MONEY Shopping

8 Things We Already Know About the 2014 Holiday Shopping Season

Mark Cerqueria, software engineer for the application software company Smule, performs as Santa Claus
In all likelihood, Apple will have good reason to celebrate during the upcoming holiday season. Jeff Chiu—AP

Among other things, it looks like it will be a terrific holiday season for Apple, "Frozen," and workers seeking temporary jobs.

It’s still only September, and there are many unknowns about the end-of-the-year holiday shopping period. We don’t know exactly how aggressive retailers will be in terms of starting price wars with the competition, for instance, nor what the chances are of a surprise “it” toy emerging as a must-have gift for legions of American children. Still, even at this early date, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the way much of the season ahead will play out. Here’s what we know:

The holiday season already started. Sure, the back-to-school shopping period is considered to last through September, and autumn and Halloween are increasingly important for the marketing of everything from scary costumes to pumpkin spice lattes. But everything—everything—pales in comparison to the importance retailers place on the winter holiday shopping season. That’s why stores try to make the season a little bigger every year. Kmart launched its first Christmas ad, or rather a coy “non-Christmas ad,” in early September. And soon after, Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, and others rolled out various versions of the season’s “Hot Toy” list, long before kids even start thinking of making wish lists of their own.

You’ll be required by law to buy gadgets and “Frozen” merchandise. OK, it will only seem that way. That’s because the hot toy lists are dominated by “Frozen” products even though it’s been months since the Disney film was in theaters. When the lists aren’t directing parents to 3-foot-tall Elsa dolls, they’re steering buyers to techie items for kids like this Vtech smartwatch. Tech for adults will arguably be an even hotter category this season, what with a series of new tablets from Amazon and, of course, Apples’s hot-selling iPhones.

Stores will have longer hours and shorter checkout lines. Shoppers have come to expect the former around the holidays, with stores sometimes open for 88 hours in a row, or even longer, in the days leading up to Christmas. This year, Target launched longer hours (including midnight closings at some locations) before the summer even ended, with the hope of rebuilding its reputation as a convenient, fashionable spot to shop. What’s come as more of a surprise—and a welcome one at that—is Walmart’s promise to keep all of its checkout lines open during peak shopping hours throughout the season, starting on Black Friday weekend. As for Thanksgiving store hours themselves, experts expect big box retailers to open doors on the holiday even earlier than they did last year.

Black Friday won’t have the season’s best prices. On the day after Thanksgiving, stores will surely draw in the masses with promises of amazing discounts and doorbuster deals—but only on some merchandise. Because Thanksgiving store hours essentially mean that Black Friday begins on Thursday, because “Black Friday” sales start appearing days or even weeks before the actual Black Friday, and because retailers are known to launch wild sales out of the blue to stir up business before, during, and after Black Friday week, it’s foolish to assume that all of the prices shoppers encounter on the day after Thanksgiving are the lowest of the season. For some merchandise, including toys, name-brand TVs, and jewelry, shoppers can expect prices to drop after Thanksgiving weekend is over. Meanwhile, the discount-shopping site Ben’s Bargains anticipates that tablet prices will hit rock bottom in early November, and that prices for sports apparel and winter clothing will be cheaper in mid-November than they will be around Black Friday.

It’s a great year to snag a seasonal job. In 2008, retailers hired about 325,000 workers for the holiday period. The figure’s been on the rise ever since, hitting 786,000 a year ago. In a new report, researchers at Challenger, Gray & Christmas say they expect “seasonal employment gains in the retail sector to significantly outpace 2013.” Toys R Us, for instance, announced this week that it is hiring 45,000 seasonal employees, which more than doubles the company’s existing workforce, while UPS is planning on hiring 95,000 workers for the upcoming season. “We could see retailers add more than 800,000 seasonal workers for the first time since 1999,” said Challenger CEO John A. Challenger.

People will shop online earlier to avoid last year’s shipping nightmare. According to a new survey from Pitney Bowes, an e-commerce and shipping consulting firm, half of the consumers polled (49%) said that for the upcoming holiday season they will shop online earlier than they did last year. The most popular reason for doing so is to ensure that gifts and other packages arrive in plenty of time for the holidays. A year ago, many families were disappointed on Christmas morning because shipping delays caused orders from Amazon, Kohl’s, and other retailers to arrive after December 25. (Hopefully, the additional hires made by UPS will help ease the shipping problems of a year ago, but it’s smart for shoppers to play it safe by ordering well in advance.)

Apple loyalists will outspend Android users. Last November, the average order placed on a mobile Apple iOS device was $121.48, compared to just $89 for Android devices, according to a new IBM report. The data also shows that while we do more web-surfing with smartphones (accounting for 24% of all website traffic, compared to 14% via tablets), consumers are more inclined to make purchases on tablets (11.5% of website sales) than smartphones (5%). Again, Apple mobile device users outspend the rest of the field, representing 13.6% of web sales in March 2014, compared with 2% of site sales made via Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, and Nokia devices combined.

We’ll be heavily influenced by digital, but make most purchases in person. The forecast from Deloitte calls for a 4% to 4.5% overall increase in consumer holiday season spending. While researchers point out that 50% of sales will somehow be influenced by digital interactions (browsing online, for instance), only 14% of purchases will come in the form of non-store sales (primarily, e-commerce sales).

MONEY The Economy

8 Ways the American Consumer May Have Already Peaked

disposable diapers
Statistics suggest that American consumers may have hit "peak diaper"—for babies anyway. Joseph Pollard—Getty Images

The U.S. economy relies on robust consumer spending. But it's starting to look like Americans have had enough of some products.

Have you heard of “Peak Car”? That’s the idea that there’s a point at which total car ownership and miles driven will start declining. Given the questions about whether or not millennials want cars, as well as data showing that Americans have been driving less for a wide variety of reasons, some analysts believe that we’ve already hit Peak Car in the U.S.

And cars may not be the only thing that’s peaked. Here’s a look at a several seemingly disparate areas where U.S. consumers may be topping out.

Peak Car
The case for this one is controversial. Auto sales have been on the rebound since the Great Recession, sometimes growing by more than one million sales from year to year. After a hot summer for sales, 2014 is on pace for perhaps 16.5 to 17 million new vehicle purchases in the U.S. Then again, after months of heavy promotions and discounting, some experts believe the market is bound to slump toward the end of 2014, and few think that the tally will match the all-time high of 17.4 million sales in 2000.

Globally, some analysts predict that car ownership and usage will peak sometime in the next decade, while the Economist has theorized that Peak Car “still seems quite a long way off” because demand for cars in developing countries is expected to be strong for decades, and also because self-driving features will become mainstream. That means driving will be safer and insurance will cost less, drawing more people onto the roads.

Peak Casino
For years, there’s been talk about reaching a saturation point for casinos, in which gambling expands so widely that too many casinos are chasing the business of the same pool of customers willing to roll the dice and pull the arms of slot machines. The effects of such a situation are on display in Atlantic City, N.J., where one-quarter of the casinos opened at the beginning of 2014 are now closed. Two more casinos in Mississippi closed this year, and analysts are questioning whether markets such as the Baltimore area—which now hosts two casinos, and which has been blamed as a contributor to the falloff in gambling in Atlantic City—are big enough to keep local gaming interests afloat.

New casinos are still planned for Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, yet based on the number of casino closings and data indicating that overall slot revenues in North America are on pace to be down nearly 30% this year, it looks like there are already too many casinos in the marketplace battling to survive. “In many jurisdictions, gaming supply has increased while demand for the product has not, resulting in a state of market disequilibrium,” a post at the asset-based lending site ABL Advisor explained. “There is no simpler way for me to make this point.”

Peak Golf
Between 1986 and 2005, more than 4,500 new golf courses were opened in the U.S., including as many as 400 in a single year. Over the next six years, however, there was a net reduction of 500 courses, with 155 courses closing in 2012. Golf participation and golf sales are likewise plummeting for a variety of reasons: Ppeople are too busy, the sport just might be too hard, too expensive, or too uncool. And projections call for roughly 150 course closings and no more than 20 course openings in the years ahead. In other words, golf most likely peaked in the U.S. in 2005.

Peak Fast Food
The American appetite for pizza appears to have reached an all-time high around 2012, when one survey found that 40% of consumers noshed on pizza at least once a week. The food and beverage consultant firm Technomic noted in early 2014 that pizza consumption has “decreased just slightly over the past two years, likely peaking post-recession due to pizza’s ability to satisfy cravings and meet needs for value.” Foot traffic at Pizza Hut and other quick-serve pizza chains has been on the decline. For that matter, Businessweek recently made the case that the U.S. may also be reaching “Peak Burger.” The growth of franchises for fast food giants such as Burger King and McDonald’s has slowed significantly in recent years, with net openings close to zero.

Data from a new report from the NPD Group indicates that visits to low-cost quick-service restaurants, where the average customer bill is about $5, has been flat over the past year, and for the most part, income inequality and stagnant wages among the middle classes are to blame. “Low-income consumers, who are heavier users of quick service restaurants, were most adversely affected by the Great Recession and have less discretionary income to spend on dining out,” the study explains.

Peak Soda
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group may have together just pledged to reduce calories by 20% in sugary beverages, but the effort appears unlikely to bring American soda consumption back to the heights of a decade or so ago. Per-capita consumption of soda fell 16% between 1998 and 2011, and in 2013, total volume sales of soda was measured at 8.9 billion cases, the lowest total since 1995. Part of the long-term decline has been attributed to Americans wanting to cut calories and have more nutritious diets, but diet soda sales have been tanking lately too.

Peak Fashion
In 1991, the average American purchased 40 garments of clothing annually, according to data cited by the Wall Street Journal. Clothing consumption took off from there, reaching an average of 69 articles bought in 2005, which appears to have been the peak. In 2013, American consumers had gotten their clothing purchases down to an average of 63.7 garments per year.

Peak Diapers (for Babies)
The U.S. birth rate declined 8% during the recession-era years 2007 to 2010, and just kept on falling thereafter, reaching a record low (thus far) in 2013. Considering that U.S. births peaked in 2007, it shouldn’t be a surprise that diaper sales in the U.S. have retreated since then as well.

What’s especially interesting is that as baby diaper sales have declined, industry giants like Procter & Gamble have stepped up efforts to sell adult diapers and other incontinence products to make up for the decline at the other end of the market.

Peak Median Income
Lots of these peaks are just challenges for specific industries. But here’s one that might worry any consumer-based business: People can’t spend more if they aren’t earning more.

In 1999, median household income in the U.S. was $56,895 in today’s dollars (after adjusting for inflation), according to census data cited by New York magazine. That was the highest it’s ever been. Lately, the middle-of-the-road household income in America has been $51,939. Given increased automation of the workforce and the rise of income inequality across the board, it may very well be that the median household will never be able to party like it’s 1999.

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.

TIME China

Meet Alibaba’s Jack Ma

The man leading China’s online shopping giant to America

Ma’s Alibaba, China’s online-shopping giant, completed the largest initial public offering in history–$25 billion–on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares started trading on Sept. 19, and the value of the company exceeded that of Facebook, Coca-Cola or IBM.

• CLAIMS TO FAME

Fifteen years ago, Ma, a former English teacher, started Alibaba in an apartment in the Chinese city of Hangzhou. Today Alibaba is the undisputed champion of online retailing, handling twice as much merchandise as Amazon. An indifferent student, Ma built his empire without the top diploma or political connections usually needed to succeed in China.

• BIGGEST CHALLENGES

Ma will be under pressure from his new investors to deliver ever larger profits. He must expand outside his home market while also fighting off opponents at home. Chinese Internet giants Baidu and Tencent and property group Wanda recently joined forces to start a rival e-commerce firm.

• BIGGEST THREAT

China’s authoritarian rulers still wield tremendous control over business. A big wild card in Alibaba’s future will be Ma’s ability to stay in the good graces of the Communist Party while building trust with consumers in the West.

• BIGGEST CRITIC

The investor Peter Thiel passed on Alibaba’s IPO, arguing that a bet on the company was ultimately a bet on Beijing–with the political uncertainty that implied.

• CAN HE DO IT?

Ma has a proven track record of competing with global e-commerce titans–and winning. He’s shoved aside eBay and Amazon in China. And with his post-IPO war chest, Ma has the financial muscle to invest heavily and acquire other firms. The question is, Will he shop wisely?

–MICHAEL SCHUMAN

MONEY online shopping

Amazon Wants to Invade Your Home With Its One-Click Buying Button

Amazon boxes in front of door
Goss Images—Alamy

If Amazon has its way, one day our homes will be equipped with devices that detect when we're running low on household supplies and let us order more—from Amazon, of course—with one touch of a button.

According to Reuters, Amazon is developing a device that would be installed in a house—perhaps tucked away on a kitchen counter, or inside a closet or pantry—and enable customers to order detergent, toothpaste, paper towels, and other home supplies by simply pressing a button.

Amazon, which tends to be notoriously tight-lipped about its innovations and experiments until Jeff Bezos feels like blowing everyone’s minds (see the “60 Minutes” story on drone deliveries last year), isn’t talking publicly about the one-button device it reportedly has in the works. It’s also unclear if and when such a device would be ready to be tested in actual homes. Anonymous sources cited by Reuters say that the device is being developed by Lab 126, the secretive outfit owned by Amazon that has helped design and engineer gadgets such as the Kindle and Amazon Fire Phone.

In theory, the device would be installed in an Internet-connected home, in which various appliances would “talk” to each other via wi-fi. Sensors would be able to detect when the home is, say, in need of a new air-conditioning filter, or when you’re due to buy more laundry detergent, and it would prompt the customer to order new supplies with one press of a button.

In addition to the one-button device, Amazon is also looking into developing wearable gadgets that might allow customers to place orders for home supplies and other items with a single touch. The potential of such innovations follows right in line with Amazon’s ongoing efforts to be the destination of consumers seeking to purchase, well, pretty much anything and everything you can imagine.

Amazon Prime is brilliant not only because it gets customers to fork over $99 upfront annually in exchange for two-day shipping, but more importantly because it results in members making far more of their everyday purchases at Amazon. The online shopping giant’s forays into same-day delivery, groceries, and a household supply service called Prime Pantry are all part of its mission to eliminate tedious shopping errands by allowing customers to handle them via Amazon and one-click buying. Amazon thereby has been systematically horning in on the everyday sales of its competitors, which include players ranging from Best Buy to Costco, and CVS pharmacies to Kroger supermarkets.

Then there’s the Fire Phone, which hit the market this past summer and stood out from the pack most significantly thanks to Firefly—a feature that scans the barcodes of items and lets you purchase them instantly, via Amazon of course. Anyone buying the phone also got a free year of Amazon Prime, which brings customers further into the Amazon purchase-sphere. Less than two months after the Fire Phone entered the market at a minimum price of $199 (with a two-year contract), it was discounted to 99¢ (a price drop that some had predicted the moment the device was introduced).

Nonetheless, the Fire Phone flop isn’t going to slow Amazon’s pursuit of innovations—and a larger and larger portion of our purchases. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal spread the word that Amazon was a developing a service dubbed “anticipatory shipping,” in which the company would anticipate customer needs before any order had been placed, and it would ship what it felt you needed before anyone ever clicked “buy.” Now it looks like Amazon wants to have devices installed in customer homes, so that it can anticipate our shopping needs at a deeper, more invasive level and sell us stuff before anyone even considers other shopping possibilities, let alone actually leaving the home to make a run to a store.

The goals for Amazon in such developments is to ease any friction and slowdown in the purchase transaction, to eliminate hassles and save time for customers—and to sell us more and more stuff.

TIME

My Shopping Trip With BuyPartisan Changed Everything

155786372
Getty Images/Brand X

Meet the app that helps you put your money where your mouth is

The first thing I did after downloading the “BuyPartisan” app is run to TIME’s office supply closet to inspect the pens.

The debut program from Spend Consciously, a company founded by former congressional staffer Matthew Colbert, allows smartphone owners to scan a barcode and reveal the political contributions from the brand’s board of directors, CEO, employees and PACs. Even in this digital age, the pen is an intimate tool for the fair and balanced reporter and with BuyPartisan suddenly I had a window into the ideological hearts of my dearest inanimate colleagues.

Bic’s cheap-o ball pens, nearly Soviet in quality, are predictably leftist with more than 80% of their donations since 2002—the app currently averages the last six election cycles—going to Democrats. The ostentatious decadence of the ink gushing roller pen from Uni-Ball—the pen where you can draw a lake by leaving it in one spot—is, unsurprisingly, 95% Republican. Mankind’s greatest pen achievement, the workhorse of the genre, the Pilot G2 premium gel roller is more or less down the middle, with 29% to Republicans, 37% to Dems and 34% to “Other” (independents or donations without clear partisan bias). Bipartisanship never felt so good.

BuyPartisan, it turns out, is extremely addictive, as I soon found when I went to scour the aisles at Target, the valhalla of political product voyeurism. To stay organized, I browsed with particular shoppers in mind, the first of which, because it came most naturally, was a seven-year-old boy.

It’s too bad kids don’t care about politics because conservative children (every parent and camp counselor knows that all kids are William F. Buckleys at heart) would have a field day on the candy prowl for Halloween. Hershey, makers of such big candy bar names as Kit Kat, is 79% Republican. Then there’s Snickers, Milky Way and Twix, all made by Mars, which is 75% Republican. Even the tri-color classic, Candy Corn, by Brach & Brock Confections gives 45% to Rs and 28% to Ds, though the CEO personally gives 60% to Dems. Little lefties have to settle for the peanuts in the trail mix of the candy universe, Tootsie Rolls, which are 42% Democratic and 38% Republican.

Woe unto the liberal university student, the next hat I donned in my journey. Virtually every sector of the collegian’s life is dominated by products that funnel money mostly to the Grand Old Party, and it’s not the kind of party they’re looking for, according to 2012 exit polls. The home cleaning category is dominated, obviously, by Proctor & Gamble’s Febreeze which goes 70% to Republicans. Since Febreeze also dominates the personal hygiene category in some dark corners of dorm life, that’s a twofer for the Party of Lincoln. When it comes to food—known more commonly among the university set as Ramen Noodles—college radicals are even worse off. Ramen maker Maruchan Inc. goes 85% to Republicans.

All of which may help explain why so many college students take solace in the one place where the scales tilt, appropriately, nearer to the place we can all meet in the middle. Beer.

Though Coors Brewing Co. skews 49% Republican, the Boston Beer Co. that makes Sam Adams is 80% Democratic. Other excellent beers seem more evenly split. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is 37% Republican to 34% Democrat. New Belgium Brewing Company goes 38% Republican and 42% Democrat. And if they can’t agree on a compromise beer then there’s always the now Russian-owned hipster/grandpa-favorite Pabst Blue Ribbon, which raises a whole set of questions BuyPartisan is not yet capable of answering.

They may have to wait for the upcoming app EyeSpend, which Spend Consciously says will be “a nutrition label for your conscience.” EyeSpend will be similar to BuyPartisan but it’ll show you more than just to which party your money goes. Instead, the user will be able to create a profile tailored to his or her ideological interests and be matched with products that meet that criteria. “Then you can make more informed buying decisions, investment decisions, whatever you want to do,” says Spend Consciously founder Matthew Colbert.

All of which sounds like a whole lot of trouble for the shopper. But also, if I’m being honest, a whole lot of fun.

MONEY Odd Spending

12 Things Made for Kids That Are Now Being Marketed to Adults

Who says kids should get to have all the fun? Not the forces behind a wide range of seemingly juvenile foods, products, and places that are increasingly being sold to adults—plenty of whom are happy to play along.

It’s hard to remember a time when video games and comic books were enjoyed almost exclusively by people under the age of 18. But that was the case a mere couple of decades ago, before both began featuring violence, profanity, sex, and other material not appropriate for young children. Along the same lines, in recent times many other things long associated with kids are now being marketed to adult consumers. Here are a dozen examples:

Gummy Vitamins. A string of studies indicating that vitamins appear to be largely a waste of money has resulted in flat sales for the once sizzling vitamin market. It looks like consumers are getting the messages spread by researchers in the field, who point out that while vitamin supplements are correlated with better health, there is little proof of causality because the people taking vitamins tend to healthier and take better care of themselves in the first place. But if consumers are dubious about the benefits of boring old-fashioned vitamins, they appear less skeptical about vitamins “disguised as candy,” a.k.a. gummy vitamins. Once popular only with children, colorful, chewable, sweet-tasting vitamins are now ubiquitous in stores’ adult vitamin sections, and makers of such adult vitamins say that the category has been enjoying “explosive growth” of late.

Walt Disney World. In some ways, Disney World has always been marketed to adults—who often say they enjoy “feeling like a kid” while touring the theme parks sans children. Some even wish Disney would host child-free days when adults could hit the rides without having to deal with the young whippersnappers clogging up the parks. While that’s highly unlikely to ever take place, Disney has taken several steps over the years to appeal to adult-only clientele, including the introduction of booze for sale at the Magic Kingdom, as well as special events like $35 “After Hours” party with alcohol and tasting menus, and, most recently, a $79 “Food & Wine Late Night” at EPCOT.

Pop Tarts. While interest in breakfast cereal has collapsed in recent years, sales of another kid favorite at the breakfast table, Pop Tarts, have risen each and every year for more than three decades straight. The Wall Street Journal noted that while Pop Tarts are most popular with teens and younger children, “adults reach for them as a retro snack.” It’s not just nostalgia that’s drawing adults to Pop Tarts, but that, “Shoppers increasingly want quick breakfasts they can eat with one hand on the go.” Over the years, Pop Tarts and its imitators have periodically tried out products more directly marketed to adults and foodies, such as “Toaster Pastries” in flavors like Cherry Pomegranate from Nature’s Path.

Happy Meals. McDonald’s briefly tried to market a “Go Active Happy Meal” for adults a decade ago, with a salad and an exercise booklet instead of chicken nuggets and a plastic toy. It obviously didn’t catch on—very few healthy fast food items are successful—but this fall, the Happy Meal for Adults concept is back, bizarrely, in the world of high fashion. Nordstrom is selling a series of pop culture-themed items from Moschino, including an iPhone case that looks like a McDonald’s French fry container ($85) and a Happy Meal lookalike shoulder bag that retails for over $1,000.

Backpacks. In what could be considered a sign that adults really don’t want to grow up, backpack sales are up dramatically among consumers ages 18 and up—including a 48% rise in backpack purchases by female adults over a recent time span. Valentino, Alexander McQueen, and Fendi are among the many fashion designers to feature posh leather and camouflage versions of the bag normally associated with high school and college kids, only theirs sometimes cost $2,000.

Lunchables. OK, so neither Kraft nor its Oscar Mayer brand actually markets Lunchables to adults. But the Adult Lunch Combos look eerily like Lunchables only without Oreos or Capri Sun, and everyone is referring to the new protein-packed prepared lunches as “Lunchables for Adults” even though the real name is the Portable Protein Pack.

Obstacle Courses. Kids have playgrounds in town parks and schools. What do adults have to help keep them in shape while also having fun? The gym doesn’t qualify because, for most people, working out is work, not fun. The exception is when the workout allows adults to swing, jump, get dirty, and challenge themselves on courses made specifically for them, like those on the popular TV show “American Ninja Warrior” and on Tough Mudder and other extreme obstacle course races. This fall, Las Vegas is even hosting an “Adult-Themed” course where the obstacles have names like the Dominatrix Dungeon and the Blue Balls Dash.

Sugary Cereals. A big reason that cereal sales have dropped is that fewer kids are eating them for breakfast. Yet as parents try to sub in healthier fare as a replacement for kid-favorite sugary cereals, the cereal giants appear to be having some success reaching a different audience—the parents themselves. Baby Boomers and Gen X, who grew up craving the sugar rush provided by a bowl of neon-colored goodies on Saturday mornings, are now being fed heaping doses of nostalgia, in the form of cartoon-character cereals brought back from the dead and other adult-focused marketing efforts. The fastest-growing consumers of Trix and Lucky Charms are, in fact, older adults.

Legos. “The Lego Movie” was certainly clever and entertaining enough to warrant an adult audience, especially among those who grew up building with the bricks. Lately, Lego has been making another appeal to adults. Several Legoland Discovery Centers—which normally attract families with children under the age of 10 or 12—have been offering special Adult Nights, where all visitors must be 18 or over.

Fruit Roll-Ups. Many adults would probably be embarrassed if they were caught eating Fruit Roll-Ups, delicious though they may be. How can you avoid being kidded about your preference for what is a quintessential kid snack? Easy. Call them something more adult-sounding, such as Fruit Strips or Fruit Leather.

Hot Pockets. Last year, Nestle attempted to broaden the Hot Pocket demographic—typically, teen boys and slacker college kids who don’t want to cook or even order pizza—by introducing gourmet versions featuring angus beef, hickory ham to appeal to adult foodies.

Halloween. October 31 used to be about children trick-or-treating door to door in their neighborhoods. Now it’s the centerpiece of a whole Halloween season where the kids are invited to enjoy only some—but by no means all—of the fun. A year ago, adults spent roughly $1.2 billion on costumes, compared to $1 billion spent on costumes for kids. Roughly 7 out of 10 college-aged adults plan on dressing up for Halloween, which explains the sales success of oddly “sexy” costumes of pizza slices or corn fields. Or sexy nuns. Adults also tend to spend more on their costumes than they do on Halloween outfits for kids. So that explains why companies are marketing the holiday to adults more and more. Still, it’s hard to come up with a good explanation for the existence of the Sexy Pizza Costume.

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 Advertising

Newspapers Are Charging Extra … to Give You More Ads

stack of newspapers
iStock

Some newspapers plan on charging subscribers extra for certain "premium issues," such as one on Thanksgiving. What makes them "premium"? Loads and loads of Black Friday ads.

Jim Romenesko reported this week that both the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit Free Press have notified subscribers that they will be charged extra to receive issues of the paper published on Thanksgiving Day, and perhaps other days as well. The Tribune informed subscribers that special “premium issues” such as the one on Turkey Day will incur an additional charge of $2 apiece, while the Free Press plans on charging print subscribers the Sunday cover price ($1 more) for the Thanksgiving paper.

Why? Apparently, it’s because the paper will be overloaded with Black Friday circulars. “The Thanksgiving print edition includes Black Friday sale information, coupons and details about incredible door busters!” a Free Press letter told subscribers.

The Thanksgiving papers are heavier than normal editions, so they’re therefore costlier to produce and deliver. Still, ads have traditionally been sold in order to keep newsstand and subscriber prices down. Bizarrely, here we have an instance in which the presence of more ads is being used as a justification to charge customers extra. As the Consumerist pointed out, in the case of the Tribune, “they’re calling this paper a ‘premium issue’ even though the majority of the extra content is advertisements. That companies pay the newspaper for.”

Granted, “extreme couponers” and Black Friday shopping fanatics love such ads. Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru has explained that the pull-out ad sections of Sunday papers are essentially a “destination” that a sizable segment of consumers enjoy wading into and exploring. The fact that Sunday circulars are more of a draw for some “readers” than, say, the editorials or even the sports section has to depress the already depressed journalistic masses to no end.

As for the loyal subscribers who actually read the paper and put up with ads in order to keep print prices down, they’re surely peeved by the moves being attempted by the Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press. At least both papers told Romenesko that if subscribers are upset with the extra charges, they can be credited the amounts by calling up customer service.

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.

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