Thursday, September 25, 2008

Everyone must buy

As I began my investigation at Barton Creek Square Mall, I noticed a glittery and hot pink store with mirrors in the shape of hearts. It was a little girls’ store full of pink merchandise with fake make up, hair extensions, and Jonas Brothers t-shirts. Moms sat on the pink dressers as their daughters wandered around thrilled at potentially owning some merchandise. Other girls had already picked out some accessories and were working on convincing their mothers to buy it for them. Little girls were looking in the mirror puckering their lips while applying lip-gloss. Others trying on dresses and twirling around with their big skirts. As I took the escalator downstairs I saw a group of people surrounding a series of floor mats with young girls performing gymnastics exercises following directions from their couch. Two women sat on a table on the side and took donations for their organization, Capital Gymnastics. As the girls did handstands and push ups in their little outfits, shoppers and leering old men watched.

As I continued walking away from the crowd, I noticed a series of business carts along the Barton Creek Square mall’s main walkways. Salespeople attending the carts waited for potential customers as people walked by; once a customer showed interest, the cart merchant assisted him or her. Other salespeople were standing while they loudly promoted the “special sales” in order to lure the consumer.

In my mall visit—strictly for research and observation—I planned to purchase nothing. While walking by these various carts, I was targeted by a woman promoting soap samples in a basket. With no one around, I thought for sure I could not get away from her. She reeled me in by handing me soap samples to smell and telling me about the different scents. After grabbing the final soap sample, her attention shifted to my nails, asking me if I had ever gotten a manicure. Once I responded “no”, she praised me for never having had one, stating that manicures are harmful because of the employment of chemicals. As I watched the monitor on the cart with an image of the earth zoomed in to a scene at the beach with a woman holding sand and rubbing it on her body, I thought I was their target audience because I was a woman and the saleswoman could convince me with no interference because I was alone. The saleswoman grabbed my hand and buffered my nails. Describing the nail product as very effective and not very time consuming, she continued at length about how the product is completely natural and very healthy for the nails. She counted the seconds for the time spent on each side of the buffer and then revealed my nail by saying, “get ready to be surprised!” Even after all of this, I still had no intent on buying the product and looked for an opportunity to leave. She was on a mission and without fail she continued showing me more products and finally introduced a packaged collection of products I had previously sampled. Not wanting me to turn her down right away she offered me the price of the package and explained how I would save money by purchasing the products as a collection.

As I kept telling her that I was there to do research and trying to ask her questions about the business she kept turning her attention to the product. I told her several times that I was a student and could not afford the product. With a trainee beside her she started telling her, “I usually don’t do this, but I am going to give her my manager discount.” She kept telling me, “you are really nice and since you are a student I am giving you a special offer”. Brainwashed at that moment, I was convinced it was a good deal and made the purchase. Part of the reason I bought the product was that I felt I owed it to her for pampering me for a whole fifteen minutes. As Peter Corrigan writes in his book “Society of Consumption”, “One has to reciprocate in some way unless one is happy taking someone’s words without paying for them. The consumer seems to purchase the performance almost as much as the good.” She kept emphasizing that I should take care of my nails and that I should spoil myself once in a while. Who knows if she was being honest about the “special discount” or if she used her assistant to convince me she was offering me a good price. If the salesperson had not been there, I would never have made that purchase.

The persistent saleswoman’s company was called Seacret which is based in Israel and whose U.S. employees all come from Israel. There are four Seacret carts in the mall, three downstairs and one upstairs. As I approached the cart upstairs, I asked a Seacret salesman if I could interview him. After he agreed, I asked how many carts they had and which one gets the most business, he was very reluctant and asked me why I was asking. Since I was not interested in the product he was not interested in helping me. While I observed the other Seacret sales carts, I figured out their main tactics: the salesmen gets uncomfortably close and focuses all of his attention and eye to the female customer as he keeps contact with her hands. As I walked by a hair straightener cart, a salesman asked me “how are you” followed by “do you need a hair straightener?”. My response was “I think my hair is already straight”. Then he pointed to some display wigs and said that I could also curl my hair with it. As I started to walk away saying, “no thanks” his coworker approached saying, “just try it” as there were sample hair strengtheners. I kept saying no and sped up my walking pace. I did not want to get manipulated into spending more money.

Everyone in the mall was carrying a shopping bag; it seems almost impossible for people not to spend. Whether it’s an article of clothing or a simple beverage, the mall drives people to buy. Department stores along with shopping malls were designed to provide the consumer with a wide selection of products, or in Corrigan’s words, “It seemed to indicate that shoppers really could find anything they wanted under the one roof, so they might gravitate to the department store for the convenience of this alone.” As in smaller cities, the mall is the center for entertainment because it is compact with everything you need, which makes it the most exciting place to visit. This steers the customer to the mall and then the mall compels him or her to buy. Mass production, transportation, and urbanization allowed for a dominant capitalist society since the early 20th century, which makes it difficult and almost impossible to imagine a society less dependent on consumerism.

No comments: