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Attention Shoppers!

You have just clicked on Million Dollar Wiki's "shopping" page. Is this what you were expecting? Probably not.

When I purchased this page I had two thoughts in mind:

  1. If this site goes well, I'll be able to flip this page and make a nice return on my $100 purchase
  2. If it doesn't, at least I helped a smart, creative UConn student pay off his school loans.

Either way, I'm happy I made this investment.

I purchased "shopping" because I am a former retail marketing director and it's the subject I know most about. I spent several years of my professional life convincing people to part with their money, purchasing items they did not need--but I helped convince them that they did. My retail establishment was a shopping mall and I used to tell people that if the mall fell into a hole tomorrow, the world would hardly notice. I did not say this to diminish the fine work of the thousands of retail employees who worked there. I wanted to make the point that we needed to be very good at what we do and we had to treat our customers very well. Otherwise, they would take their money elsewhere and we'd be out of jobs.

For various reasons, including the nagging voice of my conscience, I left this job two years ago. I am just beginning to reflect on what it is I did and what impact it had on my customers. Here's a story to illustrate:

One of my responsibilities in my shopping mall was supervising the Customer Service Center--the place you go to ask directions, rent a baby stroller, and purchase mall-wide gift cards. This was a busy place, especially during the holiday season. My shopping mall sold A LOT of gift cards. We brought in extra staff to handle the volume of customers and I often worked at the desk myself. I remember several people who came to purchase gift cards who clearly were not regular customers. Two stand out: One women with a fist full of credit cards who made a purchase in the thousands of dollars. Her first credit card was rejected, which is often an embarrassing situation. Not for her. She just kept handing me plastic until one went through and she completed her purchase. The second was a man who had just been paid for the week, cashed his check, and brought it to the mall to purchase hundreds of dollars in gift cards.

Each of these cases, and many others like it, troubled me. I wanted to take these people aside and convince them that a small gift card was enough. They did not need to put themselves into debt or give up an entire week's pay for gift cards. But my job was to generate sales for my stores. My mall was the top seller of gift cards for the entire company, which brought me praise and rewards from the corporate office. It felt good but troubled me at the same time.

I reasoned that my customers had free will, and personal responsibility. I did not force them to shop at my mall. I did not try to upsell them when they purchased gift cards. But I was part of a larger machine that drives the United States economy and convinces people to spend what they don't have on stuff they don't need. I had to get out.

If you're still reading this--I'm flattered. But you may also be thinking I'm a hypocrite. After all, didn't I just spend $100 on a credit card to buy this page--which I clearly don't need? Absolutely. I am just as vulnerable to the constant message of "you are what you buy" as most people. That frightens me because I also have some understanding of the machine that generates that message. If I can't escape the lure of shopping for fun and entertainment, who can?

I debated for a couple of weeks what to put on this little piece of virtual real estate. My first instinct was to stage it for sale--much like you would a house. I wanted to figure out a way to market it and make it attractive to a potential bidder. But then I began to think about it and realized that I just wasn't that interested. So instead I'm using it as an outlet for that nagging little voice, the one that is just coming to terms with my former retail marketing life and is thinking about how to be a more conscientious consumer. I'm guessing I've killed any serious prospects of flipping my investment, but that's okay.

What next? I'm not sure. I've never blogged before, though I guess that's what I'm doing now. I don't know if this is what Graham had in mind when he started this wiki, but it's what I have to offer right now. And if you've read this far...well I'm really flattered. Thank you.