Monday, November 1, 2010

Avalanche of Choices

About this time of year the volume of catalogs coming in the mail each day increases and threatens to become overwhelming. Christmas is coming, after all, and every merchant wants his share of the pie that is my budget. While I appreciate offers of new products that could make my life simpler or more fun, the demands of making so many decisions can make you feel like you're trying to outrun a locomotive.

Not all catalogs are bad, just most of them. Living in rural Utah for more than 30 years, where the shopping opportunities and product choices are limited, I have made a habit of shopping from catalogs, but I quickly became very discriminating about the options I took. It was so much easier than going out in the weather and having to listen over PA systems to all that poorly performed Christmas music at holiday time. Even now that I live in metropolitan Utah, I continue to shop from catalogs because the shipping costs are less than gas for the car to drive to the mall, not find what I want, drive several other places and not find it there either, and then try to find an alternate item. I could google it and just drive to one place, but there's that crowd hassle to contend with, too.

Some of my catalog shopping experiences have been less than pleasing, but the vast majority have been positive. It's so nice to find all my Christmas shopping delivered at my front door. I've found some unique gifts that way which would otherwise have required a lot of serendipitous searching to locate. Now, for instance, my son has a tee shirt he wears proudly which has a name tag printed on it that says "HELLO my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed me father. Prepare to die." (The Princess Bride is one of our favorite movies.)

What makes catalog shopping even easier is that I can order everything from the catalog website, and maybe even find some other treasure while I'm at it in the specials for online customers. I know immediately if the item is backordered, out of stock, no longer available or doesn't come in the color I want. And there aren't any snippy sales clerks to contend with. Rarely have I received the wrong item or had to send anything back.

By the way, the items you order are not kept in a warehouse until the purchase is made. They are in the order fulfillment center. That's how much catalog shopping has changed since I was a little girl and spent hours choosing what I was going to ask Santa to bring me from the Montgomery Wards catalog. They had an actual warehouse and they weren't afraid to call it what it was.

However, catalogs breed like vermin. Buy something from one catalog and you're suddenly on the mailing list for their seventeen sister catalog companies. It's like being besieged by dozens of greedy children all yelling "Gimme!" We thought moving to a new place last year would get us off some mailing lists, but alas, they have found us anyway, and have redoubled their efforts. For example, we have started receiving unsolicited catalogs for pet products - you know, cute clothes for poodles and adorable designer doggie beds and monogramed water dishes. This is annoying on several levels because we don't have any pets and being allergic, don't intend to get any. It annoys me that marketers assume that people in our demographic, i.e. people our age, all have pets. I've heard about people who treat their pets better than they treat their kids, but I'm not one of them.

If we want to cut the nuisance factor, we will have to ask these people to take us off the mailing list we didn't want to be on in the first place, which, they will tell us, will take four to six weeks. Labels are printed that far in advance and like the next crop of American Idol losers, there's no way to stop them. Somebody at a computer could easily delete my name and address from the data bank today with one key stroke, but apparently that person doesn't show up for work regularly. I once began receiving unsolicited catalogs of skimpy lingerie and sex toys. I wrote letters to the company and asked them to remove my name from their mailing list. However, I kept getting catalogs I couldn't refuse because, of course, the Post Office is obligated to deliver to me whatever has my name on it. Apparently the company thought I was just kidding. After all, who wouldn't want to engage in a little S and M fantasy now and then. It practically took an Act of Congress before they got the message. I had to file an official complaint with the Post Office to put an end to it, and I had to do it twice to prove I was serious because the catalogs kept coming.

Some catalogs can cause an instant guilt trip. Especially at Christmas time, you get offers you don't get any other time of year. Just this week I received one that invited me to forego buying gifts for all my privileged family and friends and instead purchase an animal, or a herd, for a poor family in some destitute country. It's unfair to be burdened this way with a choice that could mean life or death to an unschooled boy in Africa. I can't deal with that kind of pressure, and I'm an extraordinarily generous person. If I give a goat to one child, they'll all want one, and I can't afford that.

Over the years I've become more discriminating, and each day when the mail comes, I dig through the avalanche and make three stacks: catalogs I have no interest in, catalogs that I'll read for amusement, and catalogs I might actually want to do business with. More and more the temptation is less and less, and it is a most liberating feeling on the day I can fling them all into the recycle bin.


jww said...

Yes, moving into a house that used to belong to someone else is annoying!! We have had the same problem with the catalogs. I'm NOT INTERESTED in any of the catalogs the lady who used to live here apparently enjoyed. I actually wrote "return to sender; remove from mailing list" on several of them until the mailman wrote me a note that says "if it has your address on it, it's yours." But it's not my NAME! I really hate it, but at least the catalogs aren't as bad as some of yours have been.

We actually got our first Williams-Sonoma catalog in the mail yesterday, and it was fun to look through with the kids. Their favorite was a 5-oz. can of caviar that could be purchased for a mere $475.00. NOT KIDDING.

Mary said...

Ironically, the one catalog that I do want to get (from a nursery) is one that I've had to request each year. I've dog-eared all the pages of perennials that I hope someday to order, and the season always runs out before any extra money runs in. This nursery takes you off the mailing list if you never order anything, which tells me they also have good business sense.

I don't get a lot of other catalogs, but I do love having my Christmas shopping delivered to my door. I do about 90% of Christmas business online--and when I find a good deal on toys, I stock up to be prepared for my children's frequent birthday invitations that appear from their backpacks the night before a party. I do get a lot of emails from retailers, but those are so much easier to deal with than a stack of catalogs that I never open.

Blasé said...

Goats are not as cheap as they used to be...