Friday, February 15, 2008

Retail Therapy

I was at Wal-Mart a few days ago waiting in the regular check-out line with a little over twenty things. It's been a very long time since I stood here - I don't usually have more than ten things in my cart. So anyways, J and I prepared ourselves for a long wait. A family of four was ahead of us. The woman had her cart filled to capacity and was cheerfully estimating the total to be in the late two hundreds. The man appeared to be her boyfriend and she was trying hard to engage him in a meaningless but "cheery" conversation. She might as well have been talking to a wall.

He was clearly not interested in what she was saying and eyed the never ending stream of items on the belt with growing concern and unmistakable irritation. In the five or ten minutes that I stood there waiting, I learnt that her son with his father for the weekend, the rest of the family was her two girls and their dad (the silent man). "Lend me a hand, Daddy" she said to him as he set yet more tins of fruit, vegetables, tuna and beans on the belt. The solitary bunch of bananas was the only fresh thing in a mountain of processed food. The total worked out to be $325 and the man paid up most grudgingly.

She continued her cheerful prattle to offset his visible glumness. The situation felt tense. Even J noticed and commented on how mad he looked when we got out. I felt sad for the woman, the kids and the man who picked up the grocery shopping tab. Earlier in the evening, a well-heeled man was ahead of me in the check-out line at the farmer's market. His shopping had included among a bunch of fresh produce - olive oil, shrimp, angel hair pasta, fresh basil, artisan bread, mozzarella cheese, a small bunch of flowers and nice bottle of wine. I would guess he was having company for dinner.

His total was over a hundred dollars and clearly it was not a big deal of money for him. I saw him drive off in a vintage Mustang and that just made sense. I have been working in the IT group of my client's marketing team and found myself thinking in terms of customer segments as I considered the contrast in how these two individuals shopped. The woman was in her early twenties, pretty and over-weight; most likely not the breadwinner of the family - she may not even be working. The man was probably late 40s, athletic, making good money and spending it far more judiciously.


Two very different consumption styles, level of income and I would guess education. I wondered if they came into the store in different frames of mind as well - the woman with the view of getting as much grocery as she could on her partner's payday and the man celebrating an happy occasion in an intimate setting - maybe that had something to do with the outcome as this article says:

The researchers concluded sadness can trigger a chain of emotions leading to extravagant tendencies. Sadness leads people to become more focused on themselves, causing the person to feel that they and their possessions are worth little. That feeling increases willingness to pay more — presumably to feel better about themselves.

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