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The Changing Retail Seasons:

Retailers experience a change of the seasons in the moods and whims of their customers

Copyright © 2004

As sailors and captains of rescue tugs we were aware of the changing of the meteorological seasons.

As retailers we're aware of a different kind of season.

Our year seems to begin not on January 1st, but on September 1st. That's the date which holds for us the greatest changes. All summer long our customers have been almost exclusively happy, easy to get along with, logical..... But within 24-48 hours of September 1st, every year, like clockwork, our customers metamorphose into something else.

We don't know exactly why these changes occur---perhaps we should have been sociologists instead. Our personal theories around the shop suggest that 9-1 signals a change from the happy, carefree times of summer, to the relative drudgery of school, shortening days, tougher work-loads, poorer weather. Even those who revel in the sights and sounds of autumn can be effected unknowingly.

The year of this writing, for instance, we've enjoyed several months of absolute bliss, customer-wise. We've received not a single customer complaint, illogical or otherwise. Business has been steady. The shipping companies mostly delivered our products on time, our other businesses (restaurants and whatnot), have averaged 1-2 customer complaints per week -- exceedingly low numbers for high-volume restaurant chains, and all was pretty-much well and good with the Universe.

On September 2nd of this year, one restaurant received five angry complaints in four hours; another received two angry complaints and required the services of the police to remove one drunk, our graphics business endured several extremely unpleasant and illogical interactions with customers, and we've all suffered numerous close-calls with errant drivers and various assorted jerks, idiots and the like. This is the stuff that's supposed to be reserved for Friday the 13th.

One theory suggests that most people see summertime as their best chance of making some major change in their lives. Maybe this year they've planned the "really big" vacation to Africa, but for financial or other reasons it didn't work out and they had to settle for the local theme park. Maybe some folks hoped to launch a big business push and become wealthy/famous/happy, and for whatever reason that didn't work out as they'd hoped either. Many plan to find True Romance in the summer -- but True Romance is getting harder to find in this fast-food world, and many are left disappointed. While the summer can be and often is a season of positive change, unrealized gains can leave people feeling....cranky. People seem to keep right on hoping for great things all summer long, which keeps them hopeful and upbeat. But at some point one must admit that those magnificent plans must wait another year.

It has been argued that most peoples' lives suffer more disappointments than successes. Successes are never more anticipated than in summer, and so it logically follows that when the realization of summer's end dawns, more hopes are turned into failures than at any other time of year. And that makes folks cranky.

The Cranky Season begins like clockwork the first of September every single year, and extends through Christmas, right into early spring, reaching its apogee beginning about the first week in November through the first week in January. Still, the Cranky Season is the longest season of the year. It is becoming harder and harder to find help around the worst of the cranky season, because retail employees simply don't want to deal with illogic and nastiness, and who can blame them. As American middle-class consumers become more and more spoiled, illogical and outrageous, more and more retail employees want to avoid them.

Our busiest season begins about the second week in November and has faded by the second week in December. The week or ten days before Christmas are, for us, pretty quiet.

The Weird Season is short, thank Satan, beginning a few days after Christmas and running through the middle of February. Our theory holds that our products get passed around to relatives and friends through Christmas get-togethers, and a large percentage of those folks decide they must have one of our products. These seem to often be people who have little or no computer experience, and may have never ordered online before. Indeed, they may have received their first computer that very Christmas, or been handed down a used one, from someone who did. They haven't found our products by surfing the web. They may have never surfed the web in their lives. They come to us through referrals. While we welcome new customers with open arms, as any business would, we find that many customers in "The Weird Season" haven't a clue how to go about ordering online. They often err in just about every aspect of the ordering process, and completing a form with which to personalize their products seems especially vexing for them. For this reason we offer a plethora of over-simplified instructions all through our website. The trouble with that is, too many hints, tips and instructions can muddy a site and turn away experienced customers who don't want to read a book just to place an order. We try to offer our simplified instructions by link, so experienced surfers can read them, or not. Unfortunately, clicking a link to get help is sometimes beyond the abilities of the neophyte, and they become frustrated when they get stuck on a point, when all they really needed to do was click the link that said "More Help Here" and then READ the help that was provided.

During The Weird Season we sell dozens or hundreds items and services which may not have enjoyed a single sale all year. We find this, well, weird....

The Weird Season ends abruptly about March 15th. Enter, instead, The Slow Season. Business drops within 24-48 hours of March 15th like an apple from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Our sales graph takes a vertical plunge like the Titanic, going from "X" sales to "0" sales in two days. Our theory is that March 15th is the date most people discover and admit that winter is finally behind them, and they grow hopeful and active outdoors. Slowly, over the course of the next month, business picks back up to normal levels.

March 15th also marks the beginning of "The Happy Season". From this point onward, we can enjoy regular business interactions with regular customers, few or none of which are drunk, on drugs, illogical, insane, genetically bitchy, arrogant, insulting, threatening, failed scam-artists, wanna-be scum-bags, or otherwise inherently troublesome. We can look forward to an entire summer of pleasant business with few or no exceptions, only to begin the cycle anew on September 1st.

We see mini-cycles within these seasons as well. We may have a product which has sold two units in three years, then, all of a sudden, over the space of three days, we'll receive eleven orders for that same product from customers all over the world. We figure this is due to spurious cosmic rays sweeping the earth, triggering heretofore non-existent neural connections in the brains of unwitting humans.

We may also see a product which outlives its dated usefulness -- like our President Clinton Pardon Certificates. We took them off the market a couple of years ago, because sales had dwindled to nothing after a new President was elected. This year, however, they've been revived, through no efforts of our own, and we've been forced to re-post them for sale on this site. Ditto our Terrorist Hunting Licenses, and others. For six months we may sell several hundred copies of a particular marriage certificate, for instance; then not sell another copy of that same certificate for the next two years. Part of this trend has to do with where our site happens to get linked from at any given time. But much of it is attributable to the subtle and mysterious tides of sociology, and we find it fascinating.



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