As You Like It: To Shop Should Be Human


I love to shop. I always have. I can remember spending my time in a candy store deciding just where to spend my nickel. I remember haunting the toy store across the street from where we lived in Brooklyn, Fain’s Toys. It was my idea of kid heaven, living across the street from a toy store.

But my favorite memories are of shopping with my mom when I was in high school. Our day would be Monday, Mom’s day off. We would head downtown to DeKalb Avenue. There we would shop at stores that have long since closed: Abraham and Strauss known as A&S, May’s and Martin’s. We would have lunch together in the basement cafeteria at A&S (our favorite was macaroni and cheese) or head out to a restaurant called Junior’s. Junior’s had tiny tables filled with pickles and coleslaw and the best burgers in town.

We would spend the day roaming the racks, trying on clothes, arguing over price and size, and then lug everything home on the subway. Mom would be exhausted and I would be so excited about my new clothes that I wouldn’t sleep that night.

When my girls came into the world, shopping for them was a solitary affair. I would make seasonal pilgrimages to a store in Easton called Raschel’s. It was the ultimate in one-stop shopping for kids. It was whimsically decorated, carried everything in kids’ clothing and was reasonably priced. But then the girls outgrew Raschel’s and it was time to move on.

In the beginning Lisa was the daughter who loved to shop with me. I would shop with her and remember my days with Mom, thrilled to be having the same experience with my daughter. Mariel was a jock whose preferred wardrobe consisted of t-shirts, running shorts and sneakers. When she had to get dressed for an occasion it was painful.

And then suddenly Mariel caught the shopping bug. Now we were a threesome in shopping-crime, combing the stores, taking over dressing rooms, hunting down sales and using coupons with abandon. Now that the girls live across the country, our shopping trips are fewer, but we still text each other our great discoveries.

I’m not an online shopper when it comes to clothing. I inherited a love of material and good fit from my parents and have to try things on. I also hate the hassle of returning things. But still Steve and I manage to do enough shopping on to have become Prime customers so that we could get free shipping — which is why Amazon’s latest venture is making me cranky.

According to Digits, the Wall Street Journal’s technology blog:

The Seattle retailer in December gained a patent for what it calls “anticipatory shipping,” a method to start delivering packages even before customers click “buy.”

When I read that I realized that one of the things that I enjoy so much about shopping is the exciting anticipation of finding something unusual, different, even strange. Something that I might never have thought of if I hadn’t seen it before me. Now Amazon wants to save me all that unnecessary pleasure. They are going to take away shopping and replace it with shipping.

It’s bad enough that my computer finishes sentences for me and my phone autocorrects me to oblivion. But now to find a xylophone at my door because I once made the mistake of ordering a flugelhorn is downright aggravating.

In deciding what to ship, Amazon said it may consider previous orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping-cart contents, returns and even how long an Internet user’s cursor hovers over an item.

So now if my cursor hovers a moment too long over a pair of self-heating long johns, they will magically appear on my doorstep. Oh the horror! And reviewing our strange conglomeration of previous orders from Amazon, which includes everything from pet meds and furnace filters to vacuum cleaners, I can only shudder to think what will be coming automatically to our address.

Years ago I went shopping with a friend to an upscale department store. We spent an entire morning with a lovely salesman who made us feel that we were part of the entitled class. The problem was that after the shopping spree, this salesperson kept sending my friend clothing that he “had spotted on the floor and was just so you!” Most of the time she didn’t have the time to send things back so was stuck with whatever this guy decided to send her. I can just see that happening to us with appliances and dog meds littering the house because we have no time to send them back.

Amazon of course wants all of our business. They maintain:

The technique could cut delivery time and discourage consumers from visiting physical stores … Amazon says delays between ordering and receiving purchases “may dissuade customers from buying items from online merchants.”

Because God forbid we should have to wait a couple of days to wear the sweat socks that we ordered. That is indeed a fate worse than dearth. We cannot be without, even for a day.

Well I refuse to be part of this madness. I love the discovery, the anticipation, the waiting. As Carly Simon knew, it’s the best part. And I hate being second-guessed by a computer. Let Amazon stick to shipping and I’ll do the shopping. We’ll all be better off.

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avatar Posted by on Jan 30 2014. Filed under As You Like It, Featured Content, Opinion. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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