The doom and gloom of retail at Christmas

So early reports are that sales are down 4% this year retail wise compared to last year.  While that doesn’t sound like that much, it is if you are a store owner who depends on Christmas sales to make or break your year.  Wendy and I were in Sears in early December and we were the only ones in the store, I originally thought it was closed and even while shopping, I had my doubts.  A week ago I walked through the store again and was shocked to see bins of stuff marked down from 40% to 75% off.  Even when were at Eddie Bauer, everything was marked down 30% in the store and there really was no rush of people in the mall, despite the Boxing Day prices.

It’s easy to blame the economy and that is no small part of the equation but in Saskatchewan we are experiencing an economic boom.  We are a frugal people but on the Saturday before Christmas, I walked in and out of Wal-Mart in ten minutes.  That never happens that close to Christmas even in less prosperous times.

Saskatchewan Roughrider Jersey Barbecue Cover What happened?  As a geek, there really wasn’t that much I wanted this year.  Sure a big hard drive would be nice and who wouldn’t want a Nikon D90 but other than a couple PSP games, nothing really made it on my Christmas list.  Even Lee, who is a bigger geek than I am didn’t ask for anything tech this year.  Neither one of us are excited by Microsoft Vista and we are too intelligent to use Macs (calm down, I am kidding).  There was some team gear that was kind of cool but too high priced to get (Saskatchewan Roughrider jersey barbecue covers were pretty cool but at almost $100 too much money) but other than that, I wasn’t that blown away by much of anything on the shelves.  Lots of people were looking for a Nintendo Wii but for other gaming systems, there really wasn’t a must have game.  Instead a lot of places seemed more determined to sell me a 50” television than anything else and if I wasn’t into that… what else did I need to have?

I am wondering if after years of easy credit, do not pay for 2 years, low APR financing, not only are we debted out, we are consumed out as well?  Maybe after years of consuming, we are full.  They speak of the insatiable American desire for more stuff but take a look at what Amazon had for it’s gift guides, it hasn’t changed that much in years.  The Google Android is cool but it is really enough to make you drop your BlackBerry or iPhone for?

Even among books I struggled.  Over the last several years there has always been a “must read” but this year only the re-release of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian trilogy generated any kind of interest and that was only because it was a good gift to some friends.

Maybe we are finally approaching the point in our lives where we realize that our economic future can’t be taken for granted and just maybe we may have enough for now.  In some ways I wonder even if this doesn’t turn into a depression (although reading that Ohio lost 100,000 jobs in 2008 was staggering), our collective economic woes may bring about changes to the world on the same scale that 9/11 did to the American worldview and I am not sure that is a bad thing.