Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Discount illusions drive retailers, shoppers

The 20 percent solution fits the business case for retailers this season.

Owners of sport shops, housewares emporiums and jewelry merchants seem to have settled on 20 percent as the magic discount number for golf clubs, Crock pots and diamond bracelets.

If there's a newspaper coupon or internet deal involved, it seems that you are getting a 20 percent haircut courtesy of your local store. But, are you really?

It's taken to an extreme at an outfit called Bed, Bath and Beyond. Shoppers roll into my local outlet clutching fistfulls of their 20 percent coupons like wedding bouquets. And, even when presented with coupons with expiration dates from the Bush administration, clerks dutifully scan the bar code for the 20 percent bonus for their grateful customers.

No doubt the bar code tells them who's shopping from what address -- and gives them the marketing muscle and targeting to send even more of those oversized blue coupons. The illusion of discount is perpetuated -- even if the final transaction prices is more-or-less in line with their competitor's prices.

I love the store and its selections. But only a rookie should be caught in their paying the BB&B retail -- without 20-percent-off coupons.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Seasonal greenery work loses patina

Bush-trimming brings out my inner sculptor.

Alexander Calder may have great pieces on the plaza in downtown Chicago and elsewhere around the planet, but my annual outdoor household greenery rite generates personal satisfaction and neighborhood panache.

There's nothing more powerful than pulling out an 18-inch electric trimmer to give an unwieldy burning bush or sprawling arborvitae an overdue summertime haircut. But, after the initial whacks, a sense of serenity evolves as hard cutting gives way to smooth brushing and precise trimming. Squares, orbs and flat-tops never looked so good on a late June afternoon...particularly since they're not on a human head.

Sure, the worst part of the job is the clean-up -- scraps of twigs, leaves, and needles so small that they make removing drops of thermometer mercury seem like a walk. I hate it.

Result: My inner landscaper will never overtake my inner sculptor.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Silence of the butter lambs

It's come to this. No eyes. No ribbon.

The Easter butter lamb has always made for a special holiday season. Dinner with the family became special when the sculpted dairy staple made its entrance on the table, ready for spreading on thick slices of fresh, crusty rye bread.

But from a child's point of view, the peppercorn eyes and the red ribbon scarf around the icon's neck made that butter seem like dairy heaven.

So it was highly upsetting to see this year's butter lambs offered without "eyes" and without the proper red flourish. The damn thing just looked like The Sphinx. It looked positively skinny, too, with a poor center of gravity that made it seem as vulnerable as a drunken sailor.

I don't want to think it was pure economics for leaving out the two identifiers that had given the butter lamb its "brand identity." But I'd be willing to bet it was the reason the quarter-pounder had been shrunk to the equivalent of a few stacked pads.

Yeah, our lamb got retrofitted with the forgotten goods. But, just as with Christmas toys, cable TV installation, and dry cleaning, it should have been done right the first time!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vehicle accelerates pointed communication

People who talk too much often say the very least.

It always scares me when intellectual capital is trumped by unbridled verbosity. Smarts fall victim to capacity all too often in business, academia and social circles.

In this 24/7 world of communication, however, I have seen a surprising point of light. It's Twitter.

Finally, there is forum that limits its users to 140 characters of text to make a point, give an opinion, highlight a link, or make a stand. We've finally forced people to get to the point more quickly -- whether they want to or not.

Twitter is a great rehabilitation vehicle for frustrated writers and communicators. Who can ever forget adding six extra pages to an already mind-numbing high school history term paper in hopes of earning a better grade? It didn't work then and it works less now.

Tweets are the written equivalent of EPA fuel economy standards for cars. People expect great mileage from the gas in the tank. Tweets offer great communication from the words in a sentence.

Pedal to the metal!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Media snows public on weather report

Buy salt. Check windshield wiper-fluid level. Put snow shovel in trunk.

The media types made the case and provided the checkist. Get ready for the Storm of the Century!

The result? Same as the Game of the Century, Vintage of the Century, Car of the Century and Flood of the Century. More bluster than benefit, more hype than help.

Last night I was ready for 12 to 15 inches of pristine snow roaring in from the Great Plains. Make no plans for Wednesday, I thought, warm-up for multiple shoveling sessions, and get ready to hunker down with good books.

The driveway only took on seven inches of the white stuff. It's a substantial snowfall for certain but not enough to order snowshoes or rent a fleet of sled dogs. I don't even want to think about the economic hardship it caused businesses and shopkeepers who had frightened employees not showing up for work or customers scared of slippin' and slidin'.

I thought journalists were supposed to inform and enlighten. Unfortunately, in the 24/7 world of today's news cycle, they don't have much time to do either.