As I write this, it’s the evening of December 22, and I’m on a train from New York City bound for home, several hours away. I spend the first 22 or so days of December each year at our office in Manhattan, monitoring our customers’ progress with our promotions, managing an enormous in-stock merchandise assortment (everything from $29 steel bracelets to $15,000 diamond Riviera necklaces), working on next year’s programs, and even occasionally answering the phones when we’re totally slammed with incoming reorders. We set all sorts of records this month, so as I now return home in a combined state of satisfaction and exhaustion, I have very high expectations for next year. But I’m also troubled by what I’ve been hearing all month. Something has changed, and I am now sensing that a fundamental alteration in consumer behavior may have taken place that bears examining.