I recently experienced Green Thursday. That’s when American greenbacks metaphorically flew out of my wallet then soared through the air to stores across the nation that I designated on my computer screen.
Another name for it is online shopping.
The experience of online shopping often is described as convenient, easy, almost soothing. Fans of this method of divesting yourself of money you don’t have at Christmas draw us a picture of contented, smiling people, sitting in a plush chair, maybe decked out in flannel pajamas or swathed in a down comforter, a steaming cup of cocoa in hand, one-clicking their way to ecstasy.
No one can deny that online shopping opens up a world of astonishing variety at our fingertips, offering access to items that are unavailable at any brick-and-mortar stores in the vicinity of our homes and providing the ease of having packages land on our doorsteps without having to look presentable, get in a car and physically go shopping. Forget flannel and comforters, we can shop in our underwear!
But I swear, after hours of shopping online, a trip to an actual store was a vast relief. All you have to do at a store is pick up an item, decide if you want it, walk up to the checkout area, pay for it and take it home. How quaint!
By contrast, online shopping can be a stress-inducing nightmare.
Say, for example, you want to buy a box of candy for your aunt. First you have to find just the right candy, which means sifting through the approximately 1.3 billion sites offering candy.
Then, you have to calculate shipping costs, choose a shipping date, and begin to fill in all the necessary information to make this transaction happen. The first thing you realize is you don’t have your aunt’s address. It’s in the address book, which is ... somewhere in the house.
You find it after 20 minutes of searching and type in the necessary information along with a gift message. Then you press “go to payment” which you can’t do yet because you forgot to type in the ZIP code and your email address. Then you tap the box that refuses to let the company send you daily emails about special deals it is offering throughout the year.
The company will ignore this and send you offers anyway.
Then, of course, it’s time to enter the info on your credit card. Then do it again because you put spaces between the number sequences, and the box doesn’t have room for spaces. And then you enter your address and all your pertinent information.
And then you try to enter a coupon code, but it’s the wrong code, which wipes out all the information you have entered. So you start over.
If you happen to be comparison shopping, you might notice that many items are the same price at every store even if they are promising “deep discounts.” When you include shipping, they cost more than the ones in the local store. You cynically conclude that there is no such thing as a real bargain.
I don’t mean to exaggerate the pain involved in buying four or five items online at one sitting, but it was not a nice experience. It was similar to taking a long road trip on an ice-covered highway, requiring great concentration and sitting in the same hunched-over position for hours.
When it was over, I needed a nap.
Online shopping isn’t going away. As we already know, if anything disappears, it will be the small shops where actual people help you find what you need.
And, as most of us have learned, there are real benefits to shopping with your fingers without ever having to leave home. But there are drawbacks, too.
For the next few months, I will be receiving irritating pop-up enticements to buy candy from all sorts of places long after my aunt has polished off her last piece of chocolate-covered raspberry nougat. Ah, the pleasures of technology.
James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.