Friday, November 28, 2008

Pattern Recognition # 6 - Black Friday

This grim sounding term is used to reference the day after Thanksgiving as the start of the Christmas shopping season. For some retailers, holiday sales account for as much as 25% or more of their annual sales. There is a lot of hope that people will go shopping to stimulate the economy.

One blast from the past is the return of the lay-away plan which was the way most people saved up for major purchases before everyone had a pocketful of credit cards. The concept was simple. People made payments toward their purchases, and then took possession of the goods once the payments were complete. But people were happy to pay the credit card interest in return for getting to take the goods home today. Lay-away may never go back to being the most popular method, but it may offer a great solution for a lot of people. And perhaps there is something good about giving more thoughtful consideration to our purchases. Have you ever gotten a credit card bill and noticed charges on there for purchases, but you can't remember what those purchases were? Probably a sign that it wasn't really important to you, and that you could have lived without it.

What other pattern may affect Black Friday? Perhaps this trend in becoming more conscious about what we are buying and why we are buying it can be seen in some of the trendy new products.

If you have gone to purchase a stereo recently, you probably have noticed that it is difficult to find one that will also play tapes. Even though CDs surpassed tape cassettes a long time ago, many of us still have music we like on tapes, books on tapes, talks or training programs on tapes. Most stereo systems now include ipod ports, and eventually discs may be phased out too, the same as tapes were. So if you want to listen to music, you will either find yourself purchasing downloads for your ipod or trying to find a stereo that still will play the older technologies.

Although the ipod is more convenient, should it get lost, stolen, damaged or develop a technical problem, all of a sudden you have to waste time reassembling or repurchasing your entire sound collection. And yet, I do see the attraction of having a whole library of music on one little gizmo. But all new technology hits a point where all the early adapters have the new thing, and then you hit the sales resistance from the people who just don't care that much about the new products.

Early adapters bought the iphone as soon as it came out. Of course, it is not just the device that is more expensive than a cell phone, it is also the monthly fees. I use my cell phone for making phone calls, and even though it has a built in camera, I have never taken a picture with it. When I want to surf the web, write emails, or make entries on my blog, I do it on my computer. Reading and writing on a 2-inch screen has no appeal for me.

How will all of this play out? Is there a bottomless appetite for video games, cell phones with miniature screens, ipods and all the other gizmos? Or will the purveyors of these goods find that many consumers have decided that they can live without them just fine, and increasing the market share for these things may get more difficult?

It looks like what we are really seeing is people reconsidering the wisdom of some purchases and getting the best price they can for what they do purchase. Maybe this is all about slowing down and savoring each moment instead of multi-tasking all the time.

Isn't it interesting that all of these changes in technology may spur an interest in slowing down our purchases? Maybe it is time to get off the merry-go-round of getting sucked into always buying new devices.

Then we might once again discover the pleasures of engaging in experiences such as attending a live music performance or play with the money we save by renting from Netflix rather than going to movie theatres or on cable subscriptions. We might rediscover the pleasures of reading a book or engaging in conversation. With the money we save on electronic devices, we could buy a number of readings or massages and get back to the personal touch.

Our economy could shift in a good way. What if the rush to buy gizmos was replaced by purchases of personal services and live entertainment?

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