Arts, Column

Mayer: Consumerism and the Pandemic

In the traditional retail world, spring goes hand-in-hand with the introduction of new summer staples and collections. Before the pandemic, consumers were on the hunt for sundresses, swimsuits, and sunglasses to keep up with forecasted trends. Retailers didn’t expect to cut prices so soon, but to stay afloat in uncertain times, sales have become the only way of drawing in consumers conflicted about shopping during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

As the coronavirus spreads, our country is at a standstill, closed for business while the economy spirals into layoffs and government relief funds dwindle. Although a few southern states are set to begin their first social experiments sans stay-at-home orders, much of the country remains locked down. But when will the whole country reopen? The exact date—and whether it’s a matter of weeks or months—is still up for heated debate. 

In the meantime, businesses are calculating how long they can last—if they can outlast this pandemic. Aside from Amazon, retailers are experiencing some of the hardest economic impacts from the virus. Despite this, small and large businesses are stepping up to show their support for hospital staff and essential workers. There are growing lists of designer brands donating to relief funds, making masks, and encouraging their social media followers to follow suit in supporting charity organizations. 

Christian Dior and Givenchy shifted their factories from producing perfume to hand sanitizer in mid-March. At the end of March, Gucci announced it was devoting the brand’s resources to producing surgical masks for hospital workers in Italy. It also urged followers on social media to donate to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. 

In the United States, Glossier donated thousands of its skin care products, including balms, face mists, moisturizers, and hand creams, to hospital teams across the United States. Sustainable clothing brand Reformation partnered with the City of Los Angeles to make 5 million non-medical masks in its L.A. factory for essential workers.

We are in strange, unprecedented times. Suddenly, the most ostentatious sector of consumerism is producing masks for hospital workers, for the common good, merging the opposing worlds of luxury and necessity. But while retailers support hospital teams and essential workers, we as consumers need to support our retailers during this time too.

Forced to close their doors, companies are attempting to attract customers with flash sales and discounts, while small, independent designers turn to social media. Those discounts flashing across websites, popping up in your email, and filtering into Instagram feeds are tempting propositions, and blatant cries to consumers: “Please, shop.” 

Yet consumers may now be second-guessing whether to save or spend. 

Shopping is often derided as a frivolous activity, when it is really what stimulates and sustains our economy. Services and goods are produced and exchanged—it’s the simplest cycle that defines our lives. 

Now, more than ever, if you decide to shop, you need to consider where you’re buying from. Who are you supporting? Couldn’t you help out a smaller business that may not have received money from one of the government’s stimulus packages, rather than purchase from larger companies?

It is the time to spend money not carelessly, but strategically. We can designate our cash for the necessities: hand sanitizer, food, additional data installments for online classes, and masks (if you can get your hands on them). We can also look to local businesses—restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques—turning what would be a simple purchase into more of a donation. If financial insecurity looms over your head, engaging with brands on social media through likes, comments, and tags is an equally effective alternative to shopping.

Small businesses can stay open, retailers can build their brands, and independent designers will continue to offer their creations. The effects of your purchases will reverberate through the supply chain. Although a nearly $500 billion dollar stimulus package for small businesses has been replenished, this package, like the last one, is in danger of quickly depleting. Then who will small businesses rely on but consumers?

While contemplating all the looming changes we’ll experience when we emerge from isolation, some things may not have to change. As consumers, we have the power to jump-start our economy from inside our homes, and offer support—through purchases, donations, or social media engagement—to businesses along the way.

While our actions may seem insignificant if we’re not fighting on the hospital frontlines, brewing up home-made hand sanitizer, or sewing masks, the greatest thing we can do now as consumers is to spend our money where we can.  

Featured Graphic by Ally Mozeliak / Heights Staff

April 24, 2020