When Worship of Nature Runs Into Heavy Weather
Nature has had awfully good press in recent years. In earlier times, people spoke of the “conquest of nature” as a project worthy of man’s highest energies. After all, nature was experienced as an often-lethal force. Such thinking fell badly out of fashion in our environmentalist era. As experts and activists spotlighted the ways in which human activity degraded the environment, we grew increasingly accustomed to viewing nature as the wholly innocent victim. Man was malign; nature was good. The notion of conquering nature gave way to an urgent desire for restoring it. Now, though, with California washing out to sea and swaths of Florida flattened by deadly tornadoes, will people have second thoughts about all of this? When garbage washes up on beaches or cities declare smog alerts, it’s clear that mankind has brought the problems on itself. Maybe the severity of this year’s El Ni-o effect is due in part to man-made factors, but the connection (if any) is too roundabout to be obvious to most people. To the inexpert eye, at least, this long season of destruction looks like nothing else but the malevolent side of Mother Nature. Obviously, worries about the environment are not about to go away. But we’re entitled to wonder whether the reverence for nature as a benign presence has hit its high-water mark and will start to recede.

Giving Shoppers
A Goal to Strive For
A supermarket sign tells shoppers they may buy a limited number of some item. Do they (a) decry yet another constraint on human liberty or (b) buy more of the stuff than they otherwise would? If you picked (b), you’ve got a future in marketing. A study recounted in the Journal of Marketing Research found that signs of the “Limit 6 per customer” ilk pushed up sales of the product in question, even when the discount associated with the limit was modest. In fact, the study (conducted by academics Brian Wansink, Robert Kent and Stephen Hoch) found that a numerical prompt boosted sales of an item in the absence of any discount whatsoever. A sign urging people to “Buy 18 candy bars for your freezer” boosted purchase intentions from one bar per person to nearly three.

Asking Why Shoppers
Go Where They Go
The customer is always right, retailers dutifully say. But does that rightness include an accurate understanding of what motivates a consumer to choose one store over another when it comes to holiday shopping? You can see from the chart, which summarizes data from an American Express survey, that retailers and shoppers differ widely on how influential various media are in shaping such decisions. (Note that respondents were allowed to choose more than one answer.) This leaves the unanswered question of whether retailers know the minds of their shoppers better than the shoppers themselves do. Can it be that people are reluctant to concede they’re swayed by television? Given the tonnage of scorn directed toward the idiot box, one is loath to affirm a susceptibility to its messages. By the same token, it’s not unheard of for people to say they’re avid newspaper readers when their contact with that medium is limited to the unwrapping of an occasional fish. As for retailers, one wonders whether their faith in the power of TV partly reflects a wish to see their stores (and, by extension, themselves) validated by a presence on everyone’s big screen.