Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What Hardcover – Nov 3 2009
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"As a so-called advertising guru for the past fifty years, I found Shoptimism to be brimming over with wit and sly insight into the darker recesses of the consumer's soul." -- George Lois, member, Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, and pioneer of advertising's Creative Revolution
About the Author
Lee Eisenberg's last book was the New York Times bestseller, The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life (2006). The book was cited by Business Week as one of the best books of the year. His is also the former editor in chief of Esquire. Under his stewardship the magazine won National Magazine Awards across a number of writing and design categories. He currently lives in Chicago.
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For the most part, Eisenberg takes a relatable look at why we buy and why we will buy forever (no matter what). Details are plenty and his story compelling. ~But it really goes directionless. For instance, the author leaves us with no "solutions" (even in his "Afterword") to issues of the inner- and outer goings-on of retail sales. ~Surely because, all along, he points out no real "problems."
It's a descriptive venture. On this page, he takes the side of clever merchants. On another, he's happy to side with buyers in their never-ending quest to amass as much "stuff" as possible. That's objectivity for you. There's no judgment. Nothing's "right" or "wrong." She buys. He sells...and Eisenberg leaves it at that. Imagery abounds. Quick facts and figures are everywhere.
~But who's this book written for? College professors on the subject have likely heard it all before and probably already have enough buy-n-sell books with far more depth and rigor. Matter of fact, the author quotes many, many of these university academics, study experts, and social scientists along the way. ~And, why would shoppers care about motivations for/clarifications on their own buying habits? Eisenberg suggests: "Shoes On Sale!" is the kind of particulars most shoppers really care about.
The book'd be a winner if it didn't get all tangled up in the vague psychologies of selling and (mostly) buying. Romantic buyers? Classic buyers? Mars? Venus? Freud? Tom O'Guinn? (I didn't know him either. --from the U. of Wisc., author of an all-important (?) "Compulsive Buying Scale," as we learn.) Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu? Don't ask...there are dozens more. Here are 300+ pages that include dry (useful?) psycho-text on buy-side hypotheses and sell-side theory. For example, there're plenty of (useless?) data on "psychographic buckets," "magic mirrors," "brain scans," "proprietary profile platforms," and the stealth practices of sell-side marketers and tricksters.
It's a consistent mix, sometimes interesting, sometimes dulling, sometimes hard to keep a close focus on, as the author swiftly moves from anecdote to academic quote to fact and chart and back...right on the beat. He even just skims significant efforts of Paco Underhill, nationally-known retail marketing guru. As such, the wintry socio-psycho conjecture and detail lies limp amid scores of fascinating bright, witty passages describing the author's own experiences inside Michigan Avenue stores in Chicago, the Mall of America in Minnesota and on Madison Avenue in New York...among numerous outlets.
~A 50% interesting, readable book, put together in a scattered-but-easy-going style. Having read it, I'm no better a shopper. Target probably still won't hire merchandise-savvy floor people because of it, and sellers will continue to come up with their own clever new ways to capture attentions of buyers. It's a fast-moving retailing overview that's but thick with surface detail. ~Like a personal diary: attention-grabbing --but it goes nowhere. The book's ok...but since there are many more-focused consumerism books available, no need to make a point of casually reading this one....
For example, it recalled a memory from the mid-1960's. I was in a barbershop, waiting, reading Esquire magazines (of which Lee Eisenberg later became editor). In one, was an article called "The Ins and the Outs," in which numerous consumer goods, personalities, activities, etc. of American life were classed as "In" or "Out". In the next issue was a Letter to the Editor, which stated, in its entirety, "Re: The Ins and The Outs; what in the hell are you talking about?" If I could find the writer of that letter now, I would have him read Lee Eisenberg's book.
Shoptimism is full of information and wide-ranging references that entertain, challenge, and inform. As a physician, I found fascinating the explorations into the classification of "shopaholism" as a mental disorder and the examinations of cutting edge neurobiology as related to consumerism. The cleverness of the writing, with plays on the jargon of the topics and argot of the subjects, and the conversational tone keep the reading from being heavy even though some of the topics are weighty.
Mr. Eisenberg is to be congratulated upon the even-handed treatment he gives contentious subjects. He avoids polemics and does not violate the reader's trust. The book treats a trendy topic with academic thoroughness without forfeiting the fun of trendiness. If I were a marketing or communications teacher, I would recommend it to my students. As father of grown children, I will give copies to my kids for
Eisenberg divides "Shoptimism" into two parts, one from "The Sell Side" (Them Versus You) and one from "The Buy Side" (You Versus You). The first part focuses on the efforts retailers make to convince unwary buyers they cannot live without what the seller has to offer. It includes a history of retailing, advertising, marketing research and what, at times, seems like psychological warfare being waged upon the buyer by the seller. Eisenberg, in a past life, was executive vice president of Land's End and he knows exactly how "They" play the game of getting cash from your pocket into theirs.
The book's second part focuses on the "Why" and the "Who" of shopping. Why do we shop the way we do? Why do brands mean everything to some shoppers while others see avoiding popular brands as a badge of honor? How do male and female shoppers differ? Can shopping truly be an addiction or is that just an excuse some shoppers use to rationalize their spending habits? This section of the book includes chapters on "The Classic Buyer," one that tries to get the most for his dollar and is willing to do the research needed to increase his odds of succeeding, and "The Romantic Buyer" that shops more with an impulsive heart than with a fact-filled head.
Although he uses graphs, tables, lists and illustrations for summary and clarification purposes, Eisenberg builds his case largely through the anecdotal style he uses to recount his own shopping experiences and observations. Thankfully, he also puts today's shopping habits into historical context, explaining how we arrived at the point that President Bush would dare suggest shortly after 9-11 that the best things Americans could do for their country was to return to its shopping malls. According to Eisenberg, it was during the 1950s that America "underwent a bloodless coup that transformed us from engaged citizens into self-indulgent consumers." In postwar America, Americans found that buying things made them happy - and American consumption has only gotten more frantic with each succeeding generation.
Some might find it easy to ridicule the shopping habits of their fellow citizens but before getting too carried away they should consider some of the things that now eat up such a large chunk of their own disposable income, expenses our grandparents never dreamed of: mobile phones, cable television, internet bills, hugely expensive printer ink, and the like. As one consultant tells Eisenberg, "The average American household spends more a year on technology-related products and services than it does on clothes, health insurance, prescription drugs or entertainment." Consumerism has a way, in other words, of sneaking up on the best of us.
Through the rest of the book, Eisenberg leads us through the "Buy Side" -- a journey directly into our own hearts and minds, asking among other questions: What are we really looking for when we buy? Why are we alternately excited, guilt-ridden, satisfied, disappointed, and recklessly impulsive? What are our biases, need for status, impulses to self-express, that lead us individually to buy what we buy?
This book is fun, serious, well written and pokes some serious holes into some of the other books I have reviewed. It is a good gift for your children/young adults as well as yourself as we are all in there. I really liked it. Find out if you are a classic buyer or a romantic buyer? What is a Great Buy? Lots there for the retailer to learn from as well.
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