Friday, November 27, 2009

Thoughts on our national day of shopping . . .

Today is Black Friday, the first day of the annual national shopping spree that historically shifts retailers' accounts from red ink to black. As good Americans, I guess we should all hope that this particular bit of history is doomed to repeat itself, since our economy is famously fueled by shopping. Consumer spending drives 70% of America's gross domestic product.

This morning's shopping forecast, however, is not great.

Nouriel Robini, professor of the Stern Business School at New York University and chair of Roubini Global Economics, writes a weekly column for Forbes. He had this rather grim assessment embedded in this week's column titled, "Will the World Go Shopping?"
A measure of weekly retail sales released by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs indicates that same-store sales flattened over the first three weeks of November, though compared to 2008, sales are up by a promising average pace of 2.9%. The National Retail Federation projects retail sales will fall 1% during this holiday season, compared to an average 3.4% annual gain in holiday sales over the past decade. After the sharp slide in 2008, a decline of "only" 1% or even a small positive gain in 2009 holiday sales may seem like a welcome number; however, accounting for the base effects of a dismal 2008 season, the underlying reality for retailers remains grim for this holiday season.
We shall know more tonight, of course. The ever-vigilant Washington Post reporters were out predawn this morning, scouring the malls to report that:
They came, they shopped and then, apparently, they went home to get some sleep.
The long lines of Black Friday shoppers that formed overnight at Washington-area malls, outlets and big-box stores had largely dissipated by daylight, with the savviest -- or craziest? -- bargain hunters temporarily sated, and most regular folks not quite ready to venture out.
Later on in the same article:
A strong showing on Black Friday can help solidify a retailer's image as a shopping destination or merely a drive-by and is seen as crucial to building momentum to last through December. . . The marathon recession has made retailers' performance this holiday season even more significant.. . .Many economists believe that without robust spending by shoppers during the holiday season--kicked off by Black Friday--the country's nascent recovery will peter out.
Remember our just-retired president, George W. Bush, exhorting us to go shopping after 9-11?

Oh dear me . . .

I don't know about you, but this day depresses me. As an old hippie (peace, love, and flower-chains for all!), I do hate to face the fact that out grand nation's economy is mostly powered by the acquisition of stuff. What does that say about us and our values?

I'm no economist and refuse to play one on this blog. Righting the world's fiscal ship is complex beyond measure, and I'm not going to spout any ill-informed suggestions for doing it. Besides, it's not the economics of shopping that bothers me, its the results of shopping. It's what the acquisition of yet more stuff does to our lives, our houses, our souls!

We're desperately aware of our need for a differently fueled automobile. Might we also--for the greater good of us all--need a differently-fueled economy?


  1. I so agree with you -- a consumer driven economy really depresses me; I see it as the cause of many ills that plague our society. Nonetheless, I joined my husband at 6 am on Black Friday for a trip to Target. It was a kind of surreal experience -- still pitch black outside, and yet the store was filled with swarms of bright-eyed people and the parking lot was jammed with a sea of cars. (Imagine if we could muster such energy and enthusiasm to picket against the big retailers who rule our lives!) The line for the checkout wound all the way around the store and then outside. People were doing their shopping as they stood in line, throwing DVDs in their carts and pulling plus-size fleece jackets off their hangers, holding them up to their bodies and then tossing them into the cart as well. Then other family members would join them with more heaping carts making the line so thick you couldn't tell who might be butting in. Not an experience I'm eager to repeat. And then the $39 sewing machine my husband bought promptly fell apart at home!

    You should have been out there reporting Martha! I'm sure you'd have gotten some great stories.

  2. It was a kind of surreal experience -- still pitch black outside, and yet the store was filled with swarms of bright-eyed people and the parking lot was jammed with a sea of cars.

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