Saturday, November 26, 2005

Why She Feels Better

One of the more obvious mistakes the mainstream media usually makes at this time of year is to refer to the American Shopper via the male-gendered third person pronoun He.

I guarantee that during some news report about holiday sales this weekend, some Talking Head will use this form when describing the shopping results from Black Friday, as in:

The American consumer is still spending; in fact Wal-Mart stores says he spent 4.3 per-cent more in November than last year…

The fact is that any retailer except maybe AutoZone and online engagement-ring seller Blue Nile will tell you that women drive their business.

Blue Nile, indeed, has made a business out of the fact that men hate to go to malls. More specifically, they hate to look for parking spaces, they hate to walk long distances past kiosks with stupid names, they hate to ask for help from some guy who knows nothing but how much commission he will earn selling this particular ring, they hate that awful fake smile and handshake when they've finally chosen a ring to buy, they hate to wait while the ring is boxed and wrapped, they hate to talk to the lady who takes their credit card and they hate to be smiled at and thanked and wished have a nice day! by the vaguely androgynous guy hanging around the exit…because men know deep down in their guts that they are being ripped off at every step of the way.

Blue Nile’s simple online ring selection converts what had been a shoot-me-please-before-I-have-to-listen-to-another-sweaty-salesman-tell-me-about-the-four-C’s-or-whatever-the-hell-it-is torture session into a sort of paint-by-numbers process that is so simple even a guy can now buy an engagement ring, in his pajamas.

No parking, no salesman, no problem.

Fortunately for most retailers, however, Blue Nile is still a small company with a very limited product line. Walk any mall in America and you will see women, mostly, leading the charge. Even tough guys—including, and I am not making this up, major league baseball managers—let their wives do most of the shopping.

How do I know this?

Well, I once spotted Mike Hargrove, now managing the Seattle Mariners but back then Manager of the red-hot Cleveland Indians, at a shopping mall in downtown Baltimore. It was 1997 and the Indians were in town to play the Orioles—believe or not, the Orioles had a good team back then—in the American League playoffs.

Hargrove was not, as a baseball fan might have expected, leading a bunch of rowdy Indian coaches and players on the late-morning tag-end of an all-night pub-crawl (his great team included a young right-fielder named Manny Ramirez).

No, the manager of the mighty Cleveland Indians was following his wife from store to store around the mall, and he was carrying the shopping bags for her.

I saw immediately that Mike was exhibiting all the signs of Husband Shopping Coma Syndrome (HSCS), in which the male’s arms become strained from carrying various cutesy shopping bags from various cutesy stores such that the blood has drained down into the hands, depriving the brain of vital red blood cells necessary to stay awake, which results in, first, sloth, then lethargy, and finally despondency.

I put Mike in the post-lethargy stage, dangerously close to despondency, though still functional, walking as he was in the staggering steps of a man ready to give up.

Furthermore, it was clear that noxious vapors—probably from the leather purses in the Coach store—had shut off the oxygen flow to his brain, causing his eyes to begin rolling back into his head.

His debilitated condition allowed me to catch up with him as he put the bags down and leaned against a railing overlooking the huge atrium at the center of the mall—looking, I thought, like a man weighing the merits of ending it all right then and there.

It was the first autograph I ever got in which the famous person giving the autograph seemed genuinely relieved to see me. (I will tell the Story of the Sting Autograph some other day.) We even had a nice, brief chat about the playoff game that was happening that very night.

And then his wife came out of the store, with another shopping bag, and I left.

Which is why I say that even major league baseball managers let their wives do most of the shopping, and why the key to this holiday season’s sales is in her, not his, hands.

And since gasoline prices have collapsed in the last month—from over $3.00 a gallon at their post-hurricane peak all the way down to $2.17 a gallon currently, according to AAA, which is up a mere 12% from the same time last year, as compared to up 50% at the end of September—I think she is feeling a little better lately.

Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

© 2005 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations.


The Way Rider said...

Great post. Informative, witty and right on the nail.

econjohn said...

so all that non-core inflation that was supposed to crush every household and house of worship in its wake was all hype after all?

Robyn said...

This is hysterical. My husband calls it "shopping mall disease". I do wish that all people selling goods/services realized that it's the woman in the house who controls most of the spending. Even for "guy type" things - like large screen TVs. The WHI ("wife hates it") factor is alive and well when it comes to those consumer electronics. And if I have one more A/V salesman tell me that I needn't worry my pretty little head about setting up a plasma TV - and should pay his firm $400 to do so - I think I will strangle him (I'm not particularly young but after setting up wireless internet networks in the house - how hard can a TV be?). Love your blog. Robyn

Sam S. Park said...

Awesome post. You've spoken like a true man. When my girlfriend asks me to goto the mall with her, I initially think to myself that I'll take the opportunity to see which stores are doing well and to check out the latest gadgets at Sharper Image. I always fall for it, but when we get to the mall I think to myself why I had agreed to come as I'm reminded of all the things I hate about shopping - which completely matches your list of things men hate about shopping.

I don't know why my girlfriend always asks me to show more enthusiasm and help her pick out some clothes. Because I always respond with a confused look as I notice other males feeling the same pain. After we visit all of the clothing stores (on those rare lucky days, we get to skip the shoes stores) I get to spend about 10 minutes at Sharper Image.

I guess Robyn is right, it's a two-way street. We, men, love electronics. We'll pay close attention to the slightest details about our TVs, but when it comes to clothes and shoes... if it fits it's all good. "What do you mean that TV isn't going to fit through the doorway?"

Its_strange said...

shopping ain't new . its been around since Adam Smith or Rome or something . Our ( male ) hate for it ain't new either but we continue shopping, year after year, after year. Why ? Its called ???

Its_strange said...

OSTK in the WSJ ... Patrick claims vistors to its website were up 80% from 3 months ago and sales were up 20% from Friday....Hey Patrick, why didn't you give us yearly comparisons ? And i hope you were up from 3 months ago , i mean you were having serious tech troubles than. You are so silly .

Hey bull analysts , what do you think about Patrick's comments in the WSJ ?

Its_strange said...

You guys read Cramer's piece on channel choice or a la carte TV ? How about ONE channel ( Net / TV / Satellite radio all in one ) that the subscribers decide whats on or covered ? 4 hours of market coverage ...2 hours world / national news...1 hour sports..2 hours covering business blogs..etc..etc..One fee gets you TV / Net / Radio coverage of stuff you and like minded people want...

Its_strange said...

Jim Cramer's show is the highest rated show on CNBC . If we go to a la carte TV what kind of power or leverage does that give Cramer or any other talking head with high ratings ? ...I still say a TV / Internet / Radio combo deal produced by the same company is worth talking about. To bad no one wants to. ..And we know Cramer reads this blog. ..Hell, i kinda thought that was the idea behind the internet.

Its_strange said...

And if we do go a la carte TV it just makes more sense for News Corp to buy TSCM . And certainly News Corp knows things are changing and changing again. ..This is interesting stuff . I wish the pros would chip in here.