Friday, April 25, 2014

The Discount Society

We've become a discount society. In fairness, most of the rest of the world is right on our heals, but I think this is one area where we really are still Number 1.

I doubt Walmart started it, but they certainly epitomize it today.  When did this happen?  I can remember when I was a kid we weren't so concerned about beating the other guy down into an "I win, you lose" position.  We did expect to negotiate on the price of a car, but most everything else was priced fairly straight forward.

We bought most of our clothes at the local "haberdasher" (except we didn't call it that).  You wanted a shirt or a pair of pants, you went to Ken's Mans Shop.  An appliance, Hollinshead's.  Hardware....Plaza's.  Groceries....Wyatt's.  Our pharmacy was Payne's.  They posted an honest price right up front and we paid it.  We knew each other, we were neighbors (literally), and we all did pretty well.  "Amazon" was still just a river in Brazil.

Those days are gone.  Today we buy our clothes at mega-conglomerate superstores (Macy's), appliances come from one or the other big box home stores as does our hardware, our pharmacy is more likely to be a huge national chain (Walgreens, CVS), and our groceries come from Kroger, Safeway, or increasingly, Walmart.  Even our shoes come from Discount Shoe Warehouse, and our tires from Discount Tire.  They even put "discount" right up front in their name! 

To make this theme work, the first discounters, among other moves, demanded employees work for much less than they had before.  This meant the business could cut their price, gain market share, yet still make the same profit (maybe more) for their owners.  But they were counting on everyone else still having plenty of disposable income to buy whatever they were selling.

Oops.  That's where it all hit the fan.  It wasn't long before virtually every business became "discount" oriented.  It became an all out war.  Perpetual "sales" became the norm.  Manufacturers were sucked in to the price cut war, too.  Wage and benefit concessions, or at least curbs on raises, were demanded from all.   If they weren't forthcoming, the business relocated to a new low wage location, often overseas. 

At first we loved it. We could buy cool stuff for less than ever.  WooHoo!  But now we've learned the meaning of an increasingly popular term, "unintended consequences".  Now we HAVE to shop at discount stores because that's all we can afford. 

This is the age of Bigger Is Better.  All the small entrepreneurs I know are just trying to build their businesses up to the point they can sell out.  If they get too successful and attract the attention of the Big Boys, they get promptly squashed.

The days of each generation having it better than the previous one are over.  At least that's what the 20-somethings living with their parents while they try to pay off their mountain of college loan debt tell me.  

I have no answers as to how we can make things better.  I doubt there IS a way we can make things better.  The genie is NOT going back in the bottle.

The Discount Society has morphed into today's "Settle Society", as in, "I guess I'll have to settle for that".

The takeaway lesson:  We really do need to be careful what we wish for.  Often times things don't work out as planned.

Hey, it's just an observation.  Don't shoot the messenger.



  1. Some stores do it right (Costco) maybe it will become the model. Lower prices, better selection, convenience...great stuff. OK, service takes a bit of a dive.

  2. Mom and Pop can't compete, but they are sure nice places to shop at. You pay a little more, but they know you and you know them. Just saying.

  3. IMO Costco and Walmart have allowed more people to enjoy a better lifestyle and created the real middle class.

    1. Respectfully disagree, Tom. They are an integral part of the "discount mentality", which has slowly eaten away at middle class affluence. To offer those great prices most of their merchandise comes from overseas, where they now make the stuff well paid American workers used to. Those well paid American workers are now struggling to maintain their once comfortable lifestyle. This trend is bringing up standards of living in most dirt poor areas of the world, while bringing ours down. Everything is moving towards some sort of equalibrium....good for them, bad for us.

    2. Actually I have yet to find anyone who agrees with my viewpoint on this subject. Must mean I have my head up my rear end. Thanks

  4. The average worker at Walmart is eligible for food stamps and sometimes for Medicaid. We may not notice it on the grocery bill, but we will notice it on our tax bill that we are still paying "non-discounted" prices.

  5. Whenever I need or want something it never seems to be on sale. I always miss the boat and end up paying full price. Happy weekend.