MONEY Shopping

You’ll Never Guess What Store Sells the Most Vinyl Records

Urban Outfitters Store in Herald Square, NYC, 2014.
Urban Outfitters Store in Herald Square, NYC, 2014. Patti McConville—Alamy

It's the same store known for selling supposedly hip, intentionally offensive clothing—and then apologizing in mock surprise when people are offended.

It’s Urban Outfitters, the clothing chain that recently received grief and load of media attention by marketing a seemingly blood-stained—or was it just vintage and discolored?—Kent State sweatshirt, (The store has also in the past has sold controversial, ill-conceived designs such as a T-shirts with slogans like “Depression” and “Eat Less” and bottles that look like they hold prescription drugs.) Urban Outfitter stores have been selling vinyl records for years, in a campaign that’s been so successful it’s drawn imitators trying to attract hipster music lover customers. You can get vinyl with your kale at some Whole Foods stores.

Now Urban Outfitters is claiming to be the biggest seller of vinyl records in the world. “Music is very, very important to the Urban customer,” CEO Calvin Hollinger said in a meeting with analysts this week (HT: Buzzfeed). “In fact, we are the world’s number one vinyl seller.”

At first glance, it might seem odd for a youth-focused apparel retailer to be in the business of selling music—especially one using technology that was considered old-fashioned and dying in the 1980s. But when you think a little deeper about vinyl records, and who’s interested in them, the sales category makes more sense. For one thing, records tend to have a longer shelf life than fast fashion. No matter how many fashion cycles pass, people will still want to listen to (and buy) the music of the Sex Pistols and Bob Marley and the Ramones. It doesn’t take up a whole lot of space in a store to hold a few hundred records, and the same customers who enjoy flipping through the albums are likely to be put in the mood for browsing other merchandise.

What’s more, in many parts of the country, there are no record stores left, so Urban Outfitters is the only option left—a surprisingly good option, as many skeptics have found. “I kept finding more and more crates full of more and more records,” one Village Voice writer stated regarding a shopping venture to Urban Outfitters last summer. “And pretty decent ones! And not super expensive (generally between $10 and $20).”

Perhaps most importantly, even as streaming has crippled sales of CDs and digital downloads, vinyl record sales are on the upswing. Nielsen data shows that for the first six months of 2014, vinyl LP sales were up 40% compared to the same period of a year prior. What’s behind the surge in vinyl?

“Ask any number of your friends who collect and listen to vinyl records, and there’s a good chance they’ll tell you vinyl just sounds better than anything else,” a recent Motley Fool post summed up. There’s also the hipster factor, combined with nostalgia and the collectability of classic and obscure record album covers. “In short, vinyl is cool.”

Also interesting: Starting in 2008, an event dubbed Record Store Day has been celebrated every April, in which more than 1,000 independent stores in the U.S. have special promotions and roll out new albums on vinyl for sale. The 2014 edition of Record Store Day was the most successful ever, with sales up 58% over the previous year’s event, and up 91% compared to the previous week, according to Rolling Stone.

Last year, a Record Store Day imitation event was added to the mix, and its second incarnation actually takes place this Saturday in select stores. Something tells us it won’t be quite as successful as Record Store Day, however. It’s called Cassette Store Day.

MONEY Food & Drink

Nostalgia SURGE! Cult Favorite Foods & Drinks Back from the Dead

Twinkies Chocodile
Hostess

Fueled by nostalgia—and often, outcries on social media—the snacks, sodas, and beers you haven't been able to buy for years are making big comebacks.

There’s no mystery as to why malls play old Christmas songs, why retro products and brands pop up regularly in the marketplace, and why advertisers are constantly trying to evoke memories of our youth. But if anyone had any doubts, the results of a study published over the summer by the Journal of Consumer Research show that we’re more likely to spend money when we’re in a nostalgic mood.

Consumers are also, we know, more prone to buying stuff when it hasn’t been available in quite some time, and when we get the idea it may disappear again because it’s a limited-time offer. The periodic resurfacing of the McDonald’s McRib is a great example of how this strategy can work over and over to successfully drum up sales—for a product that, remember, was discontinued from the regular menu because not enough people liked it.

These varied forces have combined to fuel a surge in sales for products ranging from cheap old-school beer (featuring retro bottles, cans, and logos) to re-releases of old-school sneakers, Nike Air Jordans in particular. And these forces are also fueling a surge in discontinued food and drink products being brought back from the dead, including, well, SURGE.

The highly caffeinated citrus soda brand was brought back by Coca-Cola this week due to popular demand. The masses spoke in the form of a Facebook page with more than 140,000 Likes that demanded its return to the marketplace. And then they took action by buying up the first batch in its entirety within hours of it going on sale at Amazon.com.

Here are a few other food and drink products that disappeared for a while, only to resurface to the rejoicing of more than a few cult fans.

Hostess Chocodiles
At one point, sellers on eBay were asking as much as $90 a box for these chocolate-covered Twinkie treats, and buyers paid $17 for a single Chocodile. That was back during the dark days, when Chocodiles weren’t available in the vast majority of the country. In July Hostess announced it was bringing the Chocodile back nationally, by way of some hyperbolic statements from the company’s CEO. “In the past Chocodiles seemed to be shrouded as much in mystery as in chocolate, inspiring an obsession among fans that was truly the stuff of legends,” said William Toler, president and CEO of Hostess Brands. “Now, fanatics will once again be able to satisfy their cravings and a new generation will be able to experience the magic for the first time.”

BK Chicken Fries
Over the summer, around the same time Burger King was dramatically scaling back availability of Satisfries, its low-calorie French fry, the fast food giant brought back decidedly less healthy Chicken Fries to the menu for a limited time. The breaded-and-fried chicken strips were on the menu from 2005 until they were discontinued in 2012. But after online petitions and Tumblr pages pleaded for their return, BK relented. “On peak days we’ve seen one tweet every forty seconds about Chicken Fries, many of them directly petitioning, begging, for us to bring them back,” Eric Hirschhorn, Burger King’s Chief Marketing Officer North America, said in a statement. “When you have guests who are this passionate about a product, you have to give them what they want.”

Ballantine IPA
The hipster cult status of PBR has caused the Pabst Brewing Company to take a hard look at the beer brands it owns and see if should start brewing any of its discontinued old-school beers—which, perhaps, might also gain a following with hipsters. That’s essentially why Pabst relaunched Schlitz in 2008, and then reintroduced Schlitz vintage “Tall Boy” can a few years later. And it’s why the company is bringing back Ballantine IPA, the 136-year-old brew produced for decades in Newark, N.J., credited as America’s first IPA. It helps that the craft beer revolution has made hoppy IPAs extremely popular.

General Mills Monster Cereals
For most of the year, shoppers can’t find Boo Berry, Count Chocula, and Franken Berry in the cereal aisles of any supermarkets. But then sometime in late summer, their dormancy period ends like that of a pumpkin spice latte, and they’re suddenly available again just in time for the ramp-up to Halloween. This year, the cereals feature new designs from DC Comics artists, being sold side by side next to cereal boxes with retro characters and logos from the 1970s and ’80s. Count Chocula and Franken Berry are also being sold in select stores in Canada this season, which is unusual. “No more trips across the U.S. border to stock up!,” a General Mills post promised.

Last year, General Mills made monster cereal fans extra happy by bringing back two rare products, Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy, which hadn’t been sold in more than two decades. Alas, it looks like the two cult favorites are not returning to stores this season, prompting fans to voice their disappointment with comments on the company blog.

Something tells us we’ll be seeing both Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy again in the future. In today’s nostalgia-ridden world, no brands really die, not even when they feature monster characters that are undead.

MONEY Tech

Sorry, iPhone Fans, Surveys Say Apple’s Not That Cool

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Street style photos featuring Samsung Galaxy Note 4 at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2015 at Lincoln Center on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Donald Bowers—Getty Images for Samsung

Despite iPhone mania around the world, Apple's "cool factor" is supposedly on the decline.

For the most part, reviews of the iPhone 6 glow with praise. Pre-orders of the new iPhones shot through the roof. Stories from around the globe on Friday showed lines stretching for blocks outside Apple Stores, filled with shoppers willing to brave cold temperatures, monotony, and discomfort just so that they could hand money over to Apple and the wireless provider of their choosing.

In light of the extent to which fans are going to score the new iPhone, Apple must universally be regarded as the coolest consumer tech brand on the planet, right? Well, maybe not.

The results of a new Reuters/Ipsos poll actually give the coolness edge to Android over Apple. Survey respondents typically come to that conclusion because of the perception that brands like Samsung (which uses Android as its operating system) have taken the lead in innovation, especially in terms of larger smartphone size. Lately, Samsung has been mocking Apple in ads, accusing the iPhone maker of playing catch-up and basically imitating larger “phablet” gadgets that it brought to the market a couple of years ago. In the Reuters survey, more people were of the opinion that Apple has grown less cool than Android over the last two years (16% versus 11%). And while 50% of respondents said Android had grown cooler over the past two years, a slightly smaller percentage (48%) indicated Apple increased its cool factor.

Earlier this year, a brand preference study from ConsumerMetrix rated Samsung as the top tech brand among consumers. Apple was rated fifth (after Sony, Microsoft, and HP, believe it or not), and researchers noted that ratings fell in particular among its “core affluent and younger demographics,” and that the “weak performance may be attributed to its relative lack of new product introductions.”

Bear in mind that the ConsumerMetrix study was obviously conducted before Apple introduced the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, that survey participants were from the U.S. and Europe, and that Android has a far bigger share of the market in Europe than it does in America. By the summer of 2013, nearly half of all smartphones sold in Europe were Samsungs.

The question arises as to which came first: Have people been buying Samsungs and other Android devices because they think they’re cooler and more innovative than Apple? Or are they saying that Samsung is cooler simply because that’s their brand of device, and they want to feel like they made the cool choice?

In yet another survey, this one conducted on the behalf of Chegg, the discount college textbook sales and rental site, around the time of Apple’s unveiling of its new devices, American high school and college students seem to have concluded that “Apple is losing its cool factor among its technology contemporaries.” When asked what tech brands were “cool,” more students felt that the word applied to Amazon (72%) and Google (71%) than Apple (64%). Three out of ten students decreed that Apple is “smug,” more than half (55%) felt that Apple’s new phones are “more style than substance,” and one quarter agree with the idea that Apple may have lost its edge.

What’s especially interesting about the Chegg study, which originally had a headline suggesting that “Apple [Is] Losing Its Cool,” was that it was quickly undercut by the folks who published it (supposedly by mistake). The results are no longer to be found among Chegg’s press releases. Why? Chegg admitted that the headline didn’t really match the results, especially data showing that 36% of students would “probably” or “definitely” be buying the new iPhone. “A third of students saying they’re definitely or probably going to buy the phone to me didn’t jibe with Apple losing its cool,” Chegg’s Usher Lieberman explained to Investors Business Daily. “What should have been the headline is that a third of students are planning on buying the phone.”

That’s the headline that truly matters to Apple as well. It doesn’t really matter if some people think that Apple is uncool or is somehow losing its edge. Money and action speak louder than words and opinions, and clearly Apple devices are cool enough to make fans wait in lines for days and pay astronomical prices just to get their hands on the new iPhones. Apple’s gotta consider that behavior to be very, very cool.

MONEY Travel

The Hardworking Person You’ve Forgotten to Tip

Tip at Marriott hotel
Jeff Greenberg—Alamy

A new initiative from Marriott nudges travelers to tip their housekeepers.

American travelers are a pretty generous bunch. Virtually everyone tips restaurant staffers — 97%, according to a recent TripAdvisor survey. More than 80% of Americans tip taxi drivers, and 79% tip bellhops. Skipping the tip makes Americans anxious: 23% report feeling guilty when they don’t tip, and one in three Americans has tipped someone even when the service was bad.

But when Americans travel, they sometimes forget to tip the people who clean up after them: hotel housekeepers. Americans are less likely to tip housekeepers than other service workers; more than 31% report that they don’t tip hotel maids at all, according to TripAdvisor.

Now Marriott wants to offer a reminder. In a partnership with Maria Shriver’s nonprofit advocacy group, A Woman’s Nation, the hotel chain has launched a new initiative to place envelopes in hotel rooms where customers can leave “tips and notes of thanks.”

“Hotel room attendants often go unnoticed, as they silently care for the millions of travelers who are on the road at any given time,” states Marriott’s press release. “Because hotel guests do not always see or interact with room attendants, their hard work is many times overlooked when it comes to tipping.”

How much money should you leave? The American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry trade group, recommends tipping housekeepers $1 to $5 a night, depending on the level of service and cost of the hotel. The Emily Post Institute concurs — its website recommends a tip of $2 to $5 a day.

Other important etiquette rules: Leave the tip every day, to ensure that whoever cleans the room that day gets the money. And be sure to put the cash in an envelope or leave a note next to the money saying “thanks” — any good housekeeper will be afraid to take cash if she’s not sure it belongs to her.

Even though hotel bills are getting bigger, the people who clean the rooms still make a pittance. During the first half of 2014, travelers paid an average of $137 a night for hotels in the United States, up 5% from last year, according to Hotels.com. On average, maids and housekeepers in the traveler accommodation industry make just $21,800 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — below the poverty line for a family of four.

Which leads some people to ask — why doesn’t Marriott just pay its workers more, instead of asking customers to do it? For a $20.6 billion company MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL INC. MAR -3.0615% , that’s a fair question. But for now, if your manners compel you to tip the taxi driver, the bellhop, and the concierge, don’t forget to leave a few bucks for the housekeeper, too.

MONEY

New iPhones Sell for $2,000 on eBay, Asking Prices Hit $6,000

Customers waiting in line for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
Customers wait in line outside Apple Inc.'s Ginza store ahead of the launch of the company's new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Apple's redesigned iPhones with bigger screens goes on sale in Japan on Sept. 19. Yuriko Nakao—Bloomberg via Getty Images

People are paying double the retail price of the new iPhones because they can't bear the thought of having to wait a few weeks to own one.

At around 11 a.m. EST Monday morning, 19 bids had been submitted to an eBay auction of an iPhone 6 Plus Space Gray 128 GB. It was unlocked (so the owner wouldn’t necessarily be tied into a two-year contract), and it was confirmed to be shipped on the first day the new iPhones are available for purchase, Friday, September 19.

With about 30 minutes left in the auction, the price for the phone hit $1,900, which wound up being the winning bid. That’s astronomical compared to what most people think of as the list price for such a unit, $499. But the $499 price tag is a subsidized rate you get in exchange for being locked into a two-year contract with a wireless provider. The true retail price for an unlocked version of this unit is $949, which makes the premium bidders were willing to pay seem slightly more reasonable. Still, $1,900 is double the list price!

And what does the buyer get for paying such a premium? Essentially, all the buyer gets is his hands on the phone a few weeks earlier than he would otherwise. Apple pre-orders for the new iPhones broke records, with some four million orders placed during the first 24 hours they were accepted.

Because of the early surge in demand, consumers who haven’t already placed their orders are now typically being forced to wait at least until October to possess the new iPhone 6. And the wait for the new gadget’s big brother, the larger-screen iPhone 6 Plus—which measures 5.5 inches, compared with 4.7 inches for the regular iPhone 6 and 4 inches for the 5S—is even longer. Apple is warning that shipping on new orders will be delayed three or four weeks, and CNBC reported that certain orders (specifically, the iPhone 6 Plus from AT&T) won’t be available for shipping for five or six weeks.

For some people, that’s just too long to wait. So they’re turning to eBay and Craigslist, where there are plenty of eager sellers willing to part with their freshly ordered gadgets if doing so means quick and sizable profits. The Wire noted that last Friday, when iPhone preorders were first being accepted (and were apparently difficult to place due to strong demand), eBay listings for the devices hovered up around $2,000. One 64GB iPhone 6 Plus appears to have sold on eBay last Thursday for $3,950.

As of Monday at midday, a search for “iPhone 6″ at eBay returned more than 130,000 results. The variety of listings, including locked and unlocked models featuring different permutations of colors, memory, and wireless providers, generally ranged in price from $700 to $1,500. One bold seller had a flat asking price of $6,000 for a gold unlocked 64 GB iPhone 6—the regular one, not the larger 6 Plus.

To some consumers, paying a handsome premium for a hot new device is no crazier than waiting in line overnight, perhaps for weeks, to get one. In both cases, there’s a price being paid, either in one’s time or one’s actual money.

Speaking of waiting in line, that apparently is still a feasible strategy for those who “need” a new iPhone this week and don’t want to pay through the nose for one via eBay. “Additional supply of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will be available to walk-in customers on Friday, September 19 at 8:00 a.m. local time at Apple retail stores,” explained an Apple statement about pre-orders issued on Monday. “Both models will also be available on Friday from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, additional carriers and select Apple Authorized Resellers.”

How many “walk-ins” will be able able to buy new iPhones on Friday? That remains unclear. Certainly, at the busiest, highest-profile Apple Stores like the one on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, you probably don’t have a prayer unless you’re already camped outside the store. For quieter locations selling the iPhones starting on Friday, it appears possible that you’ll be able to walk in and buy one, though it’s advisable to get on line early and expect big crowds. Also, the pickings may be slim, so you might not get the exact model or color you want.

Alternately, you could do the sane, mature, and responsible thing and deny yourself immediate gratification. Just order exactly what you want and wait a few weeks for it to arrive, without paying a premium to sketchy online sellers, and without losing any sleep waiting outside for a store to open. Or, God forbid, stick with the phone you have.

MONEY online shopping

The Big Reason to Beware Twitter and Facebook’s ‘Buy’ Buttons

Twitter Buy button
Twitter

People quickly, thoughtlessly post all sorts of ill-advised things on social media. Facebook and Twitter are banking on people buying stuff quickly and thoughtlessly too.

Facebook announced the addition of a “Buy” button in July, and Twitter followed suit with a “Buy” button of its own just this week. In both cases, the idea is that once a user enters payment info and mailing address, he’ll be able to buy any of the offers that pop up in his feed with one quick click—and without ever having to leave the social network and visit another site.

A post by Twitter described the “Buy” button as “a new way for you to discover and buy products.” During a test period, a small percentage of Twitter users will be presented with deals from more than two dozen retailers (like Home Depot), nonprofits (The Nature Conservancy), and artists (Brad Paisley, Eminem, Pharrell, Megadeth). “Users will get access to offers and merchandise they can’t get anywhere else and can act on them right in the Twitter apps,” the company explained.

While it’s very early on in the experiment, it’s all but guaranteed that the kinds of offers enticing consumers to “Buy” on Twitter—and Facebook—will be short-lived “flash” promotions. “Twitter is about what’s happening right now, and so as long as e-commerce follows that approach, using sales with a short lifespan or that offer a limited number of items, it should work extremely well,” Lou Kerner, a social media analyst for The Social Internet Fund, said to InternetRetailer.com.

“You can imagine how well the product would work with deals or discounts based on what users are tweeting or what they’re interested in based on their follows,” Twitter spokesperson Will Stickney told the travel site Skift, in a post speculating about what it’ll be like to buy airline tickets via Twitter (a service that’s not available just yet).

Let’s step back and take a look at what we have here, from the consumer perspective. The sudden appearance of a social media “Buy” button gives the consumer a feeling of exclusivity—of somehow being selected and singled out as special. There will be pressure to act quickly or miss out on the deal at hand; by the time you shop around for similar offers, do some price comparisons, or fully think things through, that “Buy” button could be gone. What’s more, the act of purchasing is simply a tap or two on a phone, quicker and easier even than posting your latest brilliant random thoughts on Twitter. It doesn’t feel like spending real money at all.

In so many ways, what we have here is quite a handy formula to manipulate shoppers into making regretful impulse purchases.

Perhaps you’ll get a great deal from such a speedy purchase. Then again, maybe not. Just a few short years ago, consumers were clamoring to scoop up every daily deal from Groupon and LivingSocial that came their way. The discounts seemed too good to pass up, and the feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) pushed many into biting before the deal was sold out or disappeared. Afterwards, however, the concept dubbed “Groupon remorse” took over, especially for the estimated 20% to 30% of daily deal coupons and credits at spas and restaurants that were purchased but never used. It’s worth mentioning here that most airline tickets are nonrefundable and extraordinarily expensive to change, so buying flights on the quick is an especially dicey, high-risk proposition.

From daily deals to Black Friday doorbusters, and from Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes to McDonald’s McRibs and Shamrock Shakes, it’s easy to see why retailers and restaurants love limited-time offers: They create a sense of urgency among customers. If these deals were always around, fewer consumers would feel compelled to buy RIGHT NOW. These purchases feel special because we can’t get our hands on them any old time—exactly like the “offers and merchandise [consumers] can’t get anywhere else” mentioned by Twitter when introducing its “Buy” button this week.

We must also discuss the typical state of mind of the social media user. For many, Twitter and Facebook are reserved mostly for posting dumb, silly, halfway thought-out stuff meant to amuse their friends. There’s a long history of people posting things on social media that were so ill-advised that they wound up being fired from their jobs (or worse) as a result. It’s pretty easy to see how a person who posts things stupidly and impulsively on social media is also likely, when given the opportunity, to make purchases stupidly and impulsively on social media.

For that matter, oftentimes people are quite literally not thinking straight when using social media. See: Drunk Facebooking and Drunk Tweets. Marketers know a scary amount about consumer behavior, to the extent that some will post deals on things like fashion and jewelry late at night—because that’s when customers most tempted into buying such stuff are most likely to be drunk. While it’s very early on in direct-buying on social media, it’ll be interesting to see the kinds of offers that pop up—and when, exactly, they appear. There are certain times of day, and certain nights of the week, when shoppers are likely to be in a less inhibited, more suggestive state of mind.

What can shoppers do to fight off the temptation of such impulse buys? One tip is to try to remember to feel gratitude for all that you have in life, because consumers tend to act more impulsively when feeling lonely or bummed, and the purchase is supposed to alter one’s mood. Personal finance experts advise the use of some rules to avoid making regretful purchases, such as a mandatory wait period of 24 hours (for small purchases) or 30 days (for big-ticket items). In terms of buying via social media, it’s probably smart to add a couple more rules. Like: No purchases after midnight. And hands off the “Buy” button when you’re out at a bar.

MORE: How Can I Make It Easier to Save?

MONEY consumer psychology

How Waiting in Line to Buy an iPhone 6 Is Like Burning Man

140908_EM_BurningManiPhone
Dawn at Robot Heart, "Burning Man," Nevada, 2014. Marc Whalen

The people who line up for hours, sometimes days, to buy gadgets, sneakers, video games, and Black Friday "doorbusters" think there's nothing nonsensical about their behavior.

Rumors have been swirling about Apple’s iPhone 6 for weeks, and the big public unveiling of the hyped new gadget is set to take place on September 9. The phone itself—which may or may not actually be called the iPhone 6—won’t be available for purchase until September 19.

Nonetheless, it’s been widely reported that people started camping outside the Apple Store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on August 31, 10 days before the new iPhone would be introduced, and nearly three weeks before customers could actually buy one. As Quartz reported, the four individuals waiting in line (a married couple and a pair of cousins who camp out every time there’s a new Apple product) are being paid for their time. But the fact that the line—which will surely grow as the purchase date nears—is being used as a marketing ploy by other companies demonstrates just how much of a cultural phenomenon such events have become.

While the rollout of a new Apple gadget is a high-profile, much-mocked example of consumers totally unnecessarily waiting in line, it’s hardly the only example. A week ago, more than 200 people waited to be among the first customers inside a newly opened Los Angeles-area Dunkin’ Donuts. Consumers have also been known to wait for hours and even sleep overnight just for the right to buy food at new Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger restaurants. They also wait just to shop at Trader Joe’s when there’s a new one in the neighborhood, and to buy stuff like video game consoles and Nike sneakers when they’re new to the marketplace. The lines outside sneaker stores have on occasion been magnets for violence and riots, even shootings thanks to loads of antsy, irritable customers eager to get their hands on the new kicks.

Then there’s Black Friday, which in recent years has drawn shoppers to go to such lengths as camping outside Best Buy for two weeks in early winter.

Sure, there are some rewards for such endurance. The first guy in line at the California Dunkin’ Donuts (who camped out 30 hours before the doors open) got a free year’s worth of coffee, for instance, while the next 99 customers got a swag bag full of DD merchandise. Those waiting in line on Black Friday get access to doorbuster deals that, presumably, folks sleeping in on the day after Thanksgiving miss out on. The fanboys camped outside stores for iPhones and Air Jordans and Play Stations get pride in ownership of the latest models before the masses, as well as the bragging rights that come with that. In cases where merchandise is being sold only in a limited supply (as with Nike), waiting in a gigantic line might be the only option for a fanatic to take possession of the hottest gadget or accessory.

But let’s be honest: However cool these rewards seem, they’re never worth the tradeoff of sleeping outside on a curb for days. There’s just no logic to it. We live in a time, after all, of one-click buying, same-day delivery, online grocery shopping, and startups that deliver quarters for laundry. None of these services would have been created if it wasn’t clear that people hate having to wait for pretty much anything. People try to save time at every turn.

So why are so many people willing to waste their time waiting outside a store or restaurant? According to Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist, author, and frequent contributor to MONEY, the willingness of these consumers to wait in line “has nothing to do with the freebies, or buying, or stuff.” Instead, people are drawn to participate in what they perceive as a cultural event, with like-minded people.

“It’s about human connection,” says Yarrow. “It’s an excuse to be with other people, to be part of a festival or event. It’s basically a mini Burning Man. People with shared values hang out together and have something to talk about.”

(Side note: The only woman among the first four people camped outside the Apple Store is named Moon Ray, which sounds just like a pseudonym someone would take on during the course of the hedonistic Burning Man festival that takes place every year at summer’s end in the Nevada desert.)

In certain circles, the bragging rights factor is undeniable as well. There is the “allure of being first—it’s it’s a badge,” says Yarrow. “There is a demographic that feels wily and special when they are first or get an elusive item before others.”

But first and foremost, Yarrow—who “won’t stand in line for anything, ever”—says that the seemingly bizarre line-waiting phenomenon makes sense because it’s not really about the stuff people are waiting for. People are there for the experience of waiting itself. They want to be a part of the spectacle, and they want to be able to say that they were there. Sorta like Burning Man.

Interestingly enough, an ongoing subplot to this year’s festival was the idea that Burning Man has been ruined by the rich, wealthy tech titans in particular, who have been accused of destroying the creative, capitalism-free spirit of the event by arriving via private jet with cooks and masseuses in tow. Likewise, there are plenty of fans of Nike and Apple that hate the idea of some rich person buying a spot in line or paying someone to wait in line to buy the new Air Jordans or iPhone. Doing so spoils the spirit and camaraderie of the event—which, again, is what the wait is really all about.

MONEY Odd Spending

Fine! Whatever! Top 10 Gifts for the Passive-Aggressives In Your Life

Reclining airplane seat into passenger's knees
Jason Hetherington—Getty Images

The Knee Defender—which prevents airline seats from reclining—is one of many products passive-aggressive consumers can use to protect their turf or ward off uncivil behavior. Hopefully without confrontation, of course.

Two recent passenger squabbles on airplanes have greatly boosted the profile of the Knee Defender, a $22 device that can be attached to the back of an airline seat to prevent it from reclining. The device prompted a brawl on a recent United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver, causing the plane to be diverted to Chicago, where both the man who attached the Knee Defender and the woman who didn’t like it (and threw a glass of water at the guy behind her) were escorted off the aircraft. Sales of the device soared after the news of the incident went viral, and plenty of observers weighed in with opinions, some defending the Knee Defender, others bashing it and anyone who would selfishly prevent a fellow passenger from “right to recline.”

Many others lamented the apparent need for such passive-aggressive behavior in the first place. Ira Goldman, the inventor of the Knee Defender, said the airlines are to blame for these ugly incidents because they’ve reduced legroom. By extension, the airlines are also to blame for the newfound popularity of his odd gadget. “When the airlines solve the problem, I’ll go out of business,” he said.

Flying is hardly the only sphere where humans have been known to exhibit uncivil behavior, and where others feel forced to resort to passive-aggressive (OK, sometimes more aggressive than passive) strategies as a counteroffensive. Here are some other products for the passive-aggressive people in your life.

The Parking Chair
People in Boston, Chicago, and other snowy cities regularly use chairs (or ironing boards, or buckets, or oversized kids’ toys) to call “dibs” on the street parking spaces that they dug out in front of their homes. The passive-aggressive tactic for defending one’s spot is popular but often illegal. In fact, a “No Savesies” movement was launched via social media by police in Philadelphia to spread the word that savesies, dibs, or whatever you want to call it is not allowed.

Spike Away Vest
Tired of fellow commuters bumping into her or otherwise invading her personal space, an industrial designer in Japan created the Spike Away vest, a plastic, porcupine-like accessory sure to keep strangers from rubbing up against you on the train.

Slogan T-Shirt
Rather than boldly confronting those exhibiting boorish, insensitive, or just plain dumb behavior, the passive-aggressive have been known to wear certain T-shirts as a way to get across a message—and perhaps their sense of humor as well. Here’s one offering the message “Thank you for not crop dusting” (a.k.a. farting).

Office “Courtesy” Signs
The office, a mishmash of different personalities from different backgrounds where everyone is expected to behave professionally and politely, is always a hot spot for subtle passive-aggressive behavior. And sometimes overt and totally juvenile passive-aggressive behavior too. Signs posted at cubicles (“Quiet Please… Important Work in Progress”) and in office kitchens are often rife with passive-aggressive intent.

Bumper Stickers
Pretty much every bumper sticker is passive-aggressive—a means to get some sort of message across without saying a word or doing much of anything besides driving around. Like this one, which aims to keep would-be tailgaters at bay: “Sorry for driving so close in front of your car.”

Toilet Decal
Confronting people in your house about their refusal to put the toilet seat down is so, well, confrontational. It’s also difficult to do in the middle of the night, when said people are probably barely awake. The passive-aggressive solution just might be a glow-in-the-dark toilet decal with the reminder to lower the seat after relieving oneself.

Curb Your Dog Signs
“Please Don’t Water Our Plants!” one Curb Your Dog sign pleads, showing a pooch peeing on what’s presumably a garden. “Make Sure Your Dog Doesn’t Drop Anything,” another sign warns, showing a dog doing something worse than merely peeing. Either option is nicer than putting a fake headstone on your lawn marking the spot of “The Last Dog That Pooped in My Yard.”

TV-B-Gone
OK, this one is probably more aggressive than passive. The TV-B-Gone gadget hit the marketplace in the mid-2000s, allowing anyone to turn off a TV blaring CNN or whatever at the airport or some other public venue. Tranquility at last!

The Ordinary Cellphone
Nearly everyone is in possession of a tool that makes it incredibly easy to passive-aggressively avoid talking to people or even making eye contact. According to a Pew Research Internet Project survey, 13% of all cell phone owners—and a whopping 30% of millennials—say that they have pretended to be using their phones for the express purpose of easily avoiding interactions with people they come across.

Related:
5 Reasons September Is the Best Month to Go Shopping

 

TIME health

3 Reasons Why Your Relationship With Food is Crazy

mom's cookies
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) You ignore the importance of context

You ate more because you were hungry? Maybe, but you’re probably not giving nearly enough credit to how context affects you. I’ve posted many times about how context is far more influential than you think.
From Paul Bloom’s How Pleasure Works:

  1. Protein bars taste worse if they are described as “soy protein”
  2. Orange juice tastes better if it is bright orange.
  3. Yogurt and ice cream are more flavorful if described as “full fat” or “high fat.”
  4. Children think milk and apples taste better if they’re taken out from McDonald’s bags.
  5. Coke is rated higher when drunk from a cup with a brand logo.

How much you eat is strongly affected by how much those around you eat, but you rarely realize it. Dining with friends? You’ll probably eat twice as much.

Via The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement:

At restaurants, people eat more depending on how many people they are dining with. People eating alone eat least. People eating with one other person eat 35 percent more than they do at home. People dining in a party of four eat 75 percent more, and people dining with seven or more eat 96 percent more.

Eating with overweight friends? You’ll eat more. Is your waitress overweight? You’ll eat more. Are you a woman eating with a man? You’ll eat less. Wide variety of food? You’ll eat more.

Smaller serving sizes make you eat less overall. The order of items on a menuaffects what you eat. The color of plates can affect how sweet dessert tastes.

Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, instructs us to tell the guests that wine is from California, not North Dakota:

It was all the same $2 cabernet. And we found that if people thought it was from California, they rated the wine as better, they rated the food as better, they stayed at the restaurant about 10 minutes longer, and many of them made reservations to come back.

When we served them the North Dakota wine, it poisoned the entire meal. They didn’t rate the food as good, they left 10 minutes earlier, and they didn’t make reservations to come back.

When you serve dessert, put it on some fancy china, not a napkin:

If they ate it on the napkin, they’d say, “Wow, this is really good.” On a paper plate, they said, “This is really, really good.” If they ate it off of Wedgwood china, they would say, “This is the greatest brownie I’ve eaten in my entire life.” And the amount they were willing to pay for it tripled.

And give them silverware, not plasticware:

Consumers’ quality and liking judgments concerning identical yoghurt samples differed significantly when tasted either with a metallic plastic spoon or else with a stainless steel spoon, the latter resulting in significantly higher scores.

Don’t feel guilty – even dieticians are inaccurate about how much they eat. (And only 7% of shoppers obey the “10 items or less” rule at the supermarket.)

2) You forget that so much of what makes food good or bad is in your head

Comfort food really does comfort you. Grandmom’s cookies do taste better than other cookies. You can’t tell pate from dog food. Coffee junkie? When you haven’t had your joe anything with caffeine tastes better. Dieting actually makes food look bigger.

Eating organic food might turn you into a jerk. Anything that affirms your feelings about your own morality (“I eat organic, therefore I’m a good person.”) your brain may subconsciously use to justify doing something immoral. (“I’m generally a very good person so it’s okay if every now and then I…”)

Why do people order a cheeseburger, fries, dessert and a *Diet* Coke?

It’s called a “health halo effect.” As long as we have the feeling we’re doing something healthy, we extend it to everything during that meal. Due to this, most people surveyed estimated that a cheeseburger with a salad had fewer calories than the cheeseburger alone.

Via The Willpower Instinct:

We feel so good about ordering something healthy, our next indulgence doesn’t feel sinful at all. We also see virtuous choices as negating indulgences— literally, in some cases. Researchers have found that if you pair a cheeseburger with a green salad, diners estimate that the meal has fewer calories than the same cheeseburger served by itself. This makes no sense, unless you believe that putting lettuce on a plate can magically make calories disappear.

(And, no, those fortune cookies aren’t very Chinese.)

3) Food and hunger affect your judgment whether you realize it or not

Hungry judges give harsher sentences. Lemonade can reduce racism. Eating something disgusting can make you feel morally disgusted. Hungry men prefer heavier women and Playboy playmates are thicker during economic recessions.

Kids who skip breakfast misbehave more than kids who eat their Wheaties. After given a snack, all the children are little angels again.

Via Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength

All the children in a class were told to skip breakfast one morning, and then, by random assignment, half of the children were given a good breakfast at school. The others got nothing. During the first part of the morning, the children who got breakfast learned more and misbehaved less (as judged by monitors who didn’t know which children had eaten). Then, after all the students were given a healthy snack in the middle of the morning, the differences disappeared as if by magic.

People who have low blood sugar are far more prone to criminal and violent behavior:

…hypoglycemics were more likely than the average person to have trouble concentrating and controlling their negative emotions when provoked. Overall, they tended to be more anxious and less happy than average. Hypoglycemia was also reported to be unusually prevalent among criminals and other violent persons, and some creative defense attorneys brought the low-blood-sugar research into court.

Across the board, yeah, food puts you in a better mood. To be more exact, research has shown that 2 cheeseburgers = one orgasm. Smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate.

Via Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act (TED Books):

They discovered that smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in very powerful and surprising ways. How did the power of a smile stack up against other “well-regarded” pleasure-inducing sensations? Depending on whose smile you see, the researchers found that one smile can be as pleasurable and stimulating as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate!

(Health-wise, a little starvation can be good for you, actually.)

So what can you do?

Use this info to help you:

  1. If you need to concentrate or something is going to require good judgment, make sure to eat something.
  2. Use your knowledge of the way certain foods make you feel to control and improve your mood.
  3. Use context to control your eating.

You probably utilize the first two points from time to time but maybe not often enough. The third is very powerful but you probably don’t put it into action.

From Mindless Eating author Brian Wansink:

The good news is that for every external cue that messes people up in our studies, you can solve the problem by doing the opposite. If going from a 10-inch to a 12-inch plate causes you to eat 22 percent more, use a 10-inch or 91/2-inch plate.

Use smaller bowls. Don’t rely on your willpower or the power of education. Don’t say, “Now I know that I’m three times more likely to eat the first thing I see in my cupboard than the fifth thing I see in my cupboard … but I won’t let that influence me.” It absolutely will!

The solution is to make sure that the first thing you see–the thing that’s front and center–is healthier than that chocolate-covered foie gras.

People eat food that’s on the table much more frequently than food that’s off the table, so just put the salad and vegetables on the table. Leave everything else on the counter or stove.

 

Related posts:

5 things you need to know about alcohol

5 things you need to know about that wonder-beverage, coffee

Will eating healthier make you sexier?

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Food & Drink

Sorry, Dude, You’ve Been Drinking the Wrong Beer for Years

Beer tasting
Daniel Grill—Getty Images

A blind taste test reveals that if you're loyal to a beer brand because of the taste, you just might be fooling yourself.

A new study from the American Association of Wine Economists explores the world of beer rather than wine, and the findings indicate that you could be buying a favorite brand of brew for no good reason whatsoever. While the experiments conducted were limited, the results show that when labels are removed from beer bottles, drinkers can’t tell different brands apart—sometimes even when one of those brands is the taster’s go-to drink of choice.

In the paper, the researchers first point to a classic 1964 study, in which a few hundred volunteer beer testers (probably wasn’t too hard to find folks willing to participate) were sent five different kinds of popular lager brands, each with noticeable taste differences according to the experts. But people who rated their preferred beer brands higher when the labels were on bottles “showed virtually no preferences for certain beers over others” when the labels were removed during tastings:

In the blind tasting condition, no beer was judged by its regular drinkers to be significantly better than the other samples. In fact, regular drinkers of two of the five beers scored other beers significantly higher than the brand that they stated was their favorite.

The new study takes a different, simpler path to judging the quality of beer drinkers’ taste buds. Researchers didn’t even bother with ratings data. Instead, the experiments consisted of blind taste tests with three European lagers—Czechvar (Czech Republic), Heineken (Netherlands), and Stella Artois (Belgium)—in order simply to find out if beer drinkers could tell them apart. The experiments involved a series of “triangle tests,” in which drinkers were given a trio of beers to taste, two of which were the same beer. Tasters were asked to name the “singleton” of the bunch, and generally speaking, they could not do so with any reliable degree of accuracy:

In two of three tastings, participants are no better than random at telling the lagers apart, and in the third tasting, they are only marginally better than random.

What these results tell researchers, then, is that beer drinkers who stick with a certain brand label may be buying the beer for just that reason—the label. As opposed to the taste and quality, which are the reasons that consumers would probably give for why they are brand loyalists.

As the researchers put it in the new study, “marketing and packaging cues may be generating brand loyalty and experiential differences between brands.” In other words, we buy not for taste but because of the beer’s image and reputation that’s been developed via advertising, logos, and other marketing efforts. Similar conclusions have been reached in studies about wine; one, for instance, found that wine drinkers will pay more for bottles with hard-to-pronounce names—because apparently we assume that a fancy name is a sign of better quality. We also buy beer, wine, and a wide range of other products due to force of habit, of course.

Drinkers who are loyal to a particular beer brand may hate to hear this—heck, so are consumers who are loyal to almost any product brand—but the research indicates we are heavily influenced by factors other than those we really should care about, such as quality and superior taste.

All that said, we must point out the study’s shortcomings. The beer tastings were very limited in scope. It’s not like tasters were asked to compare Bud Light and a hoppy craft IPA, and then failed to tell the difference. And just because some volunteers couldn’t differentiate between beers doesn’t mean that you, with your superior palate, would be just as clueless. You may very well buy your favorite beer brand because, to quote an old beer ad, it “tastes great.”

Just to be sure, though, it might be time to take the labels off and do some blind taste testing. Could make for a fun Saturday night.

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