Nov. 28, 2011 (ShapeShiftas) -- It's not Beyonce´s new hit single I want to talk about today, though I do really like her, and this song is great, even after hearing it at least twice every time I get in the car.
No, I'm going to go on about that other countdown that retailers everywhere are hoping is on your mind -- the shopping-days-till-Xmas countdown. The mass anxiety that is installed in us all once a year by ever-desperate retailers who do about 20 percent of their business for the year in the 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They need us to buy things and be festive!
There certainly is no lack of verbiage out there on this subject, but I have my own unique perspective, since I was what you could call a professional shopper as well as a retail buyer. After college, BFA in hand, I started working in fashion speciality stores in shopping malls.
I wanted to do displays, I thought that would be like the set designs I had done in school, but I ended up first as a manager, then as a buyer. We would plan for Holiday months in advance, stocking up on sweaters and boxes, going to sales training seminars, ordering signs and executing merchandise layout plans. We'd start playing the endless-loop Christmas music tape that they sent from corporate the week after Halloween, with the (I'm sure) subliminal messages to "buy," "buy," "buy."
The first couple of years I worked 80+ hour weeks, on salary, so no extra pay, and could only spend maybe 12 hours at home for the holidays because I had to be back in the store the next day at 6 a.m. to start taking the returns, and still playing the *#@# tape. To this day I can't stand to hear the Little Drummer Boy by Whitney Houston. (well, really, who can?)
I was a sucker for the Holiday Shoppiing Season (HSS) madness from a young age. My grandmother Mimi loved to shop and loved to make a big deal out of Christmas. She took me to the big cities of Cleveland and Chicago for Christmas shopping and cheer, we would see Santa or Mr. Jing-A-Ling and eat donut holes under the big tree in the Walnut Room at Marshall Field's.
I loved the big department stores in all their festive glory, so much more exciting and glamorous (and totally different; now, they are all Macy's) than our hometown O'Neils and Polsky's. I got some money to buy a present for my mom, dad, brother, and dog, but had to make something for everyone else, all the aunts and friends who came to Mimi's annual Christmas Eve party.
After the slick, glitsy, merchandise in the city stores, my projects looked pretty rough, and I started to realize that making something come out like I envisioned would take skills and techniques that I didn't yet have. My career as a craft artist and designer began with these pincushions, sachets, and potholders that I wanted to make look as beautiful as those in Marshall Field's and Halle's.
Back then only retail insiders knew the term Black Friday. It's really In-The-Black Friday, in case it's possible you didn't know that.
I happen to think that it is a terribly somber-sounding name for what is supposed to be a festive start to the Holiday Shopping Season, which it is your patriotic duty to participate in! We have to get our economy going again!
Nowadays, the giant corporate retailers are so desperate to get the HSS going that they have "Door-Buster" Sales starting at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving itself, and the people really do bust the doors down (see video above). Supposedly, some extra-motivated sale shoppers even camp out the night before, although I bet they get paid something to do that.
Feel sorry for the poor retail workers, often seasonal help with minimal training, who make minimum wage and no benefits, maybe overtime if they work on a holiday, or overnight, on their feet for 10 hours or so a day, getting attitude from grumpy shoppers. Black Friday indeed.
I eventually moved to that wonderful Chicago of my holiday memories and became a buyer. It was at the time a dream job, but I still had to "work the floor" on Saturdays during the HSS. I guess my bosses thought it would be good for all of us to share the pain. Primarily, this entailed making boxes, since we buyers weren't trained on the register, go figure, and picking up dresses that had fallen off the hangars.
I think they made us work so they wouldn't have to hire the extra staff needed. When it was busy, it was pretty fun, but when it was slow, it was excrutiatingly boring. No matter how much "traffic," it's never as busy as management thinks it should be.
In those retail working years, I still tried to spend the actual days of Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family, sometimes flying home after the store closed on Christmas Eve and flying back at 6 a.m. on the 26th, in time to work a 10-hour day that was nearly as busy as the previous days had been.
Flying wasn't the ordeal then that it is now, or I could have never stood it. Those Xmas Eve flights were pretty fun, free drinks and Santa hats, everyone schlepping three-plus carry-ons of shopping bags full of presents. I would make it home in time for Mimi's traditional Xmas Eve party and midnight mass, then crash for like 16 hours, until dinner the next day.
After I moved to New York, taking a job as a professional shopper, I no longer had to endure the HSS from the floor of a store. But the stress and anxiety about the season had been drilled in to me. Plus there is no place like New York for Xmas shopping and celebrating, people come from all over to hit the Fifth Avenue $tore$ and see the Rockettes, and so you just get caught up in the madness. And, it was my job, to go shopping, so I worked really hard during the Holiday Shopping Season. ;)
I'm sure you all want to know what a Professional Shopper does. I worked for a dress manufacturer, and I would go to stores and malls all over the country to see what all the different stores carried, what was selling, etc. More importantly, I would look for "hot" garments that we could "knock off," and when I found them, I would buy them to bring back to our patternmakers to "rub off" (copy).
The worst was: Then, I would have to return the garments. I couldn't even buy in my size, because we made our samples in 7/8, and even back then, I was never that small. I came up with more excuses and more relatives and friends that I was buying for and then later returning because it didn't fit, or they found something else, or they didn't go to the prom after all. The HSS was the only time of year it was easy to do this; everyone is out buying stuff for other people and then returning the things they didn't like.
I hated this job and lasted six months. But at least the company paid for my move to New York. And I met my wonderful friend Wendye on this job, who I can hear right now pointing out how it all happened for these good reasons and many more.
Anyway, nowadays, I hardly go shopping at all (really, honey!) and definitely stay away from the brick-and-mortar stores as much as possible during the HSS.
It's easier here in Vermont to remain above the fray, the closest shopping is 40 minutes away, and the best store in the mall there is Old Navy. The anchors are Sears & Penneys, and the smaller spaces are half-empty. The only lamer mall I have ever been in was in Kentucky.
The girls begged to go to Burlington (the closest good mall and shopping, two hours away) all weekend, but I refused. Maybe if they could do the driving, and parking. Several years ago I became an enthusiastic catalog shopper at Xmas time, because I had to ship the stuff anyway, and now I do most of my shopping on the internet, though I didn't buy a thing on Cyber Monday.
This year I celebrated Buy Nothing Day instead. I'm still stressed, tho, because I have a lot of presents to make.