Sunday, 4 May 2014

No, We Can't Just Be Friends - Chapter 4


Retail Therapy

Photo from the movie: Confessions of a Shopaholic

 "A bargain is something you don't need at a price you can't resist." - Franklin Jones

Sometimes we do it because our friends are doing it, sometimes we do it because we're feeling low, we might even do it because we're feeling extra happy; there is no denying that we all make impulse purchases on a frequent basis. Women lean toward clothes, shoes, and dining out, while men tend to go for electronics to satisfy the little impulse devil on their shoulder. Canadians on average have been spending around $4000 a year on items they do not need because it was on sale, or simply to cheer themselves up! That's $300 a month spent on crap, and I'm one of the worst offenders. I have a Tupperware closet, not drawer or cupboard, closet. If Tupperware is on sale, it's coming home with me; I need a Tupperware intervention.

We already know that consumers are spending more than they make, and now we know on what: junk they don't need. Consumers aren't ignorant to the fact either, we know when we've made impulse purchase (Alice in Wal-Martland) and that's the sad part, literally. Impulse purchases lead to regret and buyers remorse - like when I signed on the dotted line with the bank for my second car out of the uncontrollable want for something new and shiny and put myself further away from every owning a car outright. This is a good reminder to keep an eye on your purchases; it's time to ask yourself the question: Do I want this, or do I need this?

Retailers Target Women 
The current generation of women are more affluent than the women of yesteryear. We still don't make what we should be as we work shoulder to shoulder with our brethren, but the playing field is evening up as we take on less traditionally female roles, wait longer in our careers to have children, are sufficiently educated and know to invest for our futures. No matter how many bras we burn or shoulder-padded business suits we don, retails still cast women in the role of dish washer, laundry folder, and floor washer in their commercials. Screw you retailers for pigeonholing us like that in the 21st Century when we vote, drive our own cars, own our own homes, work full time hours, and yes, usually still have to do the dishes and laundry for our family. Nevertheless, we are strong and proud and can afford to hire cleaners. So once again, screw you retailers.  

The problems with retailers targeting women doesn't stop there. They know the stress we are under, juggling careers, relationships, motherhood, cooking, cleaning, driving, and trying to squeeze in an hour at the gym, not to mention the modern pressures in each of those categories: to get promotions at work, spend quality time with our spouses, raise intellectual children in the time of video games and YouTube, learn to cook like the folks on the Food Network, keep an immaculate and enviously decorated home, drive a car that shows everyone how successful we are, and look like one of the women from Mysteria Lane. Wait a minute, those aren't the standards we are holding ourselves up to, they are the standards that the media strongly suggest that today's women hold themselves up to, and advertisers compound the problem by targeting our insecurities. 

Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases and dominate the global marketplace in online spending, and now also account for almost half the spending in electronics, cars, and computer markets. It doesn't end there, women also buy for their husbands and kids; women be shopping! And retailers be paying attention; all of our habits are tracked in order to be manipulated. Advertisers pay big money to track, not just our spending habits, but our social habits as well. They know how many texts we send, what websites we visit, restaurants we eat at, stores we buy from, what we're driving, where we live, and who we live with. It's freaking scary how much they know about us, just by tracking our habits. Target has such an advanced habit tracking system that they can predict which of their customers has become pregnant or is thinking of conceiving.  Before the woman has even told other people about her plans or pregnancy, she will already be receiving infant formula coupons in the mail encouraging her to do her baby shopping at their store. Stalk much? It doesn't end there, they can try to get new customers by buying information about the women in their city based on credit card spending, web browsing and purchases and so on and so on, to hone in on their spending habits and send out flyers and coupons that would be appealing to their 'lifestyle'. You can take my word for it that Target is not the only retailer doing this, they all are, and not just with flyers in your mailbox, they are invading your email inbox as well. Think that junk email is random, it's not. Well, some of it is, like when I get emails urging me to increase my penis size, or when I get those email from 'Crystal' wanting to hook up with me. The rest, you can bet, are targeted marketing emails, sent to you based on your online activity combined with your offline spending habits. But why would retailers go through such lengths to send us junk mail? Because the projected value of eCommerce sales is an incredible $250 billion dollars by 2014, and retailers will do anything to get a piece of that pie. 

More and more, marketers are trying to get inside our heads to understand what women want. Even female marketers don't know what we want, but they can certainly learn what triggers our spending habit loop, searching for our spending willpower kryptonite. When I began my research for this section with an article written by Susan Fabry of Continuum, a market research company, I was insulted by the language used to describe us women who they, apparently, despite our decision making power and earning potential, think are idiots. Describing our shopping requirements to be a lot of handholding and warm and fuzzy feelings, "When women shop, they need to feel comfortable and wanted at every point in the decision-making process..." Here's another, "To reach women, Sprint has refocused away from tech industry jargon." Really? They think our small little lady minds can't understand cell phones? In their defense they did say that we could be CEOs - of the household. Again, what century are we in? In the end Sprint settled on a marketing strategy using photos of profession women and moms, recognizing smartly that they are indeed the same woman.  

Marketers understand, at least, that women are social creatures. We dominate the blog culture, sharing information about whatever interests us, including their products, and so they better be on our good side. Retail stores are spending money and going out of their way to make our shopping experiences comfortable, convenient, and memorable to keep us coming back. 

It's a Trap!
If I haven't already convinced you that we're being watched, an article in the Globe & Mail recently stated that "MasterCard Inc. is analyzing transaction data to help marketers direct targeted advertising at consumers, after launching a controversial initiative to make money from its vast database of retail purchases. This year the credit card network, which processes 34 billion purchases each year, began to help marketers target customers who are more likely to buy their products and services."

I don't know about you, but I feel betrayed. We spend all this time together cultivating a relationship by dinning out, catching shows together, taking long walks through the mall, even vacationing together, and this is how we're repaid? What a backstabbing, cheating, lying jerk! All the more reason to get rid of em'.

But the good old Credit Card companies and retailers who are in on the credit card game don't stop at giving our secrets away, oh no, they also like to play mind games with us. Promises like no interest, no payments for a year, make them seem oh so generous and we brag to our friends about how we got this great deal at the local big box store, but once that year is up, you had better pay up in full before they start tacking up to 30% interest  on that new red couch you just had to have because it went perfectly with your ten thousand pillows from Target.

And just to show you how little retailers think of women as individuals and how much they think about trying to get our money, here are some more ways they mess with us while we are innocently going about our business. Everything in a retail environment, from the smells, décor, lighting, light fixture music, room temperature, and uniforms. Even the ridiculously thin and perfect model/sales staff at Banana Republic are meant to entice you to shop there in order to look more like them. All together now: Urgh, gag me with a shovel. If I want to be manipulated, I'll stay at home and watch commercials. It's not enough that you've convinced me through print ads that I need wrinkle cream, but make sure to have a twenty year old have to link arms with me so that I don't wander off or fall down as she directs me to the over priced eye cream section and gives me advice that she won't need for another ten years. Well played Shoppers Drug Mart, well played - "I'll take two bottles, and how do you get your hair so shiny?" "Oh, you use the $120 shampoo and conditioner and $60 follicle treatment found in aisle twelve. Sounds great, let me just get out my credit card." Don't forget to pick up one of the twenty magazines at the checkout that will lower your self esteem even more; grab a Snickers at the cash too to ease the depression you'll feel from reading the magazine, or eat it when you realize how much you just spent when all you wanted was a little eye cream to combat aging. Oh wait, that's right, hush hush, no problem - you put all that crap on your credit card, so it's like you didn't spend any money at all. Phew, you almost felt silly there for a minute. Oh well, where can you go for lunch now that you saved all that money?

I love to shop after a bad relationship. I don’t know. I buy a new outfit and it makes me feel better. It just does. Sometimes I see a really great outfit, I’ll break up with someone on purpose. – Rita Rudner

If the fact that retailers and banks are out to manipulate us isn't enough to raise your blood pressure, here's one more person who is constantly manipulating you into spending your money recklessly: YOU, and the people you love.
Have you ever felt pressured to spend money? Not by a television commercial or really pushy sales person, but by your choice of shopping companion? You can trust that women's shopping habit have studied from every angle and it turns out that when we shop wiht friends we buy more. When I was a teenager, my best friend used to make me buy all the same clothes as her, even the same bathing suit! My boyfriend and I had matching jackets too. I swear, it was all peer pressure, I'm so not one of those people, but it was my money that purchased those items (I've been working since age fifteen). Even now when I shop with other women, we don't buy matching outfits, but I feel compelled to spend more than I had originally planned if they decide we are now on a shopping spree. In the spirit of honesty, I'm just as likely to declare a shopping spree whether with a friend or alone. It just feels good to decide not to worry about the fact that you'll have to cut something important from your budget, like entertainment, once you buy three more spring jackets, doesn't it? Except you won't cut anything from your budget later, you'll repress the fact that you spent foolishly and sink slowly further into debt quicksand.

There was a funny quote I read on "You know your a mother when going to the grocery store alone is like going on vacation." And you are probably spending less money. Moms spend up to 150% more at the grocery store when little Timmy and Suzie are tagging along. Take a look at the products in the store that are positioned at 'kid level', it's not by accident.

Compulsive Spending is something women often get accused of. "Just how many shoes do you need?" "Another purse?" "You only have one set of lips, why do you have twenty lipsticks?" for me, it's nail polish, I have buckets full of nail polish, mostly all are the same colour. I don't know what makes me do, but every time I'm at Wal-Mart, I find myself leaving with ten different colours on my fingers and my usual classic cream nail polish in my cart. The difference between an impulse to buy something that you are slightly obsessed with, like shoes, purses, or nail polish, and the irresistible craving-like desire to get in the car and seek out a mall, is that one is just lack of self-control, while the other is an addiction not to be taken lightly. The term shopaholic is used lightly, but if you think about it, compulsive spenders need to shop like an alcoholic needs a drink, or a gambler needs to hit the casino just one last time, and there really isn't anything funny about that. And like a gambling addict, a shopaholic will eventually get themselves into a world of financial trouble. Who do you think would get you sympathy first, the gambler or the compulsive shopper? Compulsive shoppers have a sickness that requires intervention, but because the majority of people in this world spend beyond their means, how do we know when somebody is an actual shopaholic who needs intervention? The triggers for a compulsive spender to shop are similar to a person seeking retail therapy, except it is never enough to satisfy them. Think of a gambler who can't tear themselves away from the casino, puts themselves into debt, and often gambles away any nest egg they may have saved for their family or retirement, because they just can't stop. So how do you know if you or somebody you know may have a real shopping problem? Here are a few indicators:
  • Instead of turning to the gym or a piece of chocolate, stress and anxiety trigger the incontrollable need to get straight to the mall, credit card in hand.
  • Relationships are strained due to a persons overspending, most arguments are spending related.
  • The thought of not being able to shop is depressing.
  • Purchases are becoming more and more elaborate.
  • The only time they feel normal, happy, and right is when they are shopping.
  • You are struggling to hide your debt and shame.
  • You are in excessive debt, and all your purchase have been frivolous.
  • You are facing serious consequences like not being able to pay rent, mortgage, or are being forces to repay enormous amounts of debt.
Shopaholism should not be taken lightly, if you think you have a serious problem, seek counseling and the support of group therapy. If you think you know somebody who has a serious problem, do the hard thing and confront the; you may want to seek professional guidance before approaching them.  Remember that addictions are usually deeply rooted in and caused by psychological pain and anxiety and should be treated  with love and understanding by friends and family and directed to professionals for  the appropriate treatment.

THIS MONTH'S MANTRA: No, we can't just be friends!

RELATIONSHIP ADVICE: Check out these websites
For The Emotional Shopper:
Lady Spends the Blues from Demo Dirt's Website and How to escape a shopping addiction

Answer this question: What are your shopping habits?

How to Change Your Habits:
Here are some recommended books that will make you an expert on habitual behavior - and master of your own habits. 
  • This Year I Will by M.J. Ryan
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  • The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal
THIS MONTH'S CHALLENGE: Change just one habit.
Changing just one habit successfully creates a snowball effect. Your willpower muscle is strengthened and you will continue to challenge yourself to make changes to better yourself.

Check out sites like Pinterest - All the satisfaction of retail therapy without spending a dime

Good Habits App -  Develop skills by doing a little every day. Get into the habit and don't break the chain! This app is based on Jerry Seinfeld's advice and makes it easy to keep track of your daily habits, with reminders so you never forget what you have to do.

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