The Socio-Economics of Sales: Part 1, United States Edition
May 28, 2017
Imagine you are from another planet sent to Earth to learn about the human race. You come prepared, dressing to fit in and carrying Earthling “money” in different currencies. Then you walk about looking for interesting experiences to learn from. One of the classic human pastimes of course is: shopping. No matter what you buy, the most intriguing part of the exercise will be interacting with people of different cultures.
Shopping in the United States at a mid-scale store will be an anonymous interaction. The store will most likely be in a nondescript Mall, and you will notice that no matter where you go in the 50 States, the brands and clothing options are strikingly similar. Most of the stores are geared towards the oddly important “youth market” so if you look like a human over the age of 30 – you will be basically invisible. You will find this strange, as most “people” and most other universe creatures are just starting to become successful, interesting, and rich over 30. Still, in the U.S. the Earthlings pander to baby Earthlings at an alarming rate. Stores know that even if these young ones are poor, they are still in the care of an elder – who will spend money on them. You will also realize that lots of older humans try to dress and act like these younger humans. These facts that will make you want to stand outside the Forever 21 Store shouting, “Turn back! It is a lie! It is not really forever!!!” The worst case Earthlings will ignore you and enter anyway. There is a delightful German saying about older people with long, colorful, bouncy hair, “Museum in the front, gymnasium in the back.” It is only funny when you know that gymnasium in German means: High School.
Most of the stores in the U.S. will have a heavy perfume pumped through the vents, something that marketers call ‘scent/brand recognition.” They will be dark and the walls will feature impossibly beautiful, young people with very little clothing on, something marketers call ‘aspirational images.’ The darkness also softens the wrinkles of the shopper and hides figure flaws in the dressing room. Lastly, the music will be loud. For the over 30’s, uncomfortably loud, which is simply a method of getting them to spend their money and leave in disgust. Even better, throw their credit cards at their teens saying, “I’ll just wait outside by the Relax the Back Store or Orangeleaf.”
No one will approach you to offer assistance. No one will even look at you unless you do something outrageous. Even asking for help is not always effective. Once you understand that most of “shopping” is really “looking” you will find yourself going into a store just to browse the isles and see what is new. On the off-chance that a newly hired or impressively board (or commissioned) employee comes your way, you may be asked, “Can I help you find something?” At that your automatic response will be a defensive, “I’m just looking!” Even if you realize a split second later that you did indeed need assistance.
Yes, consumerism is king in the U.S. even if it is often just an excuse to walk about and gain steps on fitbit. But let’s not stop too long; there are other exciting ports of call to visit. We will travel to Western Europe soon and eventually circle the globe discovering the how and why of spending. Stay tuned!