Shopping: Signs of the Times

Some people love shopping trips. They thrill to the sale, the newspaper inserts, the call of the malls. I’m the opposite. I dislike crowds, parking lots, poorly-trained or intrusive salespeople, cluttered store aisles, and sales hype.

I’ll drive to the store if I need something today: groceries, pool supplies, or something I want to see first-hand before I buy. I worked in retail sales for eleven years, so I appreciate it when I find good service, selections and price at a store (increasingly rare).

And I know better when I don’t get that shopping experience. Anyone can tell you when they don’t enjoy a shopping experience. I can tell you why, and enumerate the marketing tenets that were violated.

For everything else, what works for me is the internet. Many folks aren’t completely comfortable with internet shopping yet, and that’s fine. If I know what I want, can wait for delivery, and have a vendor I can trust, I can avoid tying up the better part of my whole morning, afternoon or evening with a shopping trip. On top of the convenience, shopping by internet saves me hundreds of hours and miles of driving a year: it’s comparatively “Green”.

That’s my take on it, anyway. The newspapers and internet are full of comparisons of both kinds of shopping. It’s not news any more. The internet as “shopping appliance” is here to stay. I use it to buy most of my durable consumer goods – even a car. I use it to get my news. I read my daily comic strips online. I do my banking and pay my bills online. I buy my clothes, computer parts, software, camera gear, books and music, kitchenware, bathware, gadgets, pipe tobacco, telescope gear, and magazine subscriptions online.

The real point of this article follows. In kind of a “Eureka moment” this morning, I realized just how far the internet has integrated itself into our daily lives.

It started out this morning as an email-sorting chore. For over a decade, I have always maintained two mail folders called “Shopping” and “Vendors”. “Vendors” was for computer-related purchases, such as memory or motherboards. “Shopping” was for everything else.

That only seemed to be a sensible division because, ten years ago, there wasn’t so much to buy on the internet, and I didn’t completely trust the security of the proliferation of new web page storefronts. “Apple” had its own subfolder in “Vendors”. So did all the shareware vendors. So did “Mac Connection” and (later) “PC Connection”. And, in “Shopping”, you could soon find “LL Bean” and a few others.

I was an early shareware adopter. And there wasn’t really any other way to buy it but through the internet. So I took the plunge earlier than most. As an aside, even the concept of “shareware” is less relevant today: most of the surviving major players are run as a business, the products are more robust, and you may be able to try them, but if you like them, you’ll buy them.

The distinction between “Shopping” and “Vendor” for me was clear-cut and easy, at first. But what if the vendor was an internet supplier? Well, that was computer-related, so it became another subfolder in “Vendors.”

But what do you do with “Verizon Wireless”? ViewSonic (the TV, or the computer monitor)? “Sudoku”, played as a computer game? Online subscriptions? Books on programming and computers?

Recently I bought several books on Perl and web programming in PDF format (Adobe Acrobat), from O’Reilly Publishing, so I could reference them from anywhere I had my computer. There’s a whole new kind of services supplier that doesn’t neatly fit into either “goods” or “computers”.

Sorting out unfiled email this morning, I realized times had changed. I could no longer decide where a lot of mail should be filed. I did decide that it no longer made any difference what kind of goods or services were ordered.

I created a new Outlook data file called “SHOPPING”. I emptied the contents of the old “Shopping” and “Vendors” folders into the new file. SHOPPING now contains about 150 subfolders. Basically, these are my paperless receipts, order and correspondence files on everything I buy that doesn’t involve getting into the car and driving to a store.

Maybe software and hardware orders were such a big proportion of my total internet purchases that they deserved their own category, at one time. They aren’t now. They’re just “SHOPPING”.

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