Some random things I've observed in the first weeks of the shopping season. Nothing of great spiritual import, just interesting.
- I've not done much shopping, but already I've noticed that almost every item on the shelves is about 15-25% more expensive than last year, especially if it's made of plastic. I suspect that this shopping season is the first one to reflect higher petroleum prices. Almost every toy that was $30 last year is $35 this year. One classic plastic toy I bought my son last Christmas sold at a regular price of $12.95. This year that same toy is $17.95. Same store, same time of the year, same exact toy.
- Discount stores like WalMart are lowering their sales figure expectations, while more expensive department stores are seeing a 6% rise in sales over last year. Not many pundits are speculating on this odd discrepancy, but it fits with studies showing the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. If too many discounters have a bad selling season, expect to see them move upscale quickly. I know that Costco continues to upscale their offerings. Now I buy about two-thirds fewer items from them than I did just ten years ago. Aldi, here I come.
- Who are these people who buy giant battery-powered vehicles for their toddlers to drive? I saw a Hummer model selling for $300. Are you kidding me? The American savings rate is in negative numbers, but people are buying $300 Hummer replicas for their kids to drive around in?
- Over the past decade, I've purchased most of my Christmas presents online. In nearly every case, I found items online for significantly less, even with tax and shipping figured in. This year, though, the brick and mortar stores seem to be beating online stores in average price.
- When I was a kid in the Sixties and early Seventies, Spirograph held our interest for years. We had a Super Spirograph kit containing a half dozen ring and bar templates, plus a couple dozen circles, crosses, and even "rotary engine"-shaped pieces to go inside/outside them. I probably cranked out a couple thousand Spirograph pictures over the life of our kit. So this year I go looking for a Spirograph for my son, only to find a scaled-down abomination: one tiny circle template and some weird ovoid, plus about a half dozen circles. What a bitter disappointment. So I check eBay and the best Spirograph kits are going for $50+! Hasbro seriously missed the boat on this new "Deluxe" Spirograph. Way to mess up a perfectly good, inexpensive plaything.
- Prices for digital cameras jumped right before Christmas. Companies bumped their $200 models to $250 by adding features no one will ever use (built-in sepia tone, anyone?) Canon replaced the excellent Powershot A620 with the A640 and jacked the price $60 for no real reason I can discern. Bah, humbug!
- Board games seem to be coming back into vogue—and that's great. (Unfortunately, most stores stock the same boring ones everyone's played. Honestly, does anyone find Monopoly fun?) For a break from the ordinary, check out Boardgames with Scott. Scott Nicholson's premise is one of the best uses I've seen for online video snippets: introduce people to new games and demonstrate how they're played. I'd love it if Ticket to Ride (America) showed up under my Christmas tree this year.
- A pox on toy manufacturers who play up some electronic gizmo with plug-in cartridges one Christmas, then a year later you can't find the cartridges anywhere.
- I spotted only one Salvation Army bellringer so far. That's sad. They've got a fantastic series of commercials and print ads this year, but the number of bellringers goes down every year.
Sorry if this post appears Grinch-y. I'm usually done shopping by Veterans Day, but this year I can't seem to get into shopping like I once did. Growing up, my family saved all shopping for the year for Christmas, so presents swamped the tree. I'm used to taking hours to open gifts.
This year, though, I'm distracted. I see so much need around me. It's so easy to buy, buy, buy and miss the people whose Christmases will once again be sparse. I think about the elderly people who would much rather have their family pay them some attention than to toss a gift their way one day and ignore them the other 364. Or single parents struggling just to keep a roof overhead and food on the table.
I'm watching more than participating in the six week consumer bonanza that makes up the majority of yearly spending in this country. Frankly, our own Christmas promises to be a little thin this year. Don't know how I'll square that with Christmases fondly remembered, but I still have room to grow.
I believe God's desiring that all of us receive less and give more, thinking outside the bunkers we call home to the less fortunate tucked in the cracks of the world. We got the ultimate gift in Jesus. I pray we don't forget to offer His gift of eternal life to everyone we know.