Out of America: Celebrating freedom to shop till you drop

WASHINGTON - America is a nation of shoppers. Not even the Fourth of July offers a let-up in this national pastime. Last Sunday this British citizen attended the celebrations at the small community of Waynewood, across the river in Virginia. The local fire-engine led a ramshackle, anarchic parade, mostly of children. There were floats, fairground entertainments, much consumption of cola and hotdogs. Not an effigy of evil King George or any other vanquished colonial oppressor was to be seen. But then, at least if the Washington Post was any guide, the real action was elsewhere.

'Decoration of Independence' screamed the advertisement for a 4 July sale at a local furniture store. 'We're blowing away the competition,' proclaimed a Virginia Chrysler dealer in a full-page ad, complete with what must be one of 1993's most mendacious come-ons: 'July 4 Savings Special] All New Cars Just dollars 29.' You name the store, it was touting that day's super-sale. Forget the oompahs, the fireworks, and Bill Clinton ringing the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia: the country was being softened up for what it likes best - to shop till you drop.

Such practices may soon be a thing of the past. After the 1776 revolution, the industrial revolution, and the communications revolution, welcome to the television shopping revolution. In a few years, an American may not have to stir from his or her couch to indulge in bargain- hunting. If you are a cable subscriber in Washington DC, you can pick up more than 60 channels. Several use the commercial breaks to tout special offers available only by direct order - home fitness-machines and cut-price CDs of ageing crooners from the Fifties and Sixties. The local DC Cablevision offers QVC, one of the country's two 24- hour shopping channels. For the time being, QVC and the rival Home Shopping Network are small beer. Each generates around dollars 1bn ( pounds 0.66bn) of sales, drops in the ocean of total annual US consumer spending of close on dollars 4 trillion. But the trend is plain enough.

Once advertisements were a tiresome distraction between segments of a programme you wanted to watch. Now the programmes are the commercials. The irritating interludes are a few local news announcements put on to meet government requirements of 'public interest'. The other day, the shopping channels won a huge legal victory when the Federal Communications Commission, the government regulator of television and radio, ruled that local cable companies must carry the shopping channels free of charge. Small wonder that Sears Roebuck hauled up the white flag in January with the announcement that it would discontinue the catalogue that for decades brought city shopping to small-town America. Such are the sad casualties of revolution.

But where Sears has withdrawn, others have advanced. Saks Fifth Avenue plans to use QVC to sell its up-market clothes. Bloomingdales, another troubled chain-store dinosaur, is wondering whether to follow suit. Last month came the real bombshell: Macy's, which has lately been operating under the protection of the federal bankruptcy laws, said that from autumn 1994 it would operate its own round-the-clock cable shopping channel. To help, Macy's has called upon the services of Don Hewitt, executive producer of CBS's 60 Minutes, the most popular programme on US television. He plans sets that will look like real store departments, with appearances by designers touting their latest creations.

Whether the effort will save Macy's is another matter. But certainly it is the shape of the future. Around the corner waits the wonderful world of 'interactive' television: the set will be a two-way visual telephone, offering not 60 but 500 channels, on which you can call up services of every kind. America will still go on celebrating the Fourth of July. But if everyone shuns the parade to monitor the sales on TV it won't be much of a holiday.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album