Monday, January 4, 2010

Defying Stereotypes

I saw more shoppers out this weekend than on any two days in November or December, and anecdotal reports from others corroborate this. This says to me that shoppers are ignoring, or at least defying, the stereotypes about doing most of their shopping in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This, of course, is not the first instance in recent years of consumers not going along with conventional commercial expectations of them. We have seen people at large getting older, but taking fewer drugs and spending fewer days in the hospital; canceling home telephone service and other subscription services; driving less for the first time in history; abandoning credit cards for debit cards and cash. All of these moves were pointed out as possibilities by industry observers, but all came as surprises, and are still largely dismissed as anomalies, by the consensus economic views reported in the media. My feeling is that more unpredictable changes are on the way from consumers this year and especially next year. Those of us who are trying to follow the economy will need to pay more attention than usual to what consumers are actually doing, and rely less than we normally would on our expectations of what consumers should be doing under the circumstances. Our expectations are based on stereotypes, and while most of the old stereotypes will still hold, we will surely be surprised by some of the previously reliable stereotypes that fall by the wayside.