centers overseas to the countries were you've outsourced our income. However, you will need to adjust your price point to a third world economy.

I can't believe how much unsolicited credit lenders at throw at us. Should I jack the Golightly spending up to its credit limit, I can't fathom how the debt would ever be paid off, even with our modest but very smart mortgage. I’ll bet there are consumers out in Credit Land who could have bought two homes with all the (non-mortgage) interest they’ve shelled out. Someone please explain how this is good or right.
I once stood in line behind a woman at a major retailer who had two credit cards denied on her purchase. The clerk then gave her a 10% discount by opening a new credit account sponsored by the retailer. The clerk was thrilled because she received a commission for adding a new credit customer and the customer was thrilled because she now had more credit to mismanage. So there you have it. Spend money you don’t have. It’s okay. Really. Just live in the moment with your spending, it's the USA!

Here’s a few of what I perceive as mental/cultural obstacles that get in the way of people coming to understand the former post. If you don’t like Anthropologie - great - substitute a store you do like and believe sells a lasting, quality product.

Secondhand is not a market strictly open to poor people. I believe major discount big-box retailers have done a bang up job pushing the economically poor through their racks and double-wide register lines to purchase cheaply made crap. Unfortunately, this population has been, for some time, targeted as a growth industry. I cannot imagine how any architect can now design a structurally sound bridge to connect the gap between the haves and have-nots that "sustain" current conventional shopping. How about the corporate retail moguls be the first to test out that bridge? It might be wise to think about the purchasing patterns of such a large (and growing) segment of our society. Don’t ya think? Instead of thinking about methods to milk the poor, how about methods to give the poor milk so they can have strong economic bones to run that economic mile?

Secondhand is a market - plain and simple. There seems to be a misconception that profit cannot be pulled in this market. Au contraire! Goodwill has been widely recognized as a terrific business model. Okay, yeah, they are run off donations. But! Stores like Buffalo Exchange are thriving. We don't need to be victims of the usual demographic pigeonholes. We can dare to brainstorm alternatives.

Consumers don’t balk on buying a used house or car. Why the drama and disgust on other used items (unless they're considered antique or vintage)?  Most readers of this blog have no hang ups with secondhand goods. But, step outside your community and examine mainstream America. They have serious problems with it, almost a borderline phobia. I know, I know! I run into my friends at the neighborhood thrift and no one is embarrassed. It’s like meeting for coffee. I’ve friends who have significant income who shop thrift and feel not an ounce of shame. But there are people who would rather indiscriminately abuse $40K in credit card power by purchasing $178 blue jeans (yes, at stores I cite on this blog) rather than even considering a similar (or even identical) pair for $4.99. This may be true even if the original price tags for $178 were still dangling from the thrift store pair!  My fellow thrifters, these people don't need our pity, they need our help! Maybe conversion to second hand can be an act of civic responsibility. Don't think twice about it

There are more points to be scored in mass reuse than recycling. We mostly recycle down in product quality. The business world likes recycling because it doesn't really offer much competition. Recycling is a worthy practice. There is a now a huge industry that supports recycling. Note recycling requires a respectable use of energy to transform the product. Recycling = Good. What's wrong with Reuse = Good?

Reuse fundamentally requires a simple exchange via transaction. Purchasing a gently-used wardrobe? That's competition for new product. How strange that most Americans like the word competition, but not if it's from reuse. Fine for department stores to sell a "lot" of unsold merchandise to close-out retailers. But reuse? Forget it. I guess the American businesses want us to just chuck our reusable items in landfills to clear out our homes so we can purchase more new stuff. This is actually happening with some large retailers. They destroy unsold merchandise before placing in it the dumpster. Remember this January post in 2010?

It is entirely possible to build a reuse economy that caters to different economic tiers. There is a relatively small system of a tiered reuse market in place but, it’s in desperate need of growth both in product and customer quantity. There’s enough inventory in American homes to sustain a sweet secondhand market. Think of all the stuff that’s been acquired via decades of conspicuous consumption. Wow. And it’s just sitting there in closets, attics, and basements. We’ve even had an entire storage economy housing this stuff! Double wow.

Our market system was once globally admired because it encouraged ingenuity, not just greed. Used house and car market aside, its an irony that we lack the collective creativity to succeed in a statistically significant way through a more open and prevalent resale reality.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A plea to Anthropolgie

Dear friends at Anthropologie,

Anthroplogie stores are more than a shopping environment, they are a refuge; at least for me they are. The classic and vintage-inspired clothing is a relief against the keystone cop approach to trendy fashion hooking most Americans and dressing them like lost children in a deep and desperate identity crisis, one that will never find peace.

Antropologie, your stores have provided many Americans with fashion/style rehabilitation.

The problem is many Americans cannot afford your current prices.

Given this, I ask you to stand behind your product, it’s quality and test of time by opening an Anthropolgie resale market. Do not develop a lower grade product to broaden your market like so many other retailers before you in the form of false outlets. Do not compromise your quality or design. Take your current customers and offer them the opportunity to sell back items they no longer need. Offer them store credit towards new purchases to strengthen that initial market and open a new market of second hand Anthropolgie. Toss in authentic vintage if you like. Go beyond selling and teach. Yes, teach your customers about quality. Teach us how to own something wonderful and wear it for 20 years. Be good to your customer, consider what will keep them healthy and they will return the good will by remaining loyal and marketing your efforts over coffee with friends. What better marketing effort is there than personal testimony?

The current store theme evokes the feeling of a French flea market. Designers decorate stores with simple, everyday items and make them beautiful if not enchanting. Why not broaden that to wholly embrace the French flea market style economy?

Please lead American consumers in a market that is not addicted to trends, but integrity, dignity and poise. Be more a kin to the original flea markets of France. Help us appreciate re-use for your profits, consumer pocket books and the Earth’s general well being. Promoting reuse would make a bigger difference than selling reusable shopping bags.

Please help pioneer this new market and smart business model. I’m not certain that many companies would buy back their products from consumers when their product is cheaply made or is so trendy, it’s obsolete a month after purchase. You, on the other hand, have the goods to go the distance.

Smart, economically sound customers are good customers. When all the other customers have maxed out their credit, your stable customers will go the distance.

I have hope,
Ms. Shopping Golightly

Posted in the Comments but thought it should be elevated as a Post Script:
I can only hope that retailers go back to the old ways of business. Reciprocity has become passé in so many segments of our current culture, especially in the retail world.

I hope that someday retailers learn they cannot bleed consumers of their assets to meet Wall Street projections. How short-sighted can a buisness be? The monetary bloodletting of a customer base is either extremely selfish or stupid. Most American consumers are out of cash, maxed out on credit, unemployed or underemployed.

Competition must not always boil down to money. There are plenty of other ways to operate a smart, sound and lasting business model. I've no doubt that many will view these words with disdain. Too bad, we've reached the point of a retail revolution.