If I had to name any one thing as standing out during the festive season of 2007 it would have to be the year when, in my opinion, consumer madness reached an all time high and I’m not sure if it has anywhere to go after this. It would appear that most retail stores started their ‘January’ sales almost two weeks before Christmas Day. People who organised themselves early were probably pained by seeing the very items they had snapped up in November, slashed by 25% and 50% in the week leading up to Christmas. Indeed if you were the highly organised sort you could have done Christmas 2008 in early December 2007 and if you were really brave and held your nerve until the 23rd of December, this Christmas could have been bought very cheaply. That thought leads nicely to the problem with all this; the ‘cheap’ factor. One has to wonder if by cheapening everything, have we, in essence, cheapened the event itself or is this what we like to call progress.
Then of course there are the real ‘January’ sales which now start on December 27th. The turkey is barely digested, the gift wrap from the mountain of stuff we received as presents hasn’t even gone to be recycled and we’re off again to the shops in the hunt for a bargain! It could almost be treated like a sport. There is a particular attire, attack and strategy adopted when going sale shopping. We haven’t even had enough time to really look at the gifts we received, let alone appreciate any of them, before we feel we need to vacuum up more stuff. Of course all of this is shrouded with the very thin and weak veil of self delusion that we are actually ‘saving’ money. There are always situations where it does make more sense to wait until the sales, particularly big ticket items such as furniture and white goods. If the tumble dryer has packed up then why not wait until there is a few quid off it in the New Year, that is truly a ‘saving’, but there is far more greed in operation during the sales that savings.
Most people love a bragain
Like most people I love a good bargain but I hate the post Christmas sales. The decorations that looked tasteful and festive up to Christmas Eve suddenly look tacky when joined by massive, gaudy red and yellow ‘Sale’ signs. The stampeding hoards of, mainly women, who all look like they are on a life or death mission for the half price top or slightly damaged box of toiletries, frighten the life out of me. The risk of getting an elbow in the ribs during the crush is enough to keep me out of the shops until the middle of February. The shops themselves always look like they have been raped by vandals as stuff is strewn on floors and shelves stand half empty and sad. Retailers also insist on defacing products, particularly seasonal ones, with huge ugly, sticky price stickers slapped onto boxes or red dots on the clothing labels.
The worst thing with sales is that you can be highly rational about them when sitting at home but that changes at the door of the shop. You know you don’t necessarily need the stuff and it is all a big retailing ruse, in fact if they are making a profit at 50% off, it raises the question about the true value of the goods to begin with.
The pixies will get you!
All of this makes perfect sense until you get there. Pop into town with the intention of exchanging something or doing one small errand and the sale pixies will get you. You may not believe in them, but they are invisible little sprites that stalk the streets after Christmas drawing you into packed shops. Their magic is potent and rarely fails. You can enter a store a perfectly reasonable human being and once inside the transition happens instantly. You get totally caught up in the spending excitement and frenzy that’s going on. Before you know it you have an arm full of fairly useless items that you are now treating like the holy grail of goods. You wait patiently in the queue, in the heat with the cumulative, distinctive smell of wet coats all around you and have your booty piled into an unattractive bag with Sale written across it in big bold letters. Gone is the pre-Christmas charm of ‘would you like that wrapped?’, and where is the tissue paper that the shops were willing to give out only three days previously. The same item lovingly bagged a few days before is now handled quite roughly and lobbed into a bag as quickly as possible with a loud ‘next please’, bellowed in your ears before you’ve even had a chance to put your wallet back into your handbag. You shuffle out the door feeling great and then the realisation strikes. You didn’t try the item on because the dressing rooms were closed. Did you really need another box of toiletries even if they were only a fiver? The sale pixies are now rolling with laughter as they chalk up another casualty.
Very rarely in my life have I bought anything I truly loved and treasured in a sale and that wisdom now keeps me out of the shops at this time of year. I know that I am vulnerable to the pixies and there is no doubt they will get me. Once I see that 75% off tag winking at me my eyes will glaze over and I will inevitably be the owner of a silk, jewel embellished, halter neck top that I will never wear in public.
So shopping and consumerism are most definitely the new religion. We can’t seem to get enough stuff and you have to wonder where it is all going. Despite the obvious downturn in the market our reaction to the sales suggests we are still on a spending kick. Last weekend Brown Thomas in Dublin reported being a full day ahead of sales targets this year when compared with the same period last year. Reports are in of people ‘running’ through the store the day the sales started. There were even individuals prepared to risk their own health and personal safety by queuing from the night before on O’Connell Street in the capital to be the first into Clerys Department Store and even here in Waterford, the ‘Next’ store on the Dunmore Road opened at 5am last Thursday morning!
However the icing on the cake has to be the plastic surgery firm in the UK that is offering three treatments for the price of two during January! That is how far we’ve come, that is the sort of progress we are making. Book a bit of liposuction to reduce the hips after the Christmas overeat, a new pair of perky boobs for 2008 and they’ll throw in a freebie; some botox or an eyelift perhaps? This needs little expansion – the mere fact that such madness exists suggests that the sale pixies are bigger and stronger than ever before – and we’d all better beware. The only thing we can hope for is that this obvious madness is reaching a natural tipping point. When invasive operations are being offered at discount prices it has to be the ultimate in poor taste. Happy New Year and here’s to a less greedy society in 2008.