The other day, I went out on a Saturday to run some errands. I needed to pick up a few things: A pair of basketball shoes for my daughter, a book I’m dying to read, some beauty supplies. After driving around to three different locations (a mall, an outdoor plaza, and a department store), I come home with nothing.
The shoe was there, but the size we needed wasn’t.
The book was there… but it had sold out in stores.
The shampoo was there, but the styling creme wasn’t in stock.
As I headed home, I wondered why I didn’t just save myself all that time and energy and order everything online.
The truth is, shopping online has become a habit for me now, and one that I’m a bit smug about— I often tell people that it saves me tons of time, which I can use to be with my kids, do work, and not exhaust myself on wild goose chases.
Secretly though, I do miss the old way of doing things.
I can’t remember the last time I went to any of my old haunts: Target, Bloomingdales, the Container Store, or even Costco (there’s an app for those bulk purchases too). I used to have a bond to all of those stores: Now, we’re estranged. Most have been replaced by the almighty Amazon, who lures me with their “we have absolutely everything” inventory, 2-day shipping, and 1-click ordering. Why on earth would I venture out into the world?
Well, because it’s fun. Or at least, it used to be.
Shopping before the Internet was exhilirating— I would stroll from store to store, enjoying the offerings, the styling, and the presentation in each. If I liked or needed something, I bought it. If not, I kept walking. I ran errands productively— things got done. Somehow, I feel I was happier with what I bought in those days. Now, the lure of what might be online (a different colorway? A better deal? Endless other choices?) often has me standing in the store scrolling through my phone before I make a purchase. If I do pull the trigger, I’m immediately flooded with doubts— could I have done better?
Shopping online is to malls what Tinder is to dating: With an unlimited array of options available, how can you feel that the thing you have in your hand is truly purchase-worthy?
Although I’ve gotten pretty good at shopping online, sometimes I do want to touch and look at something before I purchase it. Not just zoomable pictures from multiple angles, but at the actual thing. Free shipping and returns usually take care of my objections, but I miss how it feels to leaf through books at the store, to see if that sweater feels too itchy, and to chat up the beauty supply shop girl about the benefits of leave-in conditioner. Now I do most of that research through online reviews from the comfort of my bed— I do save time, but I also miss out on human contact… it’s more productive, but lonelier.
Of course, my lack of patronage to these real-life stores is part of the problem: The less I shop at the mall, the less inventory they can afford to stock, so the likelihood of me finding what I need when I get there is reduced. I love the idea of shopping local, and there are stores near me that it’s my pleasure to shop in— they do one or two things really well, they always have what I need, and I love supporting them so my neighborhood continues to be vibrant. What I don’t love is running around and not finding what I need, being treated poorly by salespeople, or just finding a store disheveled— free time is so precious these days, so if I’m gonna shop at your store, you better deliver on product and experience.
The other day, I came home with nothing. Then after a few clicks, I had everything: The book, the cleats and the styling creme were on their way (along with some other stuff I didn’t need…. although buying things I don’t need is not unique to online shopping).
Sometimes I feel like my new online shopping habits are progress, but sometimes, I feel like something’s been lost.