I'll be the first to admit that I'm skittish by nature. So many things can fit underneath my trifecta of fear: death, disfigurement and disease. I call them the 3-Ds. My fears can most certainly be listed under one or more of those categories.
Now, I have the "things that worry me" category. That list is long, never-ending and has no rhyme or reason. The country itself is on a kind of worrisome, frightened warpath. Everything seems to stem from the economy and the faulty foundation upon which it rests. Oklahoma and, more specifically, Tulsa are fortunate enough to not be suffering quite like the rest of the country. People are losing jobs, but companies are hiring. I seem to be hearing of more friends and friends of friends that are buying houses, not dealing with foreclosure. Gas prices are the most impressive anyone has seen in some time. All this good fortune, but people aren't spending a fortune.
At least, that's what the media tells you to believe. It's what I was led to believe. Americans are spending less because of the economy. MediaPost.com reported early this month that: "It looks like the sluggish economy has finally gotten its hooks into Internet sales. The growth in online shopping hasn't just slowed, 'it's fallen off a cliff,'" said Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore. "E-commerce has emerged as the earliest warning signal that there's a problem with disposable income."
GetElastic.com conducted a dozen or so polls trying to figure out if consumers will spend more, less or the same as they did last year. Though the polls bounced into every division of 100 percent, they completed their goal to elicit fear about shopping.
Don't believe me? Read the CNN.com report that said Wall Street has "all eyes on the consumer"; it's the piece sandwiched between a story about banks stabilizing and another about job reports.
So, apparently we're supposed to save every dime in case we're next, while spending every pinched penny to help save the world. And what are Tulsans doing? Evidently, a slight variation of their regular shopping routine.
I began to question this cluster of media shopping reports when I took a dreaded trip to the mall. I was surprised to see so many shoppers, expecting to see something resembling a Western ghost town. Additionally, I was amazed to see so many fixtures with merchandise that looked very new (I'm talking this season's freshly unpacked picks) with signs declaring 30 and 50 percent off. Now, I know the holiday season is rapidly approaching, but this felt like too much too soon. I began investigating what stores are offering, what shoppers can expect and what they should avoid as they shop for the holidays in the next few weeks.
It's unfair to assume that big box corporations are fine and dandy as places like Circuit City file bankruptcy, but the Tulsa economy tugged at my heart strings. The city is only as cool as its small businesses, and some could be at risk. The problem is that Tulsans have readily admitted that the reason they neglect locally owned boutiques is the higher prices.
How would our citizens react if they were lead to believe spending will send them to the poorhouse? I spoke with Kevin Otis, one of the owners of Chrome Clothing Company (voted one of UTW's Absolute Best clothing boutiques). The store, like so many boutiques in Tulsa, boldly declares "Sale" in its window. I wondered if this had to do with the state of the economy or the time of the season. Otis said his shoppers are still spending, just not in the same pattern they once did. "Instead of coming and purchasing weekly, they're coming several times monthly," said Otis. Tulsans are no longer wasteful with clothing, making "more thought out purchases--it's no longer about buying something to wear on the weekend," he added.
Otis said that the recent sale at Chrome occurred earlier than normal, a move he made to keep up with big box chain stores that start holiday sales much earlier. It wasn't a maneuver to squelch the scare tactics; in fact, Otis believes the sales prove that his particular customer demographic is still shopping. Chrome Clothing Company will continue their regular holiday plans, but have nothing over-the-top in the works. Rather than paying attention to the "doom and gloom" in the media, they're sticking with offering the best customer service to coincide with good products.
The thing is, people who have the means to buy designer label jeans will always be the kind people able to shop in times of economic turmoil. The scare tactics are aimed at middle income Americans. Big box stores are massive because that's who shops there--the masses. Many people who hear the horror stories on the news about the economy shop in those retail areas.
Consulting with a friend who supervises one such store, I found the numbers read similarly to Chrome Clothing. Customers are waiting for sales and shopping clearance sections.
Incentives like that seem to be working, but others aren't received so well. Tulsans have the right idea when it comes to sale tactics that require newly acquired credit. Sales associates required to ask about opening a credit card ("It'll save you 7 percent on today's purchase!") are met with the response, "Are you seriously asking me that?" Whether shopping for you or purchasing gifts for loved ones, this is probably the right answer to have this year. Recession or not, these kinds of incentives can lead to debt and/or bad credit, not to mention the discount may not always be worth the risk. If a person doesn't pay off the card balance right away, the money saved will be surpassed with finance charges.
What's a person to do in this bizarre financial time? If these stores are any indication, you don't need to do anything extreme. Responsibility is key. I want to give the "spend in moderation" speech, but that falls on deaf ears during times of economic splendor. Instead, just be smart about shopping. Keep tags on items until the very second before they are worn. Sometimes love for an item doesn't extend past the store, but without those tags attached, you're stuck with it no matter what.
And keep receipts. Again, that item is with you forever whether you want it or not unless you have that slip of paper. For gift purposes, ask stores if they have a gift receipt to include for holiday items.
Don't feel tied to one price. Shop around. That's the wonderful thing about starting holiday or personal shopping so freaking early. It gives you the opportunity to find the best deals. Stores are also bringing back layaway which could secure you a fixed price even if you don't have all the funds to pay the full price.
If you buy an item and beat the sale, some stores have a policy with a time frame that allows you to get sale items post-purchase. Embrace sales, store incentives and coupons--all which have recently become quite trendy. Fashion mavens who might have dropped designer names like crazy are now bragging about how cheaply they got their great look.
And of course, there's always cash. This practice has become a novel idea amidst everyone who throws around plastic in both debit and credit varieties. This is how budgeting goes off kilter. Go to the bank or ATM, take out the specific amount of cash you plan to spend and leave all other forms of currency at home.
And, as the shoppers I spoke with and the retail owners and supervisors say, continue to have fun with shopping, just don't overindulge. Something here or there in moderation won't send you to the nearest homeless shelter. You'll help the economy, help yourself and keep away from the worry-inducing scare tactics of the media. As for the local focus on shopping, flip to page 49 to read about UTW's "Shop Local" campaign. Want to get your hands on some gift certificates? Read more and find out how.
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