Retailers and ‘The Religion of Consumption’

By Published on September 30, 2015

There’s an intriguing piece in the NYT from last month by Hiroko Tabuchi that explores some of the challenges facing traditional retailers (HT:Sarah Pulliam Bailey), “Stores Suffer From a Shift of Behavior in Buyers.”

Department stores like Macy’s and Kohl’s seem to be losing out on the rebound in consumer spending. “Department stores made up one of just two categories tracked by the Commerce Department where spending declined, the latest in a choppy performance from them this year. Spending at electronics and appliance stores also fell 1.2 percent in July,” writes Tabuchi.

One major explanation offered by Tabuchi’s sources is that this part of a larger paradigm shift in American consumer attitude. “The religion of consumption has proven to be unfulfilling,” says Richard E. Jaffe, a retailing analyst, “The ‘pile it high and watch it fly’ mentality at department stores no longer works.”

Research has been touted in various outlets that spending money on“experiences” rather than “things” is more fulfilling. This observation makes some intuitive sense, of course, in that human beings are not merely material consumers but also are designed for human relationship. Where experiences help to nurture and strengthen such relational ties, it is easy to see why they might be more fulfilling than the relatively impersonal exchanges that characterize the extended commercial order.

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