Thursday 08 Dec 2016

Rational Irrational Shopper
David Simmonds

You may have noticed that Sears and Wayne Gretzky are teaming up to introduce a new line of clothing this fall.


“Wayne Gretzky,” I exclaimed to my wife.

“He must be at least 50.” He’s 54, in fact. “Who the heck is going to buy a line of clothes endorsed by someone over 50? How will they get the young fashion types to buy clothes endorsed by someone who could be their father?”

My wife turned to me with that ‘suffering a complete idiot’ look and sighed. “They’re not interested in the younger folks,” she said; “they’re interested in older folks, like you.”

Although I felt a slight sting from that remark, it didn’t take long to accept its truth, or at least, the truth of everything except the “like you” part.

It’s amazing what the association of a product with a name, age group or activity can do. I still remember when I came home and proudly showed my son the new runners I bought. Expecting appreciative comments, I was surprised when he broke out laughing and said, “That company makes skateboarder shoes; no one of your age skateboards, certainly not you.” The shoes ended up in the further reaches of my closet.

More recently, I went to the mall in search of a basic pair of casual trousers, tailored for the sleekly well-rounded figure. My first stop was the outdoor adventure store, because, after all, if I buy clothes there, that makes me an adventurer, right? The best pair I could find fit me a little too snugly and cost an arm and a leg; actually, two legs. My second stop was at Sears, where I found comfortable pants for less than half the adventure store price. After a brief mental tussle, I opted for the Sears product.


I was annoyed with myself.

I hadn’t behaved rationally. The purchase price and comfort differential was too great. I had to answer the call of Sears. Yet,  I obviously had been willing to pay some sort of premium for the tinge of excitement I would get, as I sauntered through the mall clutching my purchase; seeing parents bending over to whisper to their children, “You see, Billy, there goes an adventurer: you can tell by the store his bag comes from.” Of course, if I was to pass myself off as real adventurer I would have to do some real adventuring, in which case people wouldn’t particularly notice my trousers. When you summed it all up, I was prepared to pay a premium for the privilege of deluding myself.

To rub salt in my self-inflicted wound, as I was leaving the Sears store, I noticed one of those white, cricketer-style summer sweaters on sale at a very low price. I couldn’t believe my luck. I could buy the sweater as well as the pants and still come out a winner. Then I noticed the sweater was an “Arnold Palmer” endorsed product. Now, Arnold Palmer, the golfer, just happens to be 86 come 10 September; Happy Birthday, Arnold. My reaction was to jump backwards, as if the sweater carried a poisonous sting.

This was a second dose of irrational behaviour because the only way you could tell the product was associated with Arnold Palmer was to turn the inside collar outwards, which no-one does in civilized company. Somehow, its association with a man almost twenty-five years older than me was too much for me to swallow. Had the identical sweater come as a plain label product or carried the imprimatur of, say, Garrison Keillor, he’s 73, but also a humour writer, I probably would have bought it without hesitation.

Back to the Gretzky collection, which the Sears press release says will offer “a complete look that can be worn from the office to dinner, from the arena to the café.” It will feature “classic pieces with rich fabrics such as mercerized cottons, cashmeres and merino wool.” It will be ‘‘neat” and, of course, “contemporary.”


Price is the point.

More informative, perhaps, is the price point. The Gretzky collection is part of Sears’ “strategy to provide value to our customers with products of high quality at prices Canadians expect from Sears.” Gretzky himself says, “My clothing will be accessible to Canadian men who want to dress smart and do so affordably.” The release mentions a base price of $39.99.

What does all of this say about the prospects for the collection? It says to me that however well designed it is, however much value it affords, it’s a total crapshoot. Why, well because shoppers who consider themselves rational, as do I, but aren’t. Next time I’m in Sears, I promise I’ll look at the new Gretzky outfits. After all, he’s only 54. While I’m there, I’m also going to take a second look for that Arnold Palmer sweater. After all, no one else can see the label.

 

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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