Think Tank: Brick-and-Mortar Shopping


There are two things I need to tell you about myself before I keep going with this post:

1. I am one of those weird people that runs errands alone, goes to the movies by herself and would go to any corner of the Earth even if she didn’t have someone to do it with, so going places by myself is not out of the ordinary.

2. Save for art supplies and necessities, I do most of my shopping online.

Last weekend, I made a solo trip to the Pasadena Dick Blick story to buy a few supplies. Since I had 90 minutes of free parking, I figured I would walk up Colorado Boulevard to the Madewell store to see if they had anything good on sale in the store (I buy a lot of their stuff through their online storefront.) On a Saturday morning, the street was buzzing with activity, and a lot of the stores were having sales. I was thinking about buying a new dress or blouse for an event I have this upcoming Saturday (more on that later), and I figured that it was good a time as any to browse. Up until then, I don’t think I had set foot in a physical clothing store in a good six months.

When I stepped in the H&M down the block from Madewell, I quickly realized that I felt very, very uncomfortable. Blaring music and hyper-fluorescent lighting  does not make for the best shopping experience. No one asked me if I needed help or was looking for something in particular. Navigating through the labyrinth of folded sweater tables and dress racks was overwhelming, and everything looked abysmally cheap and totally unappealing. I thought to myself that maybe I was just shopping at a weird seasonal time, and felt strangely proud that I actually went into a clothing store and walked out with nothing. So, I charged onward to Madewell.

Madewell, if you don’t know, is a pretty sparse but aesthetically pleasing store — the complete opposite of H&M. But I still felt the same way: anxious, overwhelmed and nauseated. The clothes didn’t look right on the hangers, and the sales associates would not leave me alone to browse. Plus, I didn’t see anything I couldn’t live without. I successfully went into a clothing store and walked out with nothing twice, but something didn’t feel right.

When I got home, it dawned on me. I’ve been completely spoiled by the online shopping experience.

When I buy anything from books to sweaters to parking permits to music online, I do it from the comfort of my own computer and feel no pressure to buy anything. I can browse multiple stores at the same time for the best prices, and I can filter my results down to the last stitch. Whatever I buy comes directly to my house, and if I don’t like it, I can return it without ever interacting with anybody. I get exactly what I want.

I know this makes me sound like a curmudgeon, but I think it has to do with just how abrasive shopping in a contemporary brick-and-mortar retail store can be. There’s way too much stuff in the stores or not enough at all, and sorting through it all can be nearly impossible. It’s either so loud or fragrant (Abercrombie & Fitch, anyone?) that you can’t concentrate, or so quiet you feel self-conscious. Everyone’s rude to each other — customers to associates, associates to customers and associates to associates. I know from personal experience that working retail is the Worst, but the associates’ feeling of malaise mostly stems from how these companies are set up and the low morale of high turnover rates. None of these factors make for a good shopping experience.

What’s interesting, however, is that I don’t feel this way when I go into the art store or even Target. This might be because there’s just the right amount of product and I rarely go to either when the stores are packed with people. A Goldilocks scenario, if you will. Plus, it’s easier and cheaper to go and buy what I need in person. And at the same time, there’s never any pressure to buy anything.

I know that the fact that I prefer online shopping is really bad. Pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to do anything in person, which will make some things (like disputing finances or even sending a letter at the post office [Do people even do that anymore?]) really difficult. I know that eventually the people that work in those stores on Colorado Boulevard will probably not have a job. Online shopping perpetuates the lack of interaction that our society so desperately needs more of, and as much as I don’t like contributing to that, I really hate browsing in a real store.

I didn’t really do any research on the different in in-person and online shopping for this Think Tank, but I think just about everyone can agree that stores are not like they used to be. We really need to rethink contemporary shopping and make it a more pleasant experience. Until then, I’ll be browsing on Amazon.

What do you think about online shopping? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

2 responses to “Think Tank: Brick-and-Mortar Shopping”

  1. […] that you guys know all about my aversion to shopping in a store, I’ll tell you about my new favorite (online) retailer: […]

  2. […] if it’s a coffee shop that’s relaxing to be in. It seems much more relaxed than say, shopping for clothes in a store, which has become an altogether unpleasant […]

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