Dawn Muenchrath/the Gauntlet

Voting with dollars

Making conscious choices about what we buy

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The origins of the phrase “no shirt, no shoes, no service” actually derives from beachfront businesses that wished to keep sand out of their store and paying customers in. Instituting a dress code, albeit a very casual one, was a sure way to keep customers comfortable without any degenerates roaming through the doors.

I’d like to apply this phrase to a different phenomenon we see happening today: dollar voting. Dollar voting is a way for consumers to garner some power over a corporation’s production choices. For example, buying Dove soap rather than another brand tells corporations that you support the advertising message Dove has been promoting. But if you cannot afford Dove, it appears that you do not support Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign.

Similarly, if one corporation uses child labour and has cheaper products, while another corporation doesn’t use child labour, but the products are costlier as a result, consumers who don’t purchase the more ethical product give the impression of supporting child labour, lower wages for workers at the store and poorer conditions for workers at the manufacturing plant.

Dollar voting is how consumers get corporations’ attention. If only a small portion of the population dollar votes on higher cost, higher quality, high-end products, then the other part of the population is invisible to the corporation. No designer shirt, no brand-name shoes, no service.

Surely consumers buying high-end products keep in mind that their dollars vote, don’t they? They could, yes. But when breaking down the pleasure principle that drives most shopping, especially for designer products, most consumers would admit they did not think about the manufacturing process that brought Levi’s jeans into a store.

There is a cultural assumption that high-end designer brands are equated with quality of product and of the person wearing it. This assumption, spurred on by perpetuated advertising messages that these expensive products will bring you happiness, is a fallacy. Yes, shopping does release dopamine that gives the shopper pleasure, but it’s an inauthentic pleasure that enforces an addiction-like relationship.

What’s worse is that sales associates are trained to keep this relationship going. These associates are encouraged to maintain and increase sales by offering flattering language about products. “Those jeans really accentuate you in all the right places” and “This jewelry can bring magic to your outfit” are phrases that I hear while shopping, and that I, as a sales associate myself, am encouraged to use when engaging with consumers. Associates are trained to enforce the assumption that this product will make you just a little bit more attractive, add just a bit more spark to your life, make you happy. We perpetuate the blind addiction.

Buying those designer heels gives you a dose of pleasure, but you can only sustain that pleasure if you keep spending. In this way, shopping pleasure is inauthentic. If it were authentic, it would be self-sustaining, like spending time with friends or finding value in yourself. You don’t need a repeated dose of self-respect to keep that feeling going, but you do need a repeated dose of shopping to satisfy the addiction. 

Not to say all shoppers are blind addicts, but the shoppers who are are more likely to purchase these high-end products without thinking about how their dollar votes. And, unfortunately, designer products tend to have worse working conditions for manufacturing plants. The dollar voters who could see past this cultural assumption are the consumers that do not shop just for pleasure: the invisible mass the corporations don’t see, don’t advertise to, don’t serve.

The shopping addiction acts as an opiate, keeping consumers complacent about a corporation’s labour standards — or lack thereof. We really hold corporations accountable to their business ethics when we become aware of just how our dollar votes. Let’s take back our service regardless of our shoes and shirts.