One-Way Love Affair

I have a one-way love affair with Amazon, and this worries me a little. Okay, maybe a lot.

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It started out small back in “the old days”. Amazon sold mostly books, and when I wanted an author’s back list and couldn’t get it at Barnes and Noble, this is where I’d go.

Then, they started selling more stuff. I was skeptical at first, but the free shipping for a $25 purchase at the time really helped me get over my skepticism. I was working full time, newly married, and going to grad school at night. Time was a premium.

Best thing was Amazon’s prices at the time weren’t any higher for the things I was buying at brick and mortar stores. Sometimes, they were even a lot lower.

Another few years rolled past, and we were expecting our first child. I’d been buying a lot from Amazon at that point, but they hadn’t lured me into their Prime club yet. I actually thought it was pretty ridiculous to give $89 a year to get stuff a few days sooner.

But, they knew exactly how to get me.

They gave a free one year subscription to Prime to all new moms who enrolled in their mom’s reward club (the club has since been discontinued). Along with the Prime membership came a sizable discount on diapers and wipes, things I was about to need a lot of, and they promised to deliver in two days. I figured it was free, so I had nothing to lose.

Yeah, they had me after the first few months.

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Like there’s any better transformer to be!

More years later, and I’m still a Prime member. A paying Prime member. Not only that, but we now get monthly Amazon shipments. We tune in to their Prime streaming service, and our kids have loved several Amazon-created children’s shows. Once Netflix lost Sesame Street, we turned to Prime.

I even got my kids a Kindle and was super impressed with the yearly subscription that lets them play a slew of the most popular kids apps, and with the subscription, all the in-app purchases are included. Want another life? Click the button, no fee required.

Amazon was luring me deeper and deeper into the Amazon morass.

Then, this year at Christmas, I was shocked at the deals Amazon was running on popular kid toys. They were running 20-40% toys that my kids wanted. Even if other stores had the items on sale, most of the toys were still cheaper at Amazon.

I look at all of the plastic stuff invading my house, and a lot of it came from Amazon.

I do my Christmas shopping early, so the two day shipping was nice but not necessary. Then Amazon started running specials where if you were willing to wait five days to get your packages, they’d give you $2 or more towards a digital purchase. Hello more Kindle books!

Now I’ve been reading about the struggles of so many bricks and mortar stores to stay open.

I squirmed a little.

That’s somewhat my fault, right? I would way rather pop onto Amazon and have something magically appear at my door two days (sometimes in less than twenty-four hours) later than actually drive to the store, wade through the merchandise, hopefully find what I want, then wait in line to pay for it. About the only thing we get at the store anymore is toilet paper and paper towels because Amazon can’t touch Target’s pricing.

Yet.

My first thought was that Amazon was servicing a time-strapped American population. Sure, a lot their products don’t go on sale like they do at Target, Aldi’s, or wherever you shop, but I don’t usually bother with sales. Sounds stupid, I know, but if I need paper towels, I’m not driving 20 minutes out of my way to get them a dollar cheaper. My lack of frugality on this drives my poor mother insane, but I’m willing to pay $1 to keep 40 minutes of my time.

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Or a good idea to drive two towns over to buy it.

 

I am careful on Amazon lately as there have been instances where Amazon (no, not a third party seller, but Amazon), is quite a bit more expensive than other stores. Last year, when DD1 wanted a pony castle for her birthday, Amazon was $20 more expensive than Target or Toys R Us. Yeah, $20. They came in line a few weeks later, but I’d already bought it from Target by then.

Once you start talking third party sellers, all bets are off. Might as well be eBay.

So, I always check an Amazon purchase with other stores’ online offerings.

But what happens if those stores go out of business? Does that mean Amazon can get away with charging me $20 more than I would’ve paid at Target or Toys R Us?

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I don’t know.

But it worries me.

I’d love to say anti-trust laws would come into play to prevent a monopoly like that, but I have no faith or trust in our government to enforce such rulings. Especially not recently.

Will this concern change my behavior? Yes. I have been regularly checking Target.com for things and ordering if I can wait the few extra days for them to arrive. I love Amazon, but I’m not sure I’m ready to pay the price of assimilation just yet.

 

How about you? Have you been lured into the Amazon morass? Are you a Prime member? Are you worried about them becoming a monopoly and crushing their competition to the point they can charge us whatever they wish?

Why Disney Needs to Buy MLP

My oldest daughter loves My Little Pony Friendship is Magic. Loves it. I have, unfortunately, seen every episode numerous times.

All in, it’s not that bad of a show. The characters are all ponies, so there are no body issue concerns. The main pony, Twilight Sparkle, is smart and dedicated to her studies. At no point in the show do they have gender issues. Most of the main characters are female, and they always solve their own problems. It shows the ups and downs of friendship, how things aren’t always perfect, and teaches lessons like inclusivity.

There’s even the occasional funny that only an adult would get.

So, why am I saying Disney needs to buy them?

Because I am tired of not being able to get my daughter the toys she wants.

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You want Elena of Avalor? Aisles are full of her. You want Moana? No problem. Every Disney princess back to Snow White in 1937 is available to be purchased at your local Target. Want something a little more exotic? Amazon or Toys R Us has your back.

Want a crystal empire My Little Pony that has been featured in a dozen episodes over several years? Nope.  Not for sale

Want Diamond Tiara, one of the “villains” in the show that starts out in Season One and is a key player throughout the rest of the six seasons (not sure about the seventh yet)? Well, they made her once, in one set. That now sells for $279.99 plus $19.99 shipping. I’ve been trying to find this pony for my daughter for two years at a reasonable price. Can’t find it.

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So not worth $300

Disney would not tolerate such nonsense. You’re willing to give them money for a pink pony with a tiara on her bottom? Here you go, they’ll make a couple hundred thousand. They would way rather take your money than not take your money.

Maybe this sounds like I’m being a little materialistic or driven by consumerism.  And it is, a little. But this is one toy my daughter loves to death. The only show she *has* to see. We gave up cable years ago, and I buy the new episodes for her on Amazon. Way cheaper than a cable subscription, it’s commercial free, and she can re-watch the episodes to her heart’s content.

I’ve learned that the moment I see a new MLP thing in the store, I buy it and hide it away for my daughter. If I don’t, it won’t be there at a price I’m willing to pay. I saw this set with three of the main characters in the show at Target precisely once for $14.99. It’s now selling for $35. But hey, it comes with free shipping!

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Whoever is selling a kid’s toy for more than twice the price, I hope karma finds you.

Again, if Disney saw this selling for $35, I’d expect them to up their price from $14.99 to $19.99 and then flood the shelves with it. Moana came out in 2016. I have no problem getting toys. Why can’t Hasbro up their game? Why do all of their toys have to be like Tickle Me Elmo when they even bother to make them?

I wish I could say it was one or two “special” sets that this happened with, but it’s over and over and over. Go ahead and try to find a Queen Chrysalis. At least they made her. A bunch of the other frequent characters are nowhere to be seen. Discord, Big Macintosh, the changelings in their new evolved state. Where are so many of the characters that make the show interesting?

If you’re Disney, on the other hand, they’ve got you covered. You want Olaf, a troll, or even a snow man made from a sneeze? Yup, you got it!

So, yes, I would like Disney to go ahead and take over the merchandising rights for My Little Pony. Let me be able to buy my daughter some of the characters she loves. I already know she’ll play with them until they are so mangy not even a bath in dish soap will save them. Yeah, that knowledge comes from experience. Who knew plastic could be forever permeated with child fingerprints?

 

How about you? Your child ever want a really hard to find toy? Maybe there’s something you want that you can’t seem to locate? Or perhaps your children are also My Little Pony fans and you can totally commiserate?

Rise of Consumerism

In this post,  I discussed some of the key things that Americans spend their money on. A couple of readers brought up the concept of consumerism and how it’s made some people with a good income still live on the edge.

This resonated with me as I actually know some of these people. They have solid middle class earnings, yet, they still live paycheck to paycheck. The three categories I talked about before definitely come into play here. Buying more house than you can afford. Having new cars all the time. Eating out a lot.

This was definitely true for one person I knew who’d bought a massive four bedroom home, then his wife quit working when their first child was born. Suddenly, making the mortgage was really hard.

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I decided to do some investigating. Things usually happen for a reason, and I discovered that while the the drive to overspend is huge, it wasn’t always. Consumerism came into play at the same time the cosmetics industry has. I believe for the same reasons.

The rise in consumerism, whether buying a bigger house, new car, or just having stuff is a manufactured need. And it was manufactured on purpose. Consumerism has risen along with advertising and the ability for advertisers to reach large sections of the population. Advertising makes us want things. That’s what it’s designed to do, and it’s no coincidence that consumerism has grown along with increasingly sophisticated ads that target humans’ deepest needs.

 

A little history.

After WWI, corporations were making more stuff than people needed. Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers (yes, that Lehman Brothers) wrote, “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

Rather than rejecting this premise, the US government openly supported it.

Advertising was key, and Mazur knew this, so he recruited Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays began to figure out how to make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass-produced goods to unconscious desires.

  •  He was the first to work with car companies on selling cars as a symbol of masculine sexuality than as a means of getting from point A to point B.
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Seems to work to this day.
  • He helped break the taboo of women smoking so cigarettes companies could sell cigarettes to women. He persuaded a group of debutantes to smoke in public at a parade. He then told the media ahead of time that this was happening, and called the cigarettes “Torches Of Freedom” and linked women smoking with challenging male authority.
  • He pioneered product placement and celebrity endorsements

 

Bernays would continue his work, with future generations further refining their understanding of human desire and preying on/satisfying it. Presidents starting with Herbert Hoover embraced consumerism, and after WWII, the National Association of Manufacturers and other groups launched PR campaigns that linked consumerism with capitalism and glorified both.

Advertising got increasingly sophisticated, and with the advent of social media, people were no longer comparing themselves to the Joneses. They were now comparing themselves to the Kardashians.

It’s been a win all around for businesses, and in some ways, for the consumer as we’ve never had such choice.

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And, companies have had to cater to consumer demand and preferences, pushing froward innovation on computers, social media, and even cars. Remember when there weren’t SUVs or crossovers? Or the focus American car companies have had to put on quality or lose their consumers to Japanese companies.

 

Where Does It Leave Us

Does this mean consumerism is the new normal? That there is no escape from it?

I’m going to argue “no”.

For all the bad rap Millennials regularly get, they are driving some industries to worry. They are more focused on experiences than stuff, and this has the diamond industry very concerned. A Millennial is more likely to skimp on the ring and splash out on a huge honeymoon. They want memories, or as some cynics might say, lots of stuff to post on social media.

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Still, millennials are harder for advertisers to reach, and advertisers are fighting to find ways to get to them.

This inability to reach people is part of the reason why advertisers are terrified of “cord cutting” and consumers moving to Netflix or Amazon Prime for their viewing needs. Why? Because they can’t easily reach large numbers people. They can’t influence us to want their product by making us think it makes us sexier, more worthy of love, of whatever other needs they’re now trying to appeal to.

Advertisers are scrambling to find other ways to reach us. Many of us don’t want to be reached. Amazing how many people pay for an ad-blocking service.

In the advent of the internet, it also makes it more difficult for advertisers as there is no longer a mass market. The internet makes it much easier for niche markets to take hold, and for very personalized preferences to be met.

 

My Experience

I can say I’ve seen a significant change in my home when we “cut the cord” (got rid of all cable and even regular TV) in 2009. It was the Great Recession, and we had to trim expenses. Cable was an easy one for us. (So was our gym membership, but that’s another story!).

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We’ve never looked back. After seven years of being close to commercial free, you find yourself a little outside the “cutting edge” of pop culture, but we’ve learned to accept that, too. And if there’s a show you really want to watch, you can usually purchase the individual episodes or find them for free a few days later.

When we’ve gone to a friend’s house and they happened to have a football game on, we were astounded at how many commercials there were.

Afterward, we looked at the average kids’ show our daughters watch. They range between 20 and 22 minutes for a 30 minute time slot. That means a full 1/3 of a child’s show is advertising!

There’s a reason our kids’ Christmas lists are small (other than them being a little spoiled), and why we can walk down the cereal aisle and walk out with only Cheerios and no tears.

 

 

What do you think? Do you see the side-effects of consumerism? Maybe you’ve experienced them? Know someone who has? Do you think advertisers create desire? Do you think they’re part of consumerism?