I love shopping and I love shops. Real shops. Where you can browse through displays, touch before you buy, try things on, get a sense of the size of what you’re buying without having to use a tape measure and enjoy the way a retailer has dressed their windows or compiled their playlist. I like my gratification instant and my experiences immersive.
I do buy online, of course I do. I buy presents (no need to run to the Post Office if someone else can post it for you), anything electrical, anything functional, anything that is simply a replacement for anything I have bought before, all the boring, utilitarian stuff, but I never regarded it as proper shopping.
Then came lockdown and suddenly there were no shops at all. Queues outside the supermarket, takeaway coffees only and that was it.
What would I do? How would I cope?
Well, in the first lockdown I did without. I carried on running wearing trainers that were literally falling apart. My credit card bill plunged. I took clothes out of my wardrobe for the charity shop and didn’t put any new ones back in. I made a real dent in the pile of books on my bedside table.
This was serious. The Great British retail sector, already on its knees, was going to collapse completely if I withdrew from the market altogether.
And then I went online.
And now I’m converted. I realise I’m pretty late to the party and that I’m probably about 5 years behind everyone else.
I am buying things I would never have bought online before, likes shoes and earrings.
I have discovered the pleasures of virtual shopping.
And I blame Instagram. While scrolling drooling over Nigella’s recipe of the day and fantasizing about all those city breaks on Modern Leper, I started to click through the ads. It started on a small scale, flip flops tailored to fit your feet (what a clever idea), Scandi style socks, because you get very sock conscious when you’re working from home, then it got bigger, Sweaty Betty for all those extra yoga pants I found I was needing, a cocktail kit (because…well just because).
I was starting to shop like a pro. And when a handbag company spotted me hesitating over the bag in my basket and pounced, with a 10% discount emailed straight through to me, I was hooked. There was no going back.
I am now an online shopping expert. I am buying multiple sizes and colours all at once, so I can try on everything and send back what doesn’t work. I have learned not to rip open cardboard boxes in a frenzy so that I can actually use them again for returns. I have reviewed purchases assiduously and I lurk on sites compiling wishlists and filling and re-filling my basket.
I have really come to appreciate those retailers who do online shopping well: who know the importance of multiple photos from all angles, who include videos as well as pictures and measurements.
I admire the ingenuity of thinking that goes into pricing and promotions – 20% off everything that’s blue on Blue Monday is immediately so much more engaging than just a standard sale. I am flattered (still) by those companies who seem to treat me as a special friend and send me emails with personalized discounts.
I have enjoyed retailers starting up a conversation with me, sending me emails about new arrivals, inviting me into the world they have created on their website that allows me to get closer to their organisation, its people, its values, and let’s be honest the discounts they offer me.
The thing that I have come to appreciate most (I know I know it’s taken me awhile, you’ll all be ahead me of me on this one) is the importance of packaging. Back in the old days of shops the wrapping felt more utilitarian, some shopping bags might be a bit higher quality than others, some times you might get a bit of tissue paper, but really no more than that.
Now at last I understand the significance of unboxing. Opening up your purchases is such a big deal. Before I became a true believer I just used to tear open the Amazon packages and dump the cardboard in the recycling. Now I see what a kick you can get from unwrapping your purchase and there are a lot of retailers out there who understand just that.
It’s not just that pass-the-parcel feeling of anticipation as you unfold the layers (and to be honest if you’ve ordered a lot it’s often hard to recall which package is going to arrive when), it’s the nifty compostable wrapping or the clever way a cardboard box is designed to require the minimum of sticky tape or the ribbons and tissue paper in carefully chosen colours. It’s the packaging printed in paisley from an Indian clothing company or the swing tags of original artwork. I’ve been starved of sensory experiences in lockdown and online deliveries have to assuage that hunger.
As we anticipate the gradual opening up after lockdown I am starting to wonder whether I’ll ever go back? I know 100% I want to return to art galleries, to restaurants and to gigs. I know I absolutely have to go back to the hairdresser and the beauty salon, but shops? I know I love shopping, but will I still feel the same way about shops?
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