This blogger is visiting family in Virginia Beach this week and was doing some last-minute holiday shopping today. I walked into a very crowded Best Buy and spoke with a floor clerk about what people are buying – the answer: two items in particular. Then when at the checkout, I asked the cashier the same question. And I got the same two-item answer. Now granted, this is one store and it’s one town. But it was the reasoning for these purchases that each employee offered that makes sense it could be a wider trend. The items were the iPod and the iPod Touch. You are “cool” if you have either one and the iPod in particular starts at a relatively low price point. The iPod shuffle starts at $59. The iPod Touch starts around $199 and is all about not only a big audio and video library, but WiFi access that lets you take advantage of not only the Internet but the Apple apps that make the iPhone so popular. So, you get those bells and whistles with no monthly cell-phone fee (but you need to have WiFi access…) Will be interesting to see if the Virginia Beach trend is seen around the country.
It’s a fact of bourgeous American life circa 2009 that boys about my son’s age – he’s 11 1/2 – are besotted by Lego. The venerable Danish company has managed a remarkable revival by generating Lego-ish toys that are both innovative and fairly addictive – even if they long ago abandoned their purist educational mission. Some small businesses have grown up around Lego Madness. One such is Brick Arms LLC. Owner Will Chapman, based on Redmond, Washington, describes himself as an Adult Fan of Lego and says on his website that BrickArms is a family affair involving wife and their three sons. What BrickArms produces are a multitude of Lego-compatible accessories. They’re not for old-fashioned fuddy-duddies (like me) who remember Legos as basic bricks. BrickArms’ staples are plastic guns, missiles, bombs and ammunition – teeny-tiny weapons that clip onto the hands of Lego mini-figures. (BrickArms also produces modified Lego “mini-figs,” one or two of which have stirred a bit of controversy in the past year or so.) The firm is apparently so busy this year that it’s no longer taking pre-Christmas orders. Lucky for my son, these minuscule weapons of destruction can be purchased on other sites.
I’ve been doing a bit of shopping lately and have been surprised to see how empty the stores and malls are. The Toys R Us in Livingston, New Jersey, was a mid-afternoon wasteland – which made it a bearable experience for me as I hate crowds, especially crowds of people buying stuff. For my 11-year-old son – armed with Hanukkah gift cards – it was a chance to stand in empty aisles perusing the Lego boxes – some of which were substantially marked down, by the way. The Livingston Mall a few miles away was similarly uncrowded, the Payless Shoe Source so lacking in shoppers that my 13-year-old daughter and I could spread out comfortably and try on more than a few sale-price shoes. Americans, it seems, are either shopping from their home PCs or not spending at all. It’s good for consumers’ savings, bad for retailers.