Chazerai Nation, or why shopping sucks in America

Eric Garland Retail Trends 5 Comments

Seeking a non-pharmaceutical method of healing the psychic pain of wrangling two sub-civilized creatures who I hope to carry my DNA into future centuries all alone for the past week, I just chose a decidedly American option: retail therapy. Yup, most of the time I go for that “post-consumerist” self-deception where I tell myself I’m not into physical goods (except for $11.99 six-packs of craft beer and ludicrously expensive Fodera bass guitars) and really into “experiences,” but sometimes, I just gotta go all American and go SHOPPING for stuff nobody needs. Some days I just cry out: “Baby Jeebus, get me a gadget to heal my Saturday before I have to watch 19 more episodes of Dora the Explorer!” Yet because my head never turns off, even when exposed to the palliative stupor of American malls, I have returned with thoughts on the future of retail.

Back in the Cretaceous Era, there were a few outlet shops that specialized in getting rid of last season’s extras, good quality stuff that just didn’t sell. Savvy shoppers loved the feeling of getting one over on the department stores, especially if you have unusual tastes. Hey, I have size 13 feet, so this was a great way to get nice shoes 78% off, not to mention a black velour paisley blazer that was the greatest single addition to my wardrobe, maybe anybody’s wardrobe, ever. This was a Legitimate Value for shoppers.

Ah, but then the MBAs looked and said, “Ooh, American wages are frozen and jobs are being shipped to the Chinese (who in turn ship them to the Vietnamese). How can we give them the feel of getting a deal while actually just fleecing them for their lack of perception?”

Enter the Permanent Outlet Stores. The thing that amazes me is the number of suburbanites grazing in bovine fashion around these threadbare, chintzy items of clothing that are so clearly not the old style of odd, happenstance quality, but really a cheap facsimile of brand names produced by slave labor in one of the ‘Stans. The kabuki is so transparent, it’s a wonder people can be convinced to ooh and ahh. The “brand names” are just fuzzily embossed logos placed on obviously comprised merchandise, what my Yiddish-speaking friends would call “chazerai” – garbage you keep for when a sucker walks in the door.

Has nobody else noticed the last decade of consumer goods in America? My closet used to have American fashions bought ten years prior, fabrics that were comfortable and wore out slowly over time. Now, I’ve been forced to accept that I’ll be buying nearly everything anew every four to six months – even the stuff bought at full price with fancy tags. In fact, I’ve come to grips with the notion that just because you buy $189.00 jeans doesn’t mean you’re getting 1999’s quality. Nope, you’ve just signaled that you’re a $189.00 sucker. If you want any better, get some bespoke, tailored clothing like a Platinum Citizen, or hush up and accept your lot.

Hence I find myself in the nondescript suburbs, buying the middle to low end. I hope to get a few wears out of my purchases, nothing more. I’ll be back to refresh my drawers in a few weeks, which will be great since eventually I’ll need a break from domesticity and buying New Stuff will help, if but for a moment.

But I wonder how many myths of value Americans have fallen for. We seem not to know when our wages have been cut, our benefits reduced, our expectations diminished while we focus on our digital diversions. Maybe I’m only talking about shitty T-shirts, but maybe I’m talking about much more.