Ah, the holidays. Roasting chestnuts on an open fire. Making a dreidel out of clay. Sipping an eggnog latte at Starbucks. And, of course, shopping, shopping, shopping ‘til you drop…into another Starbucks for another eggnog latte, this time with a rejuvenating extra shot of espresso to fuel your trek to the next mall.
Shopping is America’s true national pastime, and not just during the holidays. The holidays simply exacerbate this condition. And like our other pastimes—football, gambling, drinking, Dancing with the Stars—shopping can turn on a dime from guilty pleasure to nasty addiction.
Studies show that as many as 17 million Americans—more than one in 20—can’t control the urge to shop, even at the expense of job, marriage, family, or finances.
Here, in America, we’ve become Shopaholicstan.
Even on those rare occasions when uber consumers take a break from shopping to participate in a quaint activity called reading, many apparently read about shopping. Confessions of a Shopaholic, the first book in the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella, has received a whopping 806 customer reviews on Amazon.com as of the writing of this article. The real surprise is that 806 people took the time away from shopping to write a book review. I guess they were mostly written during one of those three am/ dark night of the soul/ can’t sleep-but-can’t-shop interludes.
Oh, but how silly of me to think one can’t shop at three in the morning. There’s always online shopping, of course. And then there are the 24-hour pharmacies and supermarkets. And let’s not forget the early morning hours of the biggest shopping day of the year: the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday.
This year, Toys R Us nationwide opened at 5am, Macy’s opened at 6am, and some stores opened their doors for the Midnight Madness stampede of bargain hunters.
And madness it was. In Massachusetts, drivers created a four-hour traffic jam trying to get to Wrentham Village Premium Outlets. And when many shoppers finally arrived, they had to create their own parking spaces on the grass because all the available spots were already taken.
At Alderwood Mall outside of Seattle, midnight shoppers could not get past each other, they were packed in so tight. Similar stories abound about malls around the country. In fact, the number of shoppers Thanksgiving weekend totaled 147 million—that’s approximately half the American population!
Naturally, shoppers should take advantage of bargains. Who wants to pay retail? But, are reduced prices worth the cost?
Consumers aren’t the only ones paying dearly for bargains. Around half of American workers shopped while at work on Cyber Monday, the online world’s equivalent of Black Friday, resulting in a corporate condition that strikes fear in the hearts of executives everywhere: lost productivity.
As if the problem of shopaholism isn’t serious enough among Americans, we’re now attracting people with the same disease from across the pond. With the dollar at a record low, Brits and Europeans are flocking to our shores—not to take in the bright lights of Broadway or to celebrate one of Europe’s finest (Rembrandt) currently on exhibit at the Met—but to crowd the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue or even board buses to suburban malls.
On a personal note, I must admit that ever since that damned book French Women Don’t Get Fat came out, I’ve harbored a grudge against those slim hipped, cigarette smoking, small-portion eating, fast-walking chic Parisians, and, now, if they’re going to flaunt their fashion sense in Jersey, then we really must seal our borders.
Shopping, for lack of a better word, is evil. Still not convinced? How about the 21 million toys from China recalled this year due to the use of lead paint and, in some cases, a chemical that turns into the date-rape drug when ingested?
Happy holiday, everyone!
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// Marginal Utility
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