Dec 11, 2008

Which values will prevail?

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: American life| trendspotting| values

What are things supposed to cost now? Last week an old friend complimented me on my bag and asked me if it was new. It was. Then she asked me what I paid for it (she’s Dutch). I named the price, and her eyes popped out as she yelled, “You’re kidding!” I wasn’t sure whether she was marking me as the doyenne of deals or a sucker. But then she set me straight. Although I paid only a third of the original price, apparently there’s a further 50 percent markdown at a boutique in her neighborhood that’s going out of business. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

But who knows what counts as a good deal anymore? And what’s next—haggling over prices in the department store, like some sort of high-end street market? Are Americans ready for a world where they have to decide value for themselves every time they buy? “What’s your best price?” “How much if I take three?” And what if something is indeed a really good deal? Is it patriotic to buy now even if you don’t absolutely need it—or is it wasteful? Is it smart to try and get a deal by buying two—or is it greedy?

Just a few months ago, many Americans bought what they wanted and needed without a second thought. Now every purchase has the potential to turn into a conflict of values. Which values will prevail?

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    I was shopping in a Georgetown (DC) boutique this afternoon - lured in by an "Everything 40% off for the holidays" sign, and I inquired whether the price of a sweet woven belt was 40% off the sale price on the tag. When the boutique owner told me the sale price on the tag already reflected the reduction, I put it back on the shelf and turned to leave. Before I got to the door, he asked me if I would buy it if they reduced the price another 20%. I said yes and bought it. As I walked out of the store, I had mixed feelings about the experience. Belt bargaining and belt tightening are uncomfortable.
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