Sunday, April 19, 2009

Getting Something for Nothing

A few years ago I read a great book, written by a 60 something woman, about her memories of her mother who was an expert at winning contests. Back in the 50's and early 60's contesting was a big deal and lots of women entered contests which required skill in order to win. Sponsoring companies would ask people to compose poems or jingles, solve word problems or guess totals of product sales and win interesting, fabulous prizes: everything from basketballs to bikes to shopping sprees or new cars. The author, Terry Ryan, wrote about growing up poor with 9 brothers and sisters and an alcoholic father and a mother who was clever and witty enough to make ends meet by contesting. This book: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio was also made into a movie starring Julianne Moore. Sadly, contests slowly fell out of favor for drawings of chance.

Move to 2009--Sam Pocker is a self described stand up economist and has written the book Retail Anarchy. He writes about the economy from a consumers point of view. He is especially fond of what I will call "stunt shopping". Triangulating coupons, with in-store deals with cash back on products--all legal, all ethical if not stretching the intent of the deals a bit. He has a self-righteous I-am-entitled-to-this attitude as well. Several people have commented on what a jerk this guy appears to be and he probably is a jerk, but I gotta say his stunts and his lifestyle are fascinating and I think make avery good story. Sam Pocker's methods of getting something for nothing are very different than Terry Ryan's mother's but that doesn't make them any less interesting or important. Sam Pocker is exactly the kind of bargain shopper you would expect for the new millenium. (Is it still new?)

His book is divided into several sections: The first section is a rant about customer service which is the least interesting. Maybe service in NYC is is ALL uniformly bad, but here in the midwest we do have some good service. He writes off every service person with one pen: all bad. The second section is the most interesting where he talks about all his stunts and deals. I kept turning the pages of this section. Section three was about rebating and refunding which again was mildly interesting--especially his riff on his extended stay at Staples.

He excoriates anyone who isn't pulling all the same stuff he is and getting discounts and rebates and paying nothing for our merchandise the way he is, but he forgets two things: most of us have full time jobs and in our spare time have other things we like to do than hunt for coupons and triangulate deals--all of that takes real time. Second, his model of buying up every bottle of soy sauce in the store is NOT sustainable. Only one person can buy every single bottle of soy sauce in a store and get the rebates to make enough money to feed a family of 4.

So yes, Retail Anarchy was a good book in a voyeuristic way. Here are the lurid stories of a coupon clipper and super shopper. I do not think I could do that, but it is the kind of story that makes for lively reading.

Retail Anarchy was a website first which is worth checking out. I could not find his book in my local public library so I ordered it off the internet. Let me know if you would like to borrow it.

1 comment:

Steph said...

Wow - sounds like quite the story! I think we Midwesterners might have too much "nice" in us to push that hard. Is that a good thing, bad, neutral? :-)