They're still waiting for the procrastinating shopper

loupaulsen at attbi.com loupaulsen at attbi.com
Fri Dec 27 15:11:20 MST 2002


On Dec. 25 I wrote a little post entitled "the procrastinating shopper did not
materialize."  The "procrastinating shopper" is the Messiah figure who is
supposed to rescue the U.S. retail economy.  A Messiah all the more since
the "shopper" is really the working class which has been scourged and
crucified by the economic crisis, yet is now supposed to resurrect itself, buy
Christmas presents, and spend the economy back into health.

I had thought, and you might have thought, that when the "procrastinating
shoppers" had not appeared by Christmas Day, everyone would have given up on
them.  This was carelessness of thought.  I had forgotten the sociological
study "When Prophecy Fails", which I read in graduate school, which made the
point that when messianic prophecies do not come true, they are recast and
reinterpreted so that they can still be believed.  Thus, the Millerites, when
the world didn't come to an end on the foretold day in 1844, predicted another
day.  When it didn't come to an end THEN, they concluded that in a sense it
really had come to an end after all, so the prophecy had come true; and
eventually they created the Seventh-Day Adventists.

Similarly, today, on December 27, the retailers and economic pundits are
indeed STILL WAITING for the "procrastinating shoppers" to do their Christmas
shopping.  An article in the Business section of today's Chicago Sun-Times,
headlined "SECOND CHANCE FOR RETAILERS", has the subhead "People shopping
later this year, Woodfield [large shopping mall] official says":

"Retailers are counting on post-holiday discounts and shoppers with gift
certificates to soften the blow of a disappointing holiday season.

"They retain a shred [!] of hope because the week of Dec. 26-31 accounts for
nearly 11 percent of holiday sales at most mall stores, said the International
Council of Shopping Centers.

"Woodfield Shopping Center in Schaumburg predicted a record 140,000 shoppers
would rush to snap up bargains Thursday.

"'People are shopping later than last year,' said Woodfield General Manager
mark Strich.  'They are checking Web sites before they buy and looking at
ads,' he said."

After all, why shouldn't the Christmas retailing season last until the feast
of the Three Kings on Jan. 6?  There's still time for a Christmas miracle, and
as we all know the volume of partridges and pear trees and calling birds and
gold rings dramatically increases as the 12th day of Christmas approaches.  So
do not lose faith, "ye know not the day and the hour", and be not discouraged
when you flip to the continuation of this story on page 54 and read the
heading "Household wealth at lowest level since early 1999"!!:

"Total household wealth in the United States has fallen to $38.3 trillion,
meaning the average household [the household at the mean, I suppose] had
assets of $38,000 in the third quarter of 2002. [But this is a very skewed
distribution.  The vast majority of households will have MUCH less than the
average.]  The total peaked at $43.3 trillion in early 2000 and fell to $41
trillion in 2001.

"'This is the second consecutive year that household net worth has actually
declined - the first time that has happened in postwar history,' said Srinivas
Thiruvadanthai, director of research at the Levy Forecasting Center."

It is a good bet that this 11.5% decline in total household wealth is not
evenly distributed across classes, and that the decline for the working class
has been considerably greater.  It would be a real Christmas miracle if the
households actually went out and bought dramatically more goods with less
money.  On the other hand, Bill Gates is one of those households.  Perhaps he
will wake up from a spirit-haunted nightmare as a transformed man, and send a
boy out to buy a few million Christmas geese for the poor.  It's only the
third day of Christmas so far, and anything can happen.

Lou Paulsen
Chicago

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