One-click shopping on Cyber Monday

A few days ago I chatted about the virtues of cutting back on buying and spending – an approach that was promoted on Buy Nothing Day, last Friday. The reason for Buy Nothing Day being celebrated this time of year is that we are in the middle of one of the craziest shopping periods of the year – in the US and Canada in particular, Thanksgiving weekend is a time that puts big smiles on retailers’ faces.

Today is no exception, as we celebrate a day of shopping frenzy that has come to be known as Cyber Monday – one of the top online shopping days in the US, and many other parts of the world.

Online shopping – makes parting with your money easier than ever before.
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As reported in the New York Times in 2005, “The name Cyber Monday grew out of the observation that millions of otherwise productive working Americans, fresh off a Thanksgiving weekend of window shopping, were returning to high-speed Internet connections at work Monday and buying what they liked.” Besides the explanation given by the NYT, the fact is also that this is the time of year – one month before Christmas – when retailers seriously step up their relentless barrage of sales and promotions, reaching fever pitch towards the second half of December.

The term Cyber Monday was first coined in 2005 by online shopping community Shop.org, based on research from the previous year, during which they noticed that the period after Thanksgiving showed a clear spike in online shopping. Since 2010 the day has consistently counted as one of the $1+ billion online shopping days in the US. The day has become so popular with online shoppers the world over that many employers are actively curbing their employees’ non-work related online activities on this day.

What struck me when I read up about Cyber Monday, is how new online shopping really still is (less than 20 years ago, the concept was still largely non-existent) yet how entrenched it has become as part of our daily lives. It’s hard to imagine a world without amazon.com, without ebay, without itunes. It is estimated that by 2015 the online shopping industry will be worth a whopping $279 billion in the US and €134 billion in Europe.

If you’re into shopping, and looking for a bargain, today may be just the day for you to go trawling the online shopping sites. Just don’t complain when you end up buying a whole bunch of extra stuff you never planned on, pushing your budget into a state of emergency. Retailers are ruthless in their quest to make the poor consumer part with his money, and the online sector is, if possible, even more so. The most dangerous part of online shopping is that you never physically part with your money – its just a click here and a click there, and suddenly your bank balance looks a lot less healthy.

I still maintain that the best thing to do during the two months between mid-November and mid-January is to stay as far away from the shops as you can, and to rather spend time being creative – homemade gifts and goods are so much more special than yet another shop-bought special offer.

You may indeed get some real specials this time of year, but I can guarantee that you will also spend a lot more than you planned…

World Savings Day – today’s other holiday

Today, 31 October is Halloween – that ain’t news to anyone. But did you know that today is also World Savings Day? This day, also known as World Thrift Day, dates back to 1924 when it was established during the 1st International Savings Bank Congress.

I am sure it felt right, on that last day of the ISB Congress, for Italian Professor Filippo Ravizza to excitedly declare that the day should in future be commemorated as an international day promoting savings all over the world. You have to wonder, however, how wise it was to establish this day on the same day already celebrated as Halloween.  Let’s see, what shall we do today – go for fancy dress and trick-or-treat, or discuss the value of a thrifty life? Yes, well, no wonder you don’t see too many Savings Day headlines on this day…

Changing from ‘financial fate’ to ‘financial fortune’ can be as simple as switching from a credit to a debit account.
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Of course the idea promoted by World Savings Day is a very good one – if everyone took a slightly more thrifty approach to life, and opted to save up for something rather than buy it on credit to pay off later, they’d be amazed how much further their money stretched. And the world wouldn’t be in the dire financial state it finds itself in.

The financial repercussions of a consumerist lifestyle, where shops make it very easy and appealing for people to buy now and pay later, rather than living debt free, is still not well understood by many people, and they are all too easily tempted into an ever deepening circle of credit and debt and eventual financial ruin. Understanding the value of saving is a critical life skill, and teaching children from an early age to save money in a savings account, or even just a piggy bank, can have life-long benefits.

So here’s to World Savings Day, the other October 31st holiday. While you may not be able to avoid the costumes and candy on this day, you can still teach the kids some degree of thrift by making homemade candy rather than buying from the shops, and even making a project of creating Halloween costumes from secondhand material. And then, when all the Halloween fun is over, pop all the money not spent on candy and costumes into their piggy banks, or help them deposit it into their savings accounts. Who knows, that might just get the message across.

Occupy Wall Street and the rise of the 99%

It’s hard to believe a year has passed already, but today marks the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement that started on 17 September 2011 in Zuccotti Park in New York City’s Wall Street financial district.

The protest, organised by Adbusters, a Canadian activist group, started with a group of 200 people overnighting in Zuccotti Park, with sleeping bags and blankets. The group grew rapidly and the protest sparked similar actions around the world, becoming one of the most visible and high profile international peaceful protest actions in recent memory.

The original occupation of Zuccotti Park lasted less than 2 months (protesters were forced out of the park on 15 November 2011) but the larger movement continued for three more months, with occupations of banks, corporate headquarters, board meetings etc. in numerous cities across the world.

Protesting against a world built on money and greed.
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The main issues that protesters of Occupy Wall Street, and the wider Occupy Movement, have focused on include corporate greed and corruption (particularly in the financial sector) as well as social and economic inequality. One of the most effective and striking parts of the movement has been their “We are the 99%” slogan – a concise, catchy, thought-provoking statement addressing the huge inequalities that exist in terms of income and wealth distribution between the rich (the 1%) and the poor (the 99%). The movement also suggests that the “99%” suffer as a consequence of the greedy and self-serving actions of a tiny minority.

The “We are the 99%” campaign has ben criticised as being overly simplistic, with many of those being protested against (Corporate CEO’s, bankers, stock traders and the like) falling outside the “1%”, while a number of sport stars and artists (including some celebrities who came out in support of the campaign) actually form part of the vilified few. In terms of the campaign’s effectiveness, however, the New York Times reported that, “Whatever the long-term effects of the Occupy Movement, protesters succeeded in implanting “we are the 99 percent” into the cultural and political lexicon.” Similarly, Paul Taylor from the Huffington Post called the slogan “arguably the most successful slogan since ‘Hell no, we won’t go,'” of Vietnam war era.

The Occupy movement has also been an interesting case study of the use of technology and social media to organise widespread protest actions. Using the hashtag #Occupy, and organising through websites such as Occupy Together protesters have managed to very effectively organise their activities. The protests have also been actively promoted and supported on social media sites like Facebook, with 125 Occupy-related pages being listed on Facebook by mid-October, less than a month after the start of Occupy Wall Street.

Thanks to the global, immediate nature of these communication channels, protests spread internationally at an incredible rate. By 9 October 2011, protests have taken place in almost 100 cities in more than 80 countries.

Protests were initially allowed to carry on without serious interference from authorities. This started to change by mid November – between November and December most major protest camps have been cleared out, with the last camps, in Washington DC and in London at St Paul’s Cathedral, cleared by February 2012.

Looking back a year after the fact, it is difficult to accurately quantify the impact that the Occupy Movement has made in the US and internationally. The terms “Occupy”, “1%” and “99%” have very much become part of global dialogue, and the movement has certainly raised significant awareness regarding income inequality, and the social and political problems that flow from this.

Whether this will have any long term effects, I guess we will have to wait and see.