Shopping, Shortages and Shenanigans – The New Normal

Gone are the days of bemoaning the fact that my favorite local jeweler no longer has my Movado watch battery because they have gone exclusively Rolex. Never again will I need to sacrifice a morning in the waiting room of the Mercedes dealership sipping freshly ground flavored coffee and eating two hour old pastries while I impatiently wait for my 30,000 mile scheduled maintenance covered by the warranty. Sigh!

This is all sarcasm of course because I will take weeding my garden and cooing at our elusive bobcat from my front porch rocker any day over my consumer driven previous life. But I still have to purchase items and, rising inflation aside, there are big cracks in the consumer foundation appearing everywhere. Buckle up folks; it's time to put the nose to the grindstone.

As a trained proficient consumer I expect to find what I need somewhere. Wait, where did all those stores go? The big box store chain competition seems to be mostly shuttered at the local strip mall and on many Main Streets. From what I have recently observed the only places with thriving commerce, aka the old economy, are certain "A List" cities, locations that benefit from government operations and the larger college towns, also known as places where most people still have their jobs. For the rest of us plebs, it is not looking so rosy.

While most items we want or need are still obtainable for now, the acquisition process is becoming much more cumbersome to navigate and in some cases downright inconvenient. If this is frustrating for me now I can only imagine the sheer horror when we get to the part with outright shortages, rationing and rage once this all begins to really play out.

regular people with shaortages in venezuelaRegular people in Venezuela after shortages began

We are discovering that stores are stocking less and less while depending more than ever on "just in time" deliveries. Sometimes those deliveries are not just in time and the item I want is not available for a week, a month, or even more. I'm talking about common brand names for spaghetti sauces and things like horseradish.

Recently we were in a big box home improvement store and commented to an employee that the temperature was a bit hot inside. She explained that the thermostat for the entire store was regulated from headquarters and not even the store manager could fiddle with it. Centrally planned shopping experiences; you can't make this stuff up.

This spring we visited a large garden center and purchased two pecan trees which needed to be planted near each other in order to cross pollinate. Unfortunately one did not survive transplanting, making it necessary to replace it. When we returned to the garden center we found they no longer had pecan trees in stock. After asking questions I located the woman we were told could special order another tree. When we approached her with our problem her answer shocked us.

The lady told us that "corporate” had recently "yanked" her authority to order things. Headquarters now decided what to send and which store would receive what, including the plants in her garden center, with no exceptions. If it wasn’t sent to the garden center by headquarters we apparently didn’t need it to begin with. So much for diversity of product and satisfying the customer’s needs.

There are other strange happenings in the world of buying "stuff". Some items are just disappearing completely. Because they are not “high demand" items perhaps no one is really missing them as of yet. Silly little things such as those canvas pocket organizers that fit five gallon buckets. I had bought a few for less than $7 each last year when we moved to the mountain, really good ones that will last 20+ years. They are great for hauling and organizing Cog's tools.

I also have one I tote back and forth to the garden each day with my drinking water and iPhone and all kinds of things I might need such as string, magic markers, seeds, hand tools, gloves etc. We found a need to purchase another and much to our surprise it was a no-go. Lowes is out, permanently. Home Depot is discontinuing them. Amazon has really expensive ones for $30 or more. You can get one that fastens around the outside, but they won't stay secure for long with much weight. So what happened? Did they just stop making them? Did the central shopping planners decide this wasn’t something we needed now?

Other disruptions in the purchasing force have included not being able to find the inexpensive clothes line used to hang laundry on. I opted for an expensive large quantity of synthetic clothes line that will hopefully last much longer, but the choice was no longer mine.

Transactions other than purchases are more difficult these days. A simple return or exchange requires both a clearly communicated store return policy and a competently trained employee to complete the process. Often one or both are hard to come by these days as stores become more stringent with returns and employees are often not trained in the store return policy nor to put cheerful customer service near the top of their priorities.

I have done several things to address my buying behavior and expectations in order to align with developing circumstances. No longer do I count on being able to find what I need when I need it. Nor do I anticipate friendly help from employees when shopping. At this point I am even adjusting to not triggering when my fellow shoppers project their gloominess in my direction.

Most of the time common courtesy seems too much to muster while other customers trudge through their days trying to find what they need as well. Smiles and a polite "excuse me" seem beyond many. I encounter these attitudes at stores ranging from discount grocery stores to high end organic shops, which indicates to me that this dark mood has permeated a range of socio-economic venues.

If you are fortunate (cough, cough) enough to live in a city or town where business is still booming, congratulations. But at least take note. Those last bastions of intact shopping malls and well stocked stores may be a temporary luxury and where the foundational cracks may soon spread as the reported retail numbers are looking gloomier by the quarter.

May I suggest we all keep our eyes open and avoid getting caught needing something essential that can easily be bought today, but is nowhere to be found tomorrow. And if you are of the disposition to be a person randomly passing out smiles, don't stop now. That fellow shopper or grouchy employee is also a fellow consumer attempting to come to grips with changing times and your kind attitude and act of friendliness sets the example of how we all might be, shopping endorphins or not.

abandoned malls

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8 thoughts on “Shopping, Shortages and Shenanigans – The New Normal”

  1. Of course this comes up just as I was about to venture to the local Garden Center to do some buying. Better stock up on those items while I can (if I can!). Maybe get to that hydroponics setup today?

    Thanks again for the reminder that we’re living on borrowed time.

  2. Mrs Cog,

    I concur with the article, I’ve been selling shit for thirty years. I used to sell high quality shit, then medium quality shit and now low quality shit and it costs more than the high quality shit,Hmm… I spend half of my working day fixing the problems related to low quality shit and ultra narcissistic customers, these two things do not go together well.

    The cracks in the foundations are definitely there even in the more affluent neighbor hoods. When I take a drive to the hydroponics store in another town, that road used to be a nightmare with traffic jams galore. It’s now just like any other town traffic wise.

    Mrs Cog another great article and keep them coming, I have to go sell some shit.

    Mr Pepper

  3. Throughout each day, I try to think of what I can’t live without. I can make wonderful laundry soap. but I cannot make a q-tip lol. When I bought new indoor floor mats to wipe our feet, I bought four extra. They will get good use. When I found quality garden hoses on sale, I grabbed four to put in the basement. As long as they will get used, it just seems to make sense where we can fit it into the budget.

  4. I feel extreme guilt if I buy something I don’t really need, an example would be a blender/chopper that I got on clearance and it sat in the closet for a year before I used it. I had to convince myself it was okay after 3 days of debating with my ego to purchase this thing. The awakening process will do this to you or that’s what it’s doing to me. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just a lot different and I’m having to re-learn everything that’s important in life.

    On the other hand I buy lots of things for the garden and hydroponics, I justify it because I’m producing something rather than just consuming something. I have to say the garden gives me some what of a balance in this insane consumer driven economy.

  5. Really like this and concur with the sentiment of this article.

    I find if your really friendly -my default state until proven otherwise- people hook you up with discounts, for-warning to when good products are coming in etc . Most random/amazing things can happen.

    Would be great to have a series of articles where people report back their findings with regards to coming change. Was having a debate with a broker friend of mine, and it got round to the subject of collapse/change, (previously untouchable topic for him) and we came to the conclusion that it is already happening. Look at Detroit, Pine Ridge reservation, Greece, Egypt, Iraq, Camden New Jersey, to name but a few.

    All of these place have/are experiencing change, or outright collapse. (Detropia is a great documentary about Detroit).

    AN aside, Demitry Orlovs new edited book’Communities that abide’ is a great look at some of the challenges, principles new communities should have.

  6. Well, as a 9 year ex-pat in response to this very interesting article, let me just say a warm welcome to the, yet another, real world for those of you still living in what has been universally recognized as the most “convenient” society in history.

    You are beginning to experience the first phases of the culture-shock we ex-pats experience within whatever 2nd or 3rd world society we’ve chosen as our individually perceived soft landing zone. This is the process of change, whether on an individual or societal level, that we almost all have to look forward to in one way or another in our futures.

    May I suggest that an alternative to stocking and hoarding can be to commence your skills at adapting. The stocking and hoarding of consumables are probably just the putting off of an inevitability and your money and energies may pay you greater dividends as gold or silver coin, further down your pathway. The resistance to this change is not individually futile, but it can almost always prove to be more expensive if carried to extremes rationalized by one’s relative rigidity of self image.

    This is not to say that it cannot be fun and full of personal rewards, as always, that is part and parcel with adaptability of intellectual and spiritual consciousness. But from my experience and from what I have seen around me, the younger – not necessarily the richer, you enter into this commitment, the easier the rewards of doing it can come for you.

    I’m just saying, – as my first reaction to this very sweet and giving article from Mrs Cog.

    Tiger hugs to all,

    Glynn – from the edge of the Valdivian galaxy

    Luv & best wishes to all, Glynn

  7. I live in a one-light town in northern Florida. The county seat is 12 miles north. I’ve been here nearly 30 years now and have seen the rise and now current fall of the once familiar small merchant, strip mall stores, not to mention the closing of the only major mall in our county. I’ve sensed this coming since the mid-80’s. Back then it was as though I was delusional, as a investment advisor I’d have conversations with others in my profession and they’d stare back at me like I was from another planet when I brought up the subject of collapse. To me it was obvious our cultural way of life, the mindless, insatiable mass consumption and the explosion in credit that came with it wasn’t sustainable, but others would say I was wrong and that we had always come out on top. In essence, I was at best misinformed and at worst anti-American. Growth was the sole answer but no one could ever answer of infinite growth in a finite world.

    Today it is slowly but surely coming to pass. Stores are closing on a monthly basis. Family institutions that had been around for decades are shuttering. Even the despised Big Box stores are showing definitive signs of contraction. Fewer selections, less staff, lower lighting and smaller sizes in product offerings (“stealth” inflation – same price, smaller sizes)., to name a few, In fact, my sense of it is that some of these big name stores will themselves begin to close. In the rural area I live in it’s apparent they’re generating YoY lower revenues.

    In a sense it is surreal. I was certain we would arrive here, but it’s still very strange to watch it all unfold and see so many still (desperately) cling to the belief that someday we’ll return to infinite growth and “good” times. I don’t bother anymore suggesting that we’re not going back to that. It’s pointless and leaves people either flustered or dejected. Letting go and transitioning to whatever “system” lies ahead won’t be easy. Humanity rarely perceives change as “good.”

  8. Today I wanted to get my garage organized by purchase more utility shelves like I currently have. Lowes, Home Depot, Ace, TrueValue all only had the ability to order online and deliver to a local store. The store doesn’t get any profit from this (confirmed by the local Ace and TrueValue). Additionally, the prices were twice what I paid for the ones I currently have. Yes, I did get rid of a truck load of items as well.

    Several of the comments above mention closings they are noticing. A good website to keep tabs on the progress of the collapse from a jobs perspective is – http://www.dailyjobcuts.com/. This site shows closings, downsizes and bankruptcies.

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