I have learned much in my first six months as a manager at a massive, multi-national retailer and most of it has little to do with running a retail establishment (I still know just more than nothing about that.) A short list of the courses I have unwittingly audited could include: parent/child power struggles in a postmodern world, behavioral habits of non-high school graduates in the workplace, the creative ethics of America’s petty criminal class, and statistical correlations between discount vocabulary and purchasing trends.
While these are all fascinating studies, I’d like to spend our time today focusing on the fourth topic with special attention to the near-hypnotic effect the word “clearance” has on shoppers, particularly those of the female persuasion.
It doesn’t take a neurosurgeon or hypnotist to recognize that something explodes in ladies’ brains when they are presented with a sign that says “75% off.” They lose complete control of all cognitive abilities. Basic motor skills are often lost as well. Normal human emotions are replaced with a manic, single-minded hunger reminiscent of a Discovery Channel special on piranhas except with more scratching, biting, eye-gouging, and screams of pain and rage.
It is a terrifying thing to witness. Entire shelves are emptied into already towering carts as mothers entertain previously inconceivable thoughts like, “Look at that price! What daughter wouldn’t love a Dora the Explorer throw pillow? I think I’ll get fifteen.” When given quizzical or disapproving looks, they say things like, “I’m doing all my Christmas shopping today.” And I say things like, “You have twenty people on your list who asked for Baby Burp N Giggle this year?”
And that’s the point. The object of all this madness is stuff that no one and I mean no one needs or even wants. It’s garbage. It’s a mistake, a miscalculation, a tragic misinterpretation of consumer trends. Some guy somewhere thought someone would want to buy something and he was proven incorrect. The stuff sat unloved on a shelf for months. It was then marked down to 50% off, and still, at half the original price, shoppers decided they could continue living their lives without it. But then it went 75% off and became the last HoHo in fat camp. It started flying out the door as everyone realized just how empty and incomplete their lives were without at least one – but probably several dozen – Barbie Hair Extension Kits.
Truly, it defies all logic and sensibility. I mean, isn’t useless crap still useless crap no matter how much it costs? I respect bargain hunting as much as the next impoverished college grad, but the fact that I can now get 100 bags of chocolate marshmallows for less than $10.00 doesn’t change the fact that chocolate marshmallows are monumentally disgusting. I thought there was a recession going on. Shouldn’t we all be saving our paychecks for mortgage payments, gas bills, and stockpiles of food and thermal blankets for the impending apocalypse?
I don’t know. If nothing else, this behavior gives further credence to one immutable truth of human nature: no matter how reasonably priced a product may be, people would still rather have it for free. It can also serve as a cautionary tale/survival tip. In the same way you would never come between a mama bear and her cub, never, ever, for any reason, come between a mama human and her clearance.
That is all.