I recently walked into a store that screamed ‘Flat 50% off’ only to find myself in the checkout queue five minutes later with two full-price items I hadn’t intended to buy. Here’s a rough classification of shoppers from this lonely perspective.
The kind that will see an edgy new look on the latest Netflix show, run a quick Google search, get a second opinion on a WhatsApp group, order it online at a little-known but completely legit store and wear it to a Zoom meeting within 24 hours. They know where to look, when and for how long – and more importantly, not to be distracted by ornamental flutes when they’re actually looking for a swimsuit. (#truestory) They’re at the pinnacle of shopping glory, seeking perfection and finding it effortlessly in busy aisles or cluttered screens. They’re the ones causing all the commotion in the checkout queue, challenging the store on their exchange policy. Moving swiftly from conquest to conquest, they can be identified by a dazed look from late-night browsing, engaged in such vital tasks as matching their salt-and-pepper shakers to their cheese trays.
This category wears its sensitive heart on its organic, vegan, single-source, artisanal, handmade sleeve. They are in constant dialogue with their wants – which is to say they’re conscious consumers. Which mostly means the colour of their eggs, sugar and bread is brown. Their fries have to be hand-cut. Their olive oil is extra virgin. And their car freshener is handpicked by the folk of a particular hillside village, made from flowers that bloom once every twelve years. Every purchase confirms what they already know – they’re the epitome of good taste, suffering the mediocrity of a middling world. They’re good people to be close to (but not too close); who else would gift you bathroom slippers made of bamboo fibre and fairy dust?
The deal hunters
Whether they’re redeeming reward points or brandishing vouchers, this breed of shoppers exudes a consumerist confidence that is an affront to the fainthearted. For these zealots, it’s all about the pleasure of finding a good bargain. They subscribe to a curious mathematics, wherein you profit from the money saved on stuff you do not want. As justification, they peddle discounted products and services to their friends, like a massage at half-price or free delivery on a food order. How can one resist the altruism of this sweet yet deluded species? At some point or another, you’ve said to them: “Repeat after me. Not buying an air ticket is cheaper than buying three plane tickets at a good price.” They do not learn. You quietly accept yet another subsidised massage.
The novelty seekers
Desserts or sneakers, ice trays or cat food, this shiny breed will settle for nothing older than the latest. They’re suspicious of anything marked “classic” or “bestseller”; that stuff’s just for the chronically lazy or unimaginative. They’re clued into every app and gadget update, and the newest shade on every catalogue. Their hunt for the new frequently leads them into the realm of the obscure. This is where they find not just new versions of things, but new categories of things altogether to desire and buy. Like a sewing machine that’s actually a modified stapler. Or a little fan that attaches itself to your phone for that odd minute in the day when you step away from your AC. Who wouldn’t want that?
You see them in a corner of a busy store holding three pieces of someone else’s shopping with glazed eyes and a resigned look. They didn’t sign up for this; but the economy – formerly known as the world – is designed for the non-shopper to feel like an alien. They use their socks till the little tear in their toes is a gaping hole at the ankle. Try and explain that their love of hand-me-downs is not a clinical condition. Even make brave forays into the labyrinth of retail, just so they can belong. Alas, they shall always remain at the cold, neglected extremity of human society, pretending to know the difference between a discount and cashback. Be kind if you have a rare sighting of this endangered species. It gets lonely at the bottom.
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From HT Brunch, August 8, 2021
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