Tag Archives: consumerism

In Cheap We Trust (Lauren Weber) – Review

In cheap we trust : the story of a misunderstood American virtueIn Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue by Lauren Weber
Age: Adult
Genre: Sociology / money / consumerism
Source: Library
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co, 2009
ISBN: 9780316030281 / 310 pages
Find this book at your local library

In this book, author Lauren Weber provides an interesting and in-depth look at the social history of frugality in America dating back to the founding fathers (namely Benjamin Franklin).

The chapters dealt with the American response, necessity and dependence of consumerism through various eras of our history. There is a huge list of titles at the end, both in resources and in the chapter-by-chapter bibliography, for readers who want to learn more. This isn’t a book of tips on how to be frugal. Its most a book about the philosophy behind frugality. Its a great resource for people already living simply and wanting to feel more empowered in their decisions.

Overall I liked the book and found myself questioning my spending habits during the week or so I spent reading this book. I agreed with her on many points. There were only a couple of (rather glaring) elements that I didn’t like about the book.

The Bad:
The chapter regarding stereotypes of Jewish and Chinese immigrants seemed out-of-place and took away from the chronological flow of the book. It felt forced into the book when I think the concept of immigrants and frugality could have been interwoven throughout the entire text rather than jammed into the middle.

The chapter on freegans on contemporary anti-consumerist mentalities was interesting, although I would have preferred to learn more about people actually dealing with poverty rather than those that take on the poverty mentality just to make a statement or feel at peace with the inner conflict of having too much money in their bank accounts.


Why We Buy (Paco Underhill) – Review

Why we buy : the science of shoppingWhy We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
Read by Rick Adamson
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction / Consumerism
Format: Audio CD
7 discs, 8 hours & 35 minutes
Random House, 2000

Find this book at your local library

Why We Buy is an in-depth look at consumerism in retail stores in the United States. CEO Paco Underhill takes us through various incidents, and experiences of hundreds of hours of field research in: shopping malls, bookstores, department stores, etc, to answer the simple question of how to make shopping easier for the consumer.

I really felt jipped by this book. Rick Adamson did a wonderful job narrating the book, bringing in a very upbeat and energetic tone of voice. Although it was informative, albeit somewhat outdated, I felt that this book should really have been called “How to Sell.” I didn’t really find out why we buy, just how retailers make it easier for us to buy. In my mind, those are two different concepts.

The book was written in 2000, and it was sort of eerie listening to Underhill prophesize the future of certain industries. He was correct in that self-check machines would soon appear everywhere, but he was wrong about a number of things. Namely how the Internet would play a role in consumerism. I think the entire section on Internet can be skipped. There is a 2008 revised edition of Why We By that focuses on the influence of the Internet, and I think that would be a more appropriate read.

I was also somewhat put-off that the shopper was always a “she” and that “she” would veer towards certain products. Health & fitness, cooking and parenting books are all “female” topics. It felt sexist to me, and that was discouraging as a female listener. I don’t want to be typecast just because I’m female, and its somewhat disturbing that major retailers would view genders in that way.

Perhaps the creepiest element of the book is right in the beginning when Underhill discusses the “trackers” he employees to gauge a shop’s accessibility and levels of accommodation towards its customers. It’s like a stalker 101 guide. The trackers will pick one shopper and follow them around the store, taking careful notes of what they look at, how long they look at an object, if they touch the object, how many times they touch and object, etc.

Despite all the flaws, I still found myself inspecting all the shops I walked into while listening to this book. It does raise awareness that retailers do go out of their way to sell certain goods and that the placement of each and every object in a store is carefully considered. Not much of the information was new or shocking, but I am curious as to what new strategies Underhill has uncovered and written about in the 2008 updated version of Why We Buy.

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