PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- We're going to go out on a limb and say that unless there's a birthday, wedding or anniversary coming up or you're having doubts about how the Super Bowl is going to look on your current television, you're done shopping for a while.
With the holidays and post-holiday sales over, the New Year's champagne drained and President's Day sales and Valentine's Day still far off, this is the time of year U.S. shoppers typically put the wallet away and settle in for some consumer hibernation. According to the Census Bureau, January and February are normally the softest spots in the annual retail calendar and typically trail the next weakest month, September, by $20 billion to $30 billion or so.
You're not shopping, and retailers are changing inventory and not holding any more big sales events. For a brief moment, everything is nice and quiet.
It's also way too late for you to pick up some items that that either limped their way out of 2013 or didn't make it at all. Generally speaking, if it was worth buying, you would have bought it by now. But there are some items consumers tend to take for granted that either aren't coming around again or have a strong chance of reappearing in a highly altered form once they return.
We took one last look at 2013 and found five items that may have been worth your time and money then, but will be tough to find in 2014:
A bunch of used Blockbuster DVDs
There were about 300 Blockbuster Video locations left when DISH Network (DISH) announced in early November that it planned to liquidate the chain and hold onto Blockbuster only as a brand. With so few stores and a continued insistence on dedicating disproportionate amounts of floor space to new releases, Blockbuster's selection of leftovers probably wasn't all it could have been in its waning days.
But as we've mentioned before, Blockbuster brought this on itself. Well before its 2010 bankruptcy and 2011 buyout by DISH -- and even before its takeover by Viacom what seems like a lifetime ago -- Blockbuster was a part of the everyday experience and a collective, tangible experience for many communities. But shrinking selection, increasingly ignorant staff, long lines and draconian late policies soured many Americans on not only the chain, but video stores themselves.
When Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN), Apple's (AAPL) iTunes, Coinstar (OUTR) and myriad other streaming, kiosk and on-demand options appeared, they were instantly preferable to both the Blockbuster experience and the hell of other people it created. As a result, Blockbuster customers and other shoppers ended a frugal holiday tradition by taking their last dive through Blockbuster's used DVD and Blu-ray in search of scratchy stocking stuffers -- their scavenging obscured by the window-sized clearance sale signs in Blockbuster's remaining storefronts.
A Suzuki automobile
Suzuki announced it was pulling out of the U.S. market back in 2012, but still managed to sell 5,950 cars last year. Even when it had a full year to work with in 2012, it managed to sell only 20,000 vehicles.
This continues not only the unraveling of the Japanese automakers' rise to dominance in the late '70s and much of the '80s, but the demise of General Motors' (GM) multinational Geo project. Former GM holding Isuzu kicked it off by leaving the U.S. in 2009 despite winning some hearts with its Trooper and Rodeo small SUV models.
Suzuki's story is similar, if a bit bumpier. Back in 1988, Consumer Reports accused the popular but top-heavy Suzuki Samurai of being rollover prone. During the 1990s, the Suzuki Sidekick and its improved center of gravity won hearts as GM's Geo and Chevrolet Tracker and helped usher in the small SUV market that would eventually give us the Toyota (TM) RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
Unfortunately, Suzuki's U.S. branch was $346 million in debt at the end of 2012. Half of that is owed solely to its Japanese parent company. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and vowed to pull Suzuki automobiles out of the U.S. market and sell only motorcycles, ATVs and outboard boat engines.
The shame is that Suzukis weren't bad little cars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2013 Suzuki Kizashi its highest rating on a tough new crash test that measures a vehicle's reaction to being hit at 40 miles per hour on the outside of its front bumper. The Toyota Camry outright failed that test, but sold 29,000 vehicles in the U.S. in November 2012. Only 500 Kizashis were sold here during that same span. So long, Suzuki.
With the end of Toyota's Matrix line of cars in 2014, the Geo experiment is officially over. Both Isuzu and Suzuki bid those better times farewell from a far-off shore.
40- and 60-watt light bulbs
On Dec. 31, the last 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs were produced for the U.S. market. Unless you're one of the hoarders snatching up the remainder from store shelves, the next bulb of that kind you replace may be a halogen, compact florescent or LED equivalent.
So who's to blame for this nannying shift? Look no further than former president George W. Bush, who signed new energy efficiency standards into law back in 2007. Consumers have already seen 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs disappear, and the replacement process hasn't exactly forced folks into bankruptcy.
First off, the standard incandescents aren't banned. No more can be made, but they can be sold and used freely. The 75- and 100-watt version were still on shelves months after they were discontinued. Secondly, there's no question that the new bulbs will be costlier, but there are a whole lot of alternatives.
Halogen bulbs have come a long way and GE (GE), Sylvania and Phillips have produced versions that both look and function like incandescents, but have far longer lifespans. The CFLs, meanwhile, have also evolved since those initial versions that took seconds to warm up and made rooms look like tenement hallways. They're mostly dimmable now and have softer colors than their predecessors. If you're worried about the mercury in them, though, a double-digit LED replacement is costly, but can last 20 to 40 years.
Change is a frightening prospect and there are folks who've already stockpiled pallets of incandescent lights to avoid it. It's going to take a few years' worth of electric bills to assess the wisdom of that decision.
With National Basketball Association commissioner and big WNBA supporter David Stern stepping down in 2014, the future of this women's professional basketball league is a jump ball.
Founded in 1996 and currently a league of 12 teams, the WNBA has watched six teams vanish and three relocate during that span. Average regular season attendance per game hit 7,457 in 2012, or about half of the NBA's 18,000 per game. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2011 and 24/7 Wall Street reiterated last year, "The majority of WNBA teams are believed to have lost money each year, with the NBA subsidizing some of the losses." TV viewership is almost nonexistent.
OK, so what?
The Chicago Tribune revisited the topic of the WNBA last year and found that not only was incoming NBA Commissioner Adam Silver supportive of the league, but he and WNBA President Laurel Richie have been working on ways to highlight league stars including Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins while making the league more marketable overall. Attendance was up 2.3% last year. Having Madison Square Garden finished so the New York Liberty don't have to bounce between Manhattan and Newark, N.J., for games certainly only helps matters.
And, in fairness, the WNBA is still a huge force in women's sports. That 7,500 average attendance is greater than the capacity of all but two stadiums in the newly formed National Women's Soccer League. Its college feeder system has come a long way since the Tennessee- and Connecticut-dominated days of the 1990s and 2000s, with the entire women's college tournament played concurrently with the men's tournament and aired in full on ESPN's networks since 2003.
As Shandel Richardson at the Orlando Sentinel suggests, however, the WNBA might benefit from a similar shift. Right now the WNBA season runs from May through October during a summer generally devoid of college and professional men's basketball. It hasn't exactly done the league any favors by messing with basketball fans' internal calendars, but it's fit right into arena owners' slate of open summer dates. Shifting to the regular season might cause headaches for WNBA teams that share a building with NBA and National Hockey League teams -- the Liberty, Washington Mystics, Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks all face this issue -- but it could work out just fine for teams with only an NBA roommate (such as the Phoenix Mercury or Atlanta Sparks) or WNBA squads with homes of their own (the Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun and Seattle Storm).
The WNBA may not be going away in 2014, but big changes appear imminent.
Some more time for Google Reader
Back in 2005, it took a whole lot of labor and diligence to keep track of blogs and news feeds. When Google Reader debuted that year, it basically gave those hard-working readers a giant sieve for their favorite content and ended the hunting and pecking.
In July, Google (GOOG) shut it down for good -- largely because social media made it redundant. We're a world that is already fussy about how much information comes across Facebook (FB) news feeds and Twitter (TWTR) feeds, so the fact that social media has largely caught up to our curating should be considered a good thing, shouldn't it?
No. There were still a whole lot of people consuming their news through those RSS feeds, mostly because they absolutely hate how the social media sites handle this kind of thing. With each new stock ticker they produce, social media sites are commodifying the online reading experience and making it better for them and their advertisers -- but not necessarily those doing the reading.
It's the primary reason why readers such as Feedly, AOL Reader and The Old Reader -- a Google Reader clone -- have flourished in Google Reader's vacuum. It's the users' way of saying that not only were they not done using that product Google deemed expendable, but they're not big fans of how the company's consolidated its efforts into bigger, one-size-fits-all offerings. Those using online sources to steer out of the mainstream don't typically enjoy being dumped back into it.
We don't know what the cost of operating Google Reader was, but the reaction to its demise suggests there are people out there who would have embraced the option of paying for it.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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