Shopping, American Style


Americans, on average, will touch a towel six times before buying it (if memory serves, from the book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill).

I find that here in Argentina, I am a very American consumer in a retail environment that has a different set of rules!

While searching for goods when we first arrived in Baires, we were surprised at the number of stores that were locked to meet inventory control objectives. Customers had to be buzzed in the front door. While I understand the reasons for the lack of free access to the interior of the store, I have since learned that it has a tangible downward effect on my desire to purchase!

The other aspect to purchasing that took us an eon to figure out was that nearly every retailer had basement or mezzanine storage with a ton of stuff stashed away. That meant if we wanted something, we had to ask for it — which doesn’t always occur to me while shopping! I look around, and if it’s not there, I give up. (So much for my vaunted persistence.)

For example, a friend of mine from Oregon, who was here on an extended leave for 3 months, wanted to find a mattress pad for her bed. After going into about a zillion mattress stores and not seeing any, she finally asked. It turns out that all of the shops probably had them, they just didn’t display them in their limited space because the pads aren’t sexy to merchandise and they take up a lot of room.

We still make the mistake of not asking. Recently, as we looked for tights that would match the girls’ school uniforms, we never considered our little neighborhood sock store, because most of their inventory appeared to be on display. When I finally did inquire (after I spotted some adult tights), I learned that they do carry them in children’s sizes, but keep them sequestered away for some reason.

Which brings me to my last example, the dreaded, but entertaining, Ferretería, also known as the local neighborhood hardware store, which in our barrio always seems to be manned by an ancient curmudgeon talking to us from behind an iron-barred window. To his rear is a vast sea of crap rising up to the ceiling in uneven rows that create dark aisles, through which he disappears to retrieve whatever we have requested.

Needless to say, with Tom’s limited Spanish, he doesn’t really enjoy his trips to the local hardware store, where he has to communicate with an unhappy Archie Bunker type for his macho homeware needs! A man’s work is never done…

It’s funny, you don’t realize how ingrained your shopping habits can get until you have to change them!

Photo by Flickr user [marcel] used under a Creative Commons license.

One Response to “Shopping, American Style”

  1. John

    I understand Tom´s frustration with the hardware stores here. I usually go with a photo or head to Easy because it does not require a lot of communication. I am sure that he has had fun going back in time to repair this in this country where many things are rigged to work.

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