Book Review – Shoptimism

He points out what’s obvious to most people other than the Buy Scolds: that human “needs” are both biological and social, and that even Karl Marx understood that life’s “necessities” transcend what is simply required to survive.

Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What by Lee Eisenberg

It was a dollar. I’ll read almost anything for a dollar, and the title caught my eye.

On the inside front cover, Eisenberg is described as “[n]either a cheerleader for consumption nor an anticonsumerist scold.” While the book did maintain some balance in between the two, I felt Eisenberg was far, far too harsh on my fellow anticonsumerists (he calls us “Buy Scolds”). He constantly nagged at the idea and completely left out what I felt was a major issue in a book about shopping: mounting consumer debt. Sure, he gave a half-hearted sentence or two to it, but overall it seems that Eisenberg lives in some world where massive amounts of consumer debt are a malign fantasy dreamed up by “Buy Scolds” to shame people into not spending money.

But overall, the book does a fair job of not overly praising shopping. I feel his treatment of advertising leaves something to be desired, sure, but I’m notoriously anti-advertising, so that’s to be expected.

Shoptimism’s split into two parts: the Sell Side, about the sellers, and the Buy Side, about the buyers. He spends most of the book looking at the mechanisms that help induce us to buy and the reasons (or justifications) we have for buying. Along the way, he talks to everyone from the founder of a retail snooping company to fellow shoppers. He spends much of the second section discussing the types of buyers (Classic and Romantic) and the differences between male and female buyers.

But never once does he explain why we’ll supposedly keep on buying no matter what. Maybe I was supposed to infer it from the text, but with a subtitle like that, I was expecting to see a chapter on it, or at least a firm statement.

I will say this, though. While he does come down hard on the side of pro-shopping, he does so in a way that’s not pandering or condescending, and very much in a way that allows you to feel fine going out and buying something you don’t need just because. While that probably isn’t a good idea for many, it’s a good reminder for “Buy Scolds” like myself. Sometimes it’s okay to go out and just buy something for the hell of it. Sometimes. Provided I have the cash for it. And even harder, provided I find something at random I actually wish to purchase.

Ultimately, though, unless you find this one on the sale rack for a buck and you’re into reading about shopping, skip it.

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