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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

Why She Feels Better

One of the more obvious mistakes the mainstream media usually makes at this time of year is to refer to the American Shopper via the male-gendered third person pronoun He.

I guarantee that during some news report about holiday sales this weekend, some Talking Head will use this form when describing the shopping results from Black Friday, as in: The American consumer is still spending; in fact Wal-Mart stores says he spent 4.3 per-cent more in November than last year… The fact is that any retailer except maybe AutoZone and online engagement-ring seller Blue Nile will tell you that women drive their business.

Blue Nile, indeed, has made a business out of the fact that men hate to go to malls. More specifically, they hate to look for parking spaces, they hate to walk long distances past kiosks with stupid names, they hate to ask for help from some guy who knows nothing but how much commission he will earn selling this particular ring, they hate that awful fake smile and handshake when they’ve finally chosen a ring to buy, they hate to wait while the ring is boxed and wrapped, they hate to talk to the lady who takes their credit card and they hate to be smiled at and thanked and wished have a nice day! by the vaguely androgynous guy hanging around the exit…because men know deep down in their guts that they are being ripped off at every step of the way. Blue Nile’s simple online ring selection converts what had been a shoot-me-please-before-I-have-to-listen-to-another-sweaty-salesman-tell-me-about-the-four-C’s-or-whatever-the-hell-it-is torture session into a sort of paint-by-numbers process that is so simple even a guy can now buy an engagement ring, in his pajamas.

No parking, no salesman, no problem.

Fortunately for most retailers, however, Blue Nile is still a small company with a very limited product line. Walk any mall in America and you will see women, mostly, leading the charge. Even tough guys—including, and I am not making this up, major league baseball managers—let their wives do most of the shopping.

How do I know this?

Well, I once spotted Mike Hargrove, now managing the Seattle Mariners but back then Manager of the red-hot Cleveland Indians, at a shopping mall in downtown Baltimore. It was 1997 and the Indians were in town to play the Orioles—believe or not, the Orioles had a good team back then—in the American League playoffs.

Hargrove was not, as a baseball fan might have expected, leading a bunch of rowdy Indian coaches and players on the late-morning tag-end of an all-night pub-crawl (his great team included a young right-fielder named Manny Ramirez).

No, the manager of the mighty Cleveland Indians was following his wife from store to store around the mall, and he was carrying the shopping bags for her.

I saw immediately that Mike was exhibiting all the signs of Husband Shopping Coma Syndrome (HSCS), in which the male’s arms become strained from carrying various cutesy shopping bags from various cutesy stores such that the blood has drained down into the hands, depriving the brain of vital red blood cells necessary to stay awake, which results in, first, sloth, then lethargy, and finally despondency.

I put Mike in the post-lethargy stage, dangerously close to despondency, though still functional, walking as he was in the staggering steps of a man ready to give up.

Furthermore, it was clear that noxious vapors—probably from the leather purses in the Coach store—had shut off the oxygen flow to his brain, causing his eyes to begin rolling back into his head.

His debilitated condition allowed me to catch up with him as he put the bags down and leaned against a railing overlooking the huge atrium at the center of the mall—looking, I thought, like a man weighing the merits of ending it all right then and there.

It was the first autograph I ever got in which the famous person giving the autograph seemed genuinely relieved to see me. (I will tell the Story of the Sting Autograph some other day.) We even had a nice, brief chat about the playoff game that was happening that very night.

And then his wife came out of the store, with another shopping bag, and I left.

Which is why I say that even major league baseball managers let their wives do most of the shopping, and why the key to this holiday season’s sales is in her, not his, hands.

And since gasoline prices have collapsed in the last month—from over $3.00 a gallon at their post-hurricane peak all the way down to $2.17 a gallon currently, according to AAA, which is up a mere 12% from the same time last year, as compared to up 50% at the end of September—I think she is feeling a little better lately.

Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up

© 2005 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations.

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