The Degradation And Humiliation Of The U.S. Consumer

Submitted by QTR’s Fringe Finance

I’ve often written about how inflation is nefarious because it cripples people’s purchasing power 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether it is dark out or light out, whether people are paying attention or not, inflation is, in essence, a piece of machinery that eats away at your purchasing power at all times—whether you know about it and expect it or not.

I discussed the effects of inflation in a video I made a long time ago, called “The Weighted Blanket Theory.” In it, I explained that rising prices are like a weighted blanket falling on the consumer. At first, they feel okay and even comforting, but then you realize the blanket weighs far too much—before you know it, you’re trapped under a blanket that has completely incapacitated and smothered you.

Something else that has slipped away—largely unnoticed—is the standard of quality of service offered to consumers around the country. As the United States has transitioned from treating spending on discretionary items as a luxury to considering it a right—and even an obligation for all consumers, even if it means taking on debt—companies have had to fight less and less to provide good service. Now, service is basically bordering on sub-human, both literally and figuratively.

In other words, because our fractional-reserve, debt-based system is built on the fantasy of modern monetary theory and prioritizes nothing but spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need, those providing products or services can afford to be complacent. They can simply watch as us peons scramble for whatever is thrown our way, at whatever prices are deemed appropriate by our horrifically skewed markets. In some respects, we do still have the option to vote with our money, as capitalists. However, when it comes to buying basic household goods and necessities, corporations and inflation have combined not just to take advantage of consumers, but to degrade and humiliate them as well.

This couldn’t have been clearer than on a recent trip I took to Target. I’ll start by saying that I have a special soft spot for Target’s goals of cutting excess expenses and maximizing customer value, primarily because I’m a shareholder. Thus, I feel very conflicted about my recent experience there. However, as a consumer alone, there’s no other way to describe my recent ordeal other than as embarrassing and lamentable.

After a long day of eight or nine hours of work, I walked to my local Target store to pick up some necessities recently —basics like toilet paper and paper towels. Upon reaching the household section, the first thing I was greeted with was an array of toilet paper and paper towel brands featuring the marketing gimmicks that I absolutely abhor. In my recent article called “I’m Not F*cking Eating Bugs: A Manifesto”, I referenced these limp-dicked attempts by focus groups at Proctor and Gamble of trying to convince us that the Arabic numeral “6”, an integer known and understood for millennia, actually means “9”.

Except I live in reality, not a fantasy world, and I understand that 6 means 6 and 12 means 12 and 24 means 24, no matter how you decide you want to print it on a package of Bounty. And even Proctor and Gamble need to make up their minds. Does 6 really equal 9? Or does it really equal 18?

You guys are even terrible at the own sh*tty non-sequitur math that you invented.

And what’s the ratio between “triple rolls” and “super mega” rolls? Probably the ratio between unicorns and leprechauns, right?

But most of all, in the words of Tom Smykowski from Office Space: “What the hell is wrong with you people?!”

Immediately recognizing this bullsh*t language that a first grader could dispel as fiction as a marketing trick designed to justify “shrinkflation”—offering the consumer less for the same amount of money—I became agitated and frustrated.

To add insult to injury, I noticed that the prices of these items had increased by about 10% from where they were last year. So, the first leg of my journey ended with me taking it in the tailpipe not just in terms of price and receiving less product, but also by Procter & Gamble’s marketing department insulting my intelligence. Great start to my shopping trip.

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From there, I walked over to get some deodorant and face scrub, both of which were located behind locked cabinets. Each was priced at about $7.99. Then I glanced at an entire wall of unlocked products priced from $13.99 to $20.99 and wondered why these particular items weren’t secured. Lacking the time to question the store’s reasoning, I hit the attendant button, reminiscent of a lab mouse pressing a lever for a pellet of food in some of sort of Pavlovian experiment.

Despite the cabinets being adjacent, it took two separate customer service attendants with two separate keys to unlock them. My total wait time was approximately 15 minutes—clearly, Target doesn’t value my time. I empathized with the store associate, who confided she was tired of constantly locking and unlocking cabinets for a living.

After enduring the condescension of Procter & Gamble’s marketing and pressing a button like a lab rat, I proceeded to checkout. A line of two dozen people waited for four self-checkout machines. There were seven or eight traditional checkout lanes, but only one was active, and even that associate appeared unengaged. An additional associate monitored the self-checkouts, which seemed to lock up if one so much as glanced at the scales the wrong way, adding to the delay.

After 20 more minutes, I reached a self-checkout station so cramped that I couldn’t comfortably maneuver my cart. When an associate suggested moving my cart, I politely responded that as long as I was doing the job of checking out my own groceries, I’d place my cart wherever the fuck I wanted.

As Bill Burr once said, “I didn’t even realize I was working today, I should have checked the schedule!”

Then, I started to take my time checking out my groceries. I had finally made it one step from leaving and was not about to rush myself. I was packing my items into double bags because I had to walk home and wanted to ensure everything would make it back to my apartment without incident. As I tried to navigate the self-checkout menus to ring up the bananas I was buying, a store associate approached me. This same associate asked if I was having trouble. I informed them I wasn’t, and they mentioned they had noticed how long it was taking me, pointing out there was a line behind me. At this point, I became irate.

Not unlike Bill Burr in the above clip, I told the self-checkout associate that I had already completed my work for the day and didn’t realize my shift would continue at the local Target, where I would be tasked with ringing up groceries. I reiterated that if they wanted to ring up my groceries, I’d happily let them do it at whatever pace they’d like. However, as long as they needed me to ring myself out, I would take as much f*cking time as I needed.

“Monitoring in Progress” a monitor atop of the automated checkout said, while showing me a photo of myself, Orwell-style. “Good,” I thought to myself, “I hope someone is on the other end of this horrific reality show and is watching me endure this shopping experience while making a face like I’m passing multiple kidney stones.”

After a brief argument, the associate eventually let me be. I finished my transaction, only to realize that my total for the same basket of items this week was about 10% higher than it was just two or three months earlier.

In addition to paying 10% more, I endured the insulting experience of reading terrible marketing aimed at justifying shrinkflation and had to engage with three store associates in what was clearly a fruitless attempt for the store to operate in a more automated fashion with fewer workers. I used to make it through the store and out the old checkout only talking to one employee, the checkout person. Now, on a normal trip, I needed to talk to three. To add insult to injury, at the very end of my transaction, when I discovered my total was about $25 more than usual, Target offered me a $5 gift card off my next purchase.

But this, like everything else I had to do that day, it required me to find the gift card on the wall, take it down, scan it, and then return to the store because you can’t use the gift card for that day’s purchase. It was the ultimate slap in the face—akin to placing a dollop of Cool Whip on a pile of dog dung I’ve been eating and telling me:

“You’re our valued customer. We hope you enjoyed your dessert.”

My experience echoes that of millions of consumers across a myriad of industries every day. Service simply isn’t what it once was. The market will correct this issue eventually, but for now, we’ve reached a trough in terms of what consumers expect from corporations and service providers. I mean, look. I’m a realist. I no longer pull up to a gas station expecting a team of uniformed guys named Roy to fill my tires with air, clean my windshield, check my oil, and top off my windshield wiper fluid. I understand that certain services have been relegated to automation and a faster-paced world. However, it’s not too much to ask to walk out of a Target without feeling like I’m doing the walk of shame back to my apartment.

This decline in service quality may have gone unnoticed for a while, but it won’t remain that way forever. Like a weighted blanket that eventually becomes too heavy, consumers will start to notice their diminishing quality of life. In the same vein, some leaders in Congress, such as Representative Matt Gaetz, are beginning to raise critical questions about the integrity of the dollar and inflation. Eventually, all fallacies get their comeuppance. It starts with a couple of minor complaints and perhaps an opinionated individual like myself penning an article on a blog, but in years to come, the issue will be evident to all.

And when we look back for an explanation as to why our quality of life has suffered so greatly, we’ll have no choice but to confront once again the nature of the nation’s monetary and fiscal policy, as well as the manipulation of all types of formerly “free” markets that have placed us in the financial and social predicaments we are in.

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QTR’s Disclaimer: I am an idiot and often get things wrong and lose money. I may own or transact in any names mentioned in this piece at any time without warning. This is not a recommendation to buy or sell any stocks or securities, just my opinions. I often lose money on positions I trade/invest in. I may add any name mentioned in this article and sell any name mentioned in this piece at any time, without further warning. None of this is a solicitation to buy or sell securities. These positions can change immediately as soon as I publish this, with or without notice. You are on your own. Do not make decisions based on my blog. I exist on the fringe. The publisher does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided in this page. These are not the opinions of any of my employers, partners, or associates. I did my best to be honest about my disclosures but can’t guarantee I am right; I write these posts after a couple beers sometimes. Also, I just straight up get sh*t wrong a lot. I mention it twice because it’s that important.


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