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Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What [Hardcover]

Lee Eisenberg
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Nov. 3 2009
In this smart, engaging book, Lee Eisenberg, best-selling author of The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think about the Rest of Your Life, leads us on a provocative and entertaining tour of America's love/hate affair with shopping, a pursuit that, even in hard times, remains a true national pastime.

Why do we shop and buy the way we do? In a work that will explain much about the American character, Eisenberg chronicles the dynamics of selling and buying from almost every angle. Neither a cheerleader for consumption nor an anti-consumerist scold, he explores with boundless curiosity the vast machinery aimed at inducing us to purchase everything from hair mousse to a little black dress. He leads us, with understated humor, into the broad universe of marketing, retailing, advertising, and consumer and scientific research--an arsenal of powerful forces that combine to form what he calls "The Sell Side."

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?

Are you a classic buyer (your head wants to do the right thing), or a romantic buyer (your heart just wants to have fun)? How do men and women differ in their attitudes towards shopping, and does the old cliche -- "Women shop, men buy" -- apply any longer?

Of special interest are the author's findings on the subject of What Makes a Good Buy? We all purchase things that we sooner or later regret, but what are the guidelines for making purchases that we'll never regret? What, for instance, defines the perfect gift?

Brimming with wit and surprise, Shoptimism will be delightful and instructive reading for anyone with a credit card and a healthy curiosity about American culture, through good times and bad. For here, in one vivid journey, is a memorable, panoramic portrait of our everyday self-delusions, desires, and dreams.


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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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5.0 out of 5 stars The Behaviorism of Shopping Sept. 12 2010
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
In our modern society we are all purchasers and consumers of a wide range of goods and services whether we like it or not; the only distinction between us and the next person is the degree of personal devotion and passion we bring to these economic activities. For Lee Eisenberg, author of "Shoptimism", such a popular practice as consumerism, as seen in the social behavior of shopping, is a golden opportunity to investigate how it impacts the individual. It is his belief that major retail outlets around the world have developed systems by which they intentionally entrap shoppers into buying items they want as opposed to needing. Going back to the nineteen fifties, when Vance Packard wrote "Hidden Persuaders", Eisenberg shows his reader how we, a race of inveterate consumers, have become gradually vulnerable to the power of manipulative advertising in the form of subliminal messaging and emotional attachment. Today, corporate industry has left such tactics behind as it mounts a fresh attack on the upcoming generations of new consumers. Every technique in the book is now being employed to get people to buy products that they don't necessarily need. All evaluations are an attempt by the sell side to form 'buckets' of critical information on the various consumer styles out there: sports, housewife, youth, young girls, young married couples, newly retired, overweight, Yuppies, Preppies,etc. To accomplish that, market researchers invade Internet chatrooms to obtain data on the emotional impulses working on a typical consumer crowd. With the aid of cookies, companies are able to track people online as to their purchasing habits. What Eisenberg discovered in this study is that most companies control their product line through a very sophisticated form of brand manipulation. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Pleasant Account, but Where's It Going? June 18 2010
By Ink & Penner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Our capable author offers extensive personal analysis-plus on today's kind of shoppers and sellers...in the mall, inside the store, on the internet. --Though, maybe by intentional omission, he doesn't say a whole lot about buying "stuff" on the web.

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....
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun and informative book about shopping and much more. Nov. 22 2009
By David Fardon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Shoptimism is a fun and informative book about shopping, but it is much more. As a social history of America's past several decades, it informed me of much of what I had not observed around me and was nostalgic for many things I had all but forgotten. The book explores how shopping-related phenomena influence our present and have shaped our past.
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
Christmas.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read for the Buy Side and Sell Side Nov. 19 2009
By Yale L Hollander - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In the era of hyper-focused, niche marketed business texts, it's refreshing to read a book like Shoptimism which provides insight that benefits a number of different readerships, particularly those on the Sell Side (the sellers of goods and their cadres of marketers, consultants and other consumer-enablers) and those on the Buy Side (consumers in their various iterations). Aspiring retailers, salesfolk looking to better understand their constituencies, consumer psychologists and wannabe Mad Men (or Mad Women) will all benefit from the book's "Consumerism 101" stroll through the mind of the American consumer and the entities that may be pressing the buttons that spin the wheels inside that mind. Individuals who want a better understanding of why they buy and what forces may be motivating that decision-making process (or perhaps to self-diagnose an alarming lack of such process) will also be well served by this book. The author's use of personal anecdotes, whether it be a recounting of his brief tenure as a Target floorwalker, a trip to the dressing room with his wife or his observations regarding his teenage son's quest for an elusive pair of Japanese sneakers, brings some real-world perspective to a subject that many consumers take for granted or spend little time analyzing. His "come along with me" perspective when delving into the nerve center of retail anthropologist/consultant Paco Underhill or exploring the seamy underbelly of the knockoff trade is effective and informative without dipping into the realm of sensationalistic "investigative journalism." Eisenberg's conversational writing style avoids the didactic but never veers into glibness. This particular writing style - peer to peer if you will - has long been his hallmark dating back to his days as a writer for and later editor in chief of Esquire magazine. This voice works very well in addressing a subject like American consumerism where I submit we could all use a bit more education. The recently-departed Sy Syms was right -- an educated consumer IS the best customer. This book will certainly move consumers closer to that status.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Consume or Die" Dec 30 2009
By Sam Sattler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There is no doubt about it: America is a nation of shoppers and ours is an economy driven more by consumption than by production. For some of us, the craziness of Black Friday is to be avoided at all cost; for others it is a contact sport they look forward to all year long. Lee Eisenberg's "Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep on buying No Matter What," attempts to explain why that is.

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.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily the best retail book out there. Dec 22 2009
By Reg Nordman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This the author of the Number. This is an entertaining tour of America's love/hate affair with shopping,something that remains a true national pastime. Eisenberg chronicles the dynamics of selling and buying from almost every angle. Neither a cheerleader for consumption nor an anti-consumerist scold, he explores the vast machinery aimed at inducing us to purchase everything from hair mousse to a little black dress. He leads us, with understated humor, into the broad universe of marketing, retailing, advertising, and consumer and scientific research--an arsenal of powerful forces that combine to form what he calls "The Sell Side." You have to love editors just for their great writing style.

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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