Categories
Aesthetics

Day 701 and Frozen Goods

My Black Friday purchases are slowly making their way from warehouses in Denver or St Louis or other parts unknown to me in Montana. When I placed the orders I was so excited for the good deals.

But instead I’m just finding new disappointments. Four out of six items I ordered from Splendid will have to be returned. A pair of pants from Lunya is simply made for someone taller than me. And the remaining pieces of the order from Nadaam still hasn’t shipped yet. I hope my new negligees from Skims don’t disappoint as my track record on soft goods isn’t looking so great. Failures all around.

I’ve also had a few issues with trying to order cosmetics. I do a big order with Briogeo once a year. It’s in transit during a very chilly day. It was 10 degrees when I woke up. And I’ll admit I’m concerned about receiving a complete frozen bottle of shampoo. And it is expensive shampoo too.

We’ve had this issue before. Ipsy and Allure monthly boxes show up half frozen in the mailbox for a day. A Sephora order went straight to our mailbox where it sat for two hours before I got the alert it has arrived. It was cold but not fully frozen. I am afraid to look up how much efficacy is lost if retinol is frozen. What about vitamin C? How bad is it to freeze your cosmetics?

Because we live out on country roads and outside the town limits, we find our packages are often delivered by men in pickup trucks doing piece work contracts. They are nice folks but there isn’t much they can do about an expensive skin cream freezing solid in their open pickup truck bed. I would try to buy things in person but we don’t have a Sephora here so that catalog order life remains how people get stuff in rural America.

I used to have concerns about melting cosmetics when I was in Colorado. So perhaps freezing is an improvement. But I’m definitely wondering if we will need climate controlled options for certain kinds of deliveries in future for items that need a moderate temperature band. It could be a brand issue to have your product not work because the chemical bonds got wrecked by extreme weather. And we are all about to get more extreme weather as a normal feature of daily life.

Categories
Preparedness

Day 699 and Storms A’Coming

I love preparing for a big storm. It’s all of the fun parts of preparedness with none of the dystopian fantasies that sidle up to larger types of resilience & doomer chores. A big snowstorm is prepper-light, all the taste and none of the calories.

We’ve got a big snowstorm coming into Southwest Montana that is likely to close a few passes and drop significant snowfall. We’ve yet to map how predicted snowfall in town matches our actual snowfall. Sometimes it’s two or three times as much. If town is getting 4-6 inches, I’ve learned to expect at least a foot. I’d be thrilled if we got the 2-3 feet that is predicated for our neighbors in Big Sky & Yellowstone but it probably won’t drop that much on us.

The last time I wrote about preparing for a big storm was the day of the Marshal Fire in Boulder. I wrote about how I do all the washing and cleaning before a storm hits just in case we lose things like heat and water. Little did I know I wasn’t preparing for just snow that day but for one of the most devastating fires in Colorado history. Freakish outcomes have become commonplace and we humans adjust our hedonic treadmill to accommodate the bad and the good.

So I’m excited for the little preparations we get to make before this storm comes into the valley. I did an inventory of our fresh foods. Recipes and meal planning were done to reflect existing purchases (we’ve got a New York strip that is calling to me) as well as what could be easily incorporated into new meals if we stay snowed in.

Alex put a plowing plan in place for our driveway and parking area. We brought in wood from the cord that is stored in our hay shed. A run to to the grocery store and the dispensary is being down as we speak by my husband. The dispensary is next door to one of the cheaper gas stations so that’s a double win. Always remember to gas up before a big store. This includes diesel too if you have a tractor or snowblower that needs it.

My last chores will be doing laundry and washing my hair. As we recently had some well pump repairs I’m feeling relatively confident about water staying flowing but you never regret a fresh head of hair and plenty of clean dry socks.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 694 and Buy Everything Day

When I was a hippie kid growing up in Colorado I was a fervent believer in a “holiday” called Buy Nothing Day. It was a campaign heavily promoted by a magazine called Adbusters which saw itself a culture jamming organization.

It felt cool and hip and maybe even a bit new to protest excess consumption in the era when globalization hadn’t yet experienced the bitch slap that are the last twenty years of history not actually ending. Teenagers are obviously a bit prone to over simplifying the world and I was no exception.

Now as a jaded veteran of the retail and luxury wars, I think it was the height of white girl naïveté that not shopping one day of the year meant shit. Now I pile all of my shopping into Black Friday. Instead of it being “Buy Nothing Day” it has become “Buy Everything Day” for me. I know how much brands are riding on my choosing to spend and I hold out the bulk of my shopping to extract maximum value.

I bought 2 tee shirts, one cardigan, 3 cashmere sweaters, one pair of silk pants, one cotton robe, 2 slips, 2 bras, and 3 pairs of tights. I bought a jumbo size shampoo and conditioner as well as travel sets. I also bought a luxury face cream, highlighter and other sundry cosmetics even though most of the cosmetics I prefer aren’t even on sale today. We also bought 4 scented candles for the house. Alex bought a pair of Chelsea boots, a new gun safe and a hunting jacket. In other words, we shopped till we dropped. We went full American on the day.

We’d hoped to buy new dishes and a few pieces of furniture as this has also been the year of outfitting the house but alas we just couldn’t figure out enough deals ahead of time. Black Friday is often a mess of confusing offers and marketing bullshit. It’s been made dramatically worse by the wave of direct to consumer brands who claim to give you better deals but often do little more than obfuscate where you are getting ripped off. It’s lowering trust by insisting that you are getting something better when you know you are not.

It’s with that knowledge in mind that I’ve come to terms with the reality of American consumption. I’ve come full circle on Buy Nothing Day. I recognize that shopping is the full contact sport that drives everything else around us. And so long as I’m embedded in that system it serves little purpose to be obstinate or contrary. But equally it serves no purpose to be taken advantage of by these brands either. Getting a deal is a very American kind of battle I’d rather win. As of yet there is no option to remain off the battlefield. But one day it may be gone for good. Until then I’ll buy my cashmere in discount.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 691 and Ready to Shop

For well over a decade I didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. I was one of the “ lucky” few for whom Black Friday is the most important day of year. I did time in the trenches of retail.

When I worked in fashion and then later cosmetics, Black Friday was the all consuming event that dictated whether your year was a success or a failure. I slept in my office more than once. I pulled all nighters. And that barely scratches the surface of the long hours leading up to the main event. Having a good Black Friday is a make or break affair for brands and retailers.

I love shopping. A well executed customer experience is one of America’s crowning achievements. A beautifully merchandised store (in real life or online) that has exactly what you want along with everything you didn’t know you wanted too, is one of the great joys of civilization.

One of the downsides of knowing retailers’ rhythms intimately is that it changes how you shop. Now that I no longer work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday I am able to participate as a customer. But I know too much. I know pricing, discounting and if SKU counts are bloated or constrained. I can sense how deep a sale will go with a glance at merchandising and a quick perusal of the last 10-K. Shopping is now an exercise in arithmetic.

And this year is shaping up to be the best Black Friday since before the pandemic. For the last two years brands have struggled to keep items in stock due to supply chain crunches and pandemic era labor shortages. But this year they did not want to be caught flat footed. At the height of the stimulus that placed deep orders. Optimism has returned.

But now interest rates are rising to combat the inflationary pressures that has loomed over an economy demanding to buy more just months ago. But now no one is so sure about spending. Prices have risen. Layoffs are spooking folks. And it sure seems like brands and retailers bought way too much for the current mode of America.

I’m planning on buying quite a bit as the discounts will be steep, the inventory is available, and I don’t like to shop unless I’m getting what I want at a price I like. We will be focused on clothing and footwear as well as basics like good wool socks. We also have a few electronic gadgets we’ve been waiting to buy including a humidifier and a chain saw. I’m also hoping for a few surprises from cosmetics retailers as well. It is hunting season.

Categories
Aesthetics Startups

Day 659 and E-commerce Returns

It’s been a minute since I posted about the mild annoyances of shopping to outfit a new house. Because we have upgraded the amount of space we live in by two or three times and we are hoping to use some of the space for hospitality we’ve bought a lot of shit recently.

I have shopped a large assortment of direct to consumer retail brands. Included in the list is Brooklinen, Havenly, Italic and Merit in the last month or so. And the varied state of quality and service in the venture funded retail space is such a mixed bag. The most pleasant experiences have been from older brands and retailers like Carharrt, Ariat and Sephora.

I would entirely recommend Havenly as an intermediary service for both design and furniture shopping as the returns are relatively simple and they consolidate a ton of retailers into the interface. But they are so good at their jobs you mostly don’t need to return stuff. We bought a cheap fake antler chandelier to see if it could be pulled off (against the advice of the designer) and were promptly told by everyone to return it. Which lets be honest was good advice all around. We did have to dismantle it which I’m told was quite the IKEA style effort.

A fake antler chandelier acquired from Wayfare. It was still $500 so we returned it.

I cannot say I have the same praise for direct to consumer brands that are still attempting to make margins happen in the middle market. I’ve had some amusing fails on that front and it again reminds me of the danger consumers are beginning to feel when they shop brands with less social awareness. This is a real issue for direct to consumer brands as they fight it out with less venture dollars compared to the past. It’s going to hurt their lifetime customer values.

Merit is a much covered cosmetics brand which has some star products I liked (their foundation is terrific) but some really low rent packaging. So I wanted to return a couple items. Merit made returns so challenging I might just eat the cost of half the products that I don’t want to use. Merit’s customer care team literally wanted me to write reviews of each product I wanted to return to begin the process. Damn girl but ain’t nobody has time for that.

An assortment of Merit Cosmetics including foundation, blush, mascara and a brush. I wanted to return about half of them for being a poor value.

Ironically I had already done that on their Yotpo product review prompts a week earlier but didn’t save them (why would I) so when it came time for returns I just said fuck it as I didn’t want to retype my 500 word a piece reviews again just to return the items. It’s been sitting in my inbox for so long I’m afraid they won’t accept it. A huge and amusing fail to integrate basic customer retention tactics and your order options. I expect it will hit their lifetime customer value and require a fix soon. I literally haven’t overcome the inertia just to get my $70 back and perhaps they know that. Which is a dick move.

By far the most clever return mechanic I’ve seen is from Italic. I’ve loved their cashmere and their sheets but some of their other odds and ends were just bad fits. And it turns out they know it. They offered a 50% store credit on an item if I just gave it to a friend. Alas it is a dress that doesn’t work if you have breasts. Which is clearly a challenge to hand off to anyone.

Text messages between Alex and I about returning a dress from Italic that does not fit my upper body

The other irritant that Italic had though is that it shipped in four separate orders and insisted that we ship it back in four separate orders which is wildly wasteful even by e-commerce standards. And it has the unexpected effect of me accidentally returning a pair of cashmere pants I didn’t even try on as I forgot I bought two different cuts and ended up returning both as they came in separate orders over the space of a week. Oops! That’s $150 they won’t get from me. I frantically texted my Alex asking if he had them still but nope I might try to rebuy them but now I don’t trust I’ll be able to even figure it out.

Shopping is going to get extremely weird over this holiday season as brands have significant depths to overcome come past supply chain issues. But as the economy struggles with inflation I’d expect to see more tricks like Merit on the negative end and clever loyalty gambits like Italic on the positive. So keep that in mind as Black Friday approaches.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 646 and Birthday Shopping

My birthday is next Tuesday and I’ve been using it as an excuse to browse my favorite cosmetic and clothing websites. I should treat myself right? No gift is better than what you select for yourself. Plus, I love a free gift with purchase. A birthday is often the anchor of any decent loyalty program so I’m justifying this as an exploration of current merchandising trends.

Sephora in particular has dedicated itself to a Birthday Gift franchise that women obsess over all year. If you are part of their loyalty program called Beauty Insider or Very Important Beauty (VIB if you spend $350) you get to chose a gift during your birthday month. There are a lot of other perks in the program but the birthday gift doesn’t require spending any of your hard earned rewards points and it’s free to join.

Sephora’s Loyalty Program Birthday Gift Options for 2022 for VIB & VIB Rouge included Laura Mercier, Tatcha, Amika, NEST & Olaplex

It’s a big deal for the brands to be selected as one of the gifts for the year by Sephora as it’s a great way to get sampling and visibility for twelve straight months. Plus Sephora kicks in on some of the hard costs. It’s one of the better gauges in the cosmetics industry of who is up and coming and desirable, but also has enough cachet that it drives desire around the program.

They generally offer one color cosmetic, one skincare brand, one haircare brand and a fragrance but it can be a bit mix and match depending on what trends are in the industry overall. And they offer up slightly fancier rewards for the $350 and $1000 spending tiers.

This year haircare brand Olaplex was so popular as a VIB gift that only January birthdays got the gifts causing some angst. That slicked back clean girl aesthetic bun TikTok wave and the brand’s IPO last year might have been too much demand for it to be a part of a loyalty program that is intensely scrutinized.

I have actually never used Olaplex as I’ve got low maintenance princess hair. I would have loved to try it in a sample gift just to see but the merchandising gods said sorry girl you ain’t a Pisces.

I’ll admit I was pretty bummed as it was advertised all year but I only realized it was sold out when I was able to begin my own birthday gift selection process. Guess I should have kept closer tabs on the beauty influencers.

Charlotte Tilbury Sephora Birthday Set with Pillow Talk mini Matte Lipstick and Mascara

Because I am VIB I had access to a gift that wasn’t initially pictured in the Birthday section. My theory is it got added in after the Olaplex debacle but this is just me putting on a tinfoil hat. I ended up selecting the Charlotte Tilbury gift. When I was the CEO of Stowaway Cosmetics we duped their best selling shade Pillow Talk many years ago.

I’d never actually purchased the original one from Tilbury as I simply had access to the original source contract manufacturer. I never tried it in matte as Stowaway’s original formula was a satin, so I thought “let’s select this” as my gift for the year. I thought it was a nice throwback to remember a time when I wasn’t a civilian but had access to all the cosmetics I wanted straight from the factory. And yes I miss it but not necessarily enough to go back. But I’ll let you know if I like the lipstick!

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 640 and Weekend

Maybe it’s a function of having never owned a home before we bought the Montana homestead, but I was never much of a weekend errands person.

Now my weekends are all about errands. It started with doing a weekly grocery run. Now that groceries aren’t just being delivered to us demand by Whole Foods (the closest one is probably a thousand miles away) we’ve got a standing Sunday drive into town to the food coop. We do actual meal planning now.

And if you give a mouse a cookie he’s going to want some milk. If you give a yuppie a drive into town…We just keep tacking errands onto the drive into town. To do list and errands are the milk to the cookie of the drive into town.

We are still in the process of settling in to our house, so naturally Home Depot is heavy in our errands rotation. Today it was floor lamps and scones for the guest rooms. Last week it was a new pump for our hydroponic system. We basically always have something that requires a Home Depot Run.

We also needed a few other sundry items for our elaborate hospitality driven guest room project. We want our friends and family to feel comfortable coming to stay with us so we have dedicated quite a bit of time and resources into designing and planning for turning our upstairs into a hotel. This is going to be ongoing for sometime as furniture is a pain in the ass these days.

To check off design and toiletry items we hit up World Market and then Ulta. We came away remembering that shopping used to be a fun browsable experience and also a little poorer as we picked up an entire screen printed photo canvas we didn’t intend on buying but kind of love. We also got a very nice set up of brushes, anti-frizz hair turbans, and makeup remover towels for the guest bath.

A bathroom cabinet with hair towels, hair dryer, a round brush and a flat brush.
Categories
Preparedness

Day 611 and Consumer Packaged Goods

As Ive mentioned, I’m in a heavy “bitches be shopping” mode as I’m settling into a new home that is 5x larger than anything I’ve ever lived in.

I’ve purchased furniture, home decor, sheets & towels, work boots, denim, dry goods, storage bins & racks, paint, curtains, toiletries, vitamins, over the counter medications, and cosmetics. I’ve really “enjoyed” the full spectrum of American retail in all its consumer glory. Makes me feel all patriotic.

I’m lucky that I have several decades of experience in the dark arts of consumption studies and consumer marketing to guide me through. And even with that knowledge, I feel like I keep getting ripped off.

What is wrong with shopping in America?

Most folks are keenly aware of rising costs and supply chain troubles coming out of a pandemic that was treated with stimulus and zero interest monetary policy. Stimmy checks & a society wide health scare had all kinds of unintended consequences on everything. But the end result is everything feels more expensive. And also shittier.

One argument is that shrinkflation has come for America.

Shrinkflation, also known as the grocery shrink ray, deflation, or package downsizing, is the process of items shrinking in size or quantity, or even sometimes reformulating or reducing quality.

Wikipedia

It’s a maddening phenomenon as brands and retailers do their best to hide the basic fact that you are paying the same amount for less. We are a nation being gaslighted by an array of institutions that we’ve been raised to consider our pride and joy. It’s part of our national myth that supermarkets won the Cold War. American brands can be trusted. American brands are the best.

American brands are subject to market forces not central planning. And those forces are choppy at best. Which is how we ended up with our favorite popsicle letting us down.

Welch’s juice ice bars popsicles shown side by side. One is 1.5 oz and one is 2oz. Both cost the same at Costco but the 2oz is from 2020 before shrinkflation.

The otter pop’s my husband favors have gone from 2oz to 1.5oz but have stayed the same price at Costco. It’s not a huge change. We probably wouldn’t have noticed it except we had a couple older ones we bought early in the pandemic and were able to compare. It was a small betrayal but at least we knew it and could accept the increased cost.

But imagine if you weren’t aware of the macroeconomic forces at play. Or if you weren’t a careful observer of consumption and shopping. What if you were just a kid that got duped by a popsicles?

The compounding effect of lower standards of living is making us all go a bit stir crazy.

I suspect we are all experiencing a little bit of crazy-making from the subtle ways in which we can no longer trust our brands and retailers. It feels downright un-American. And I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s a contributing factor to the general sense of unease and institutional distrust. If you can’t trust American consumerism, well we don’t really have much left.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 607 and Shopping

I’m in a heavy “bitches be shopping” phase. Moving into a new house always necessitates some new purchases but adjusting to an entirely new lifestyle is a heavy lift.

We don’t have much furniture that effectively made the transition from loft in lower Manhattan at the start of the pandemic to townhouse in Colorado for 18 months. So it’s almost like starting from scratch furnishing a farmhouse in Montana. We are using Havenly to help us decide on items we want for areas we’ve never had to furnish before like a dining room and guest rooms. It’s an amazing service that does all the product market work of finding items in your price point and desired styles.

But of course, it all takes forever to get furniture and I wish we’d started on this earlier. As rationalized not starting till we moved in but of course every week some new piece of furniture gets delayed. I’ll be lucky if I get the dining room table by mid October at this rate.

A rendering of our dining room from Havenly

The other big shopping project is upgrading my wardrobe as even after two winters in Colorado most of the adjustment from Manhattan to the Rocky Mountains was technical fabrics and activewear clothing not actual workwear.

Now I have outdoor clothing needs that are less “let’s go for a hike” and more “someone needs to stack wood” or “turn over the soil in the raised beds.”. I guess this means I’m changing over from Merril hiking boots to Ariat paddock boots and from hiking pants to Carhartt canvas work pants. I placed an order for a bunch of stuff today and am modestly enthusiastic about it.

I’ve spent a small fortune on adjusting to Montana life and a huge chunk of the purchases feel aspirational. Or at least my perception of what kind of adjustments are required. As much as I’ve lived in the country, and worked on a farm, my childhood is well in the distance. I’m working from memories.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 558 and Interior Design

The reality is dawning on me that I don’t have enough furniture for an actual house. We will be moving from a barely furnished townhouse in Colorado to a 3-4 bedroom farmhouse in Montana.

What makes it even funnier is we barely acquired additional furniture when we moved from a one bedroom loft in Manhattan to the townhouse in Colorado. We didn’t know where we’d land long term and boy howdy did we put off acquiring anything larger than some houseplants and a chaise lounge.

The instability of the pandemic years didn’t really drive the acquisition of home goods for us like it apparently did for others. We didn’t want to have big items to move as we were fairly sure the townhouse in Boulder wouldn’t be our forever home. But as it turned out, it took almost two years to figure out where we wanted to purchase a homd and successfully acquire one.

So now I’m saddled with the responsibility of furnishing our new home. You’d think it would be a fun obligation. Shopping! But I honestly never developed much of an interest in interior design. I have a decent enough education in aesthetics and a personal style that is presumably easy enough to translate to interiors. I just so don’t want to do the work to source all the items and string it together into a cohesive whole. So apologies in advance if I do a lot of furniture posts over the next month.