By Renee Langmuir
As we age, one of the challenges we face is casting off familiar roles. I used to gleefully describe myself as a mother, teacher, and dancer. I could never visualize a world where any of these roles would recede. If I was honest with myself at the time, I would have also included “shopper.” In those 90s and “aught” years, America (or should I say China?) was pumping out products at a frenetic pace, and we were all unconsciously buying them. My hectic week always included at least a full day of browsing and buying on the weekends.
Shortly after retirement, I quickly found that I owned duplicates, triplicates, and even more in the areas of cosmetics, over-the-counter medications, household items, and a shameful amount of clothing. I wrote about this phenomenon early on in my blog, I Have Everything I Need. Post-pandemic, and at this unique juncture in life, I believe the subject of shopping needs a redo.
Why don’t I like to shop?
I was determined to revisit the subject because I’ve been noticing some tectonic shifts in my shopping behavior. I don’t feel the need to buy more than the necessities, there are few if any interesting stores in my area, and I’m buying more than I used to on Amazon, and sometimes even on Walmart’s website. What happened to my ironclad value system of buying locally? Didn’t Walmart put thousands of small businesses out of commission through the years? Why buy from a platform which practices poor treatment of employees and pays little to no taxes?
I’m not the only one
Although my original hypothesis was that these behaviors were somewhat related to age, I found that the pandemic changed everyone’s shopping behavior. While in-store shopping was and still is a sensory experience, with the closing of so many retail stores and the thin inventories of the existing behemoths, such an experience is no longer possible. The bulk of today’s consumers first shop through the “aisles” of Amazon, followed by search engines, and Walmart’s website.
The major pandemic influences on shoppers include beginning the shopping journey with a digital inspiration – goodbye to in-person serendipity. After the inspiration, convenience is valued by busy people of all ages – hello BOPIS: buy online, pickup in-store. Another respectable trend is values-infused shopping: a shopping behavior that has grown at least 300% since the pandemic. Corporate demonstration of environmental sustainability, racial equality, and the treatment of employees is very much a part of how people now choose to buy products. Personally, I won’t buy any yogurt cups unless you can peel off the paper label and recycle the container. In the same way, I’m not lured by the low prices of fast fashion for a variety of ethical reasons.
It’s the pandemic’s fault!
According to Tony Ward writing in Total Retail, February 2022, our shopping habits have taken a big financial hit. Post-pandemic inflation, geopolitical tensions, and climate change have all raised prices at an accelerated pace. Surprisingly, 53% of us would rather repair an item than purchase a new one! (I thought I was the only throwback). The pandemic has also made us more adaptable – we don’t expect the same selection of products and are understanding if categories of items are temporarily missing on the shelf. Product availability and quality top the list of our requirements. We want to buy less, but we want better products.
Seniors have their own reasons
It was encouraging to find out that my new shopping habits, or lack of them, mirror younger generations, but there are some issues unique to older adults. I’m buying less because I’m more home-based than out and about in the world. A small but serviceable wardrobe of comfy, well-made clothing that easily goes from yoga class to the supermarket would describe the contents of my closet. Not in the market to “impress,” the small number of shoes and sneakers on rotation takes me out of the DSW Warehouse possibly forever! Fortunately, my “social wardrobe” consists of many beautiful items purchased before cheap fabrics and shoddy construction were the norm. I delight in not adding clothing to the already overburdened landfills.
Like my peers, more of my money is spent on food. Although it took some closing of my eyes and a deep breath, I buy anything I want in the supermarket: Rainier Cherries, expensive cheeses, Uncle Matt’s $7.99 bottles of juice….anything! The same is true for eating out in restaurants. There are no more meals in mediocre establishments. I go out much less frequently, but only to favorite ethnic or quality restaurants with well-prepared foods and a professional staff.
My former love of shopping does surface, however, when traveling. I will never miss the opportunity to browse through local crafts and unique cultural goods. What’s different is that I rarely buy anything for myself. It’s hard to love material possessions when I have had to clean out the last three residences of my now-deceased parents on very short notice.
Undoubtedly seniors have always changed their shopping habits. Many live on fixed incomes and have financial responsibilities to children and grandchildren. Those of us who are favored with an adequate financial retirement can easily rethink our values. I am no longer stockpiling items for the future or in the business of bolstering my image. I am fully cognizant of the state of the world and simply want to enjoy the rest of my time on this glorious planet with a small ecological and commercial footprint.
Renee Langmuir has been an educator for 34 years in Pennsylvania public schools and as Director of Student Teaching at a local university. Several years ago, there was a perfect alignment of personal, family, and work-related issues which resulted in a very abrupt and unplanned retirement. Because the teaching of writing to children was a lifelong passion, and professional writing was always part of her job description, Renee decided to chronicle the transition from the world of work to the world of retirement in a series of personal essays. As each challenge arose, research was done, and an essay was penned. These musings are now housed on the website, www.therookieretiree.com, for the benefit of the growing cohort of the newly retired. Renee is the mother of two adult children and lives with her husband in Chadds Ford, Pa. Besides writing, she spends her spare time as both a livestock and garden volunteer.