I’m doing most of my Christmas shopping in person this year.
I usually shop online to spare myself the craziness: crowds, long lines, rifled shelves with missing sizes, packed mall parking lots and cold and flu germs. Who would do that when you can go on your computer and shop with the click of a button?
But here’s the thing: none of the stores are that crowded, at least in southern Connecticut. Stores are brimming with merchandise slashed as much as 70 percent to draw shoppers. And though I may be overstating my case, it’s my little way of trying to keep retail alive.
Over the past few weeks, a large plumbing supply company and bedding store along our commercial strip abruptly closed, leaving behind shuttered storefronts. Our town is dotted with closed businesses with lease signs in the windows, a sad sign of lost jobs, income and broken dreams in our online economy.
It makes you wonder what will be around next month or next year. If Sears, JC Penney and Toys R Us can’t weather the tide, can any retail establishment survive in the digital age?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a proud member of AmazonPrime and enjoy the convenience of online shopping as much as anyone else. But I find there’s a certain emptiness to online shopping around the holidays. There’s no sense of accomplishment, enthusiasm or holiday spirit that goes along with it, at least for me.
The Amazon boxes arrive on my doorstep and I bring them in, often not even bothering to open them to see what’s inside. (How can anybody be so lazy?) I’ve bought the items, but I’m not all that interested in them, perhaps because I’ve made no real investment in the process.
When I go to a store, my senses are engaged, particularly sight, sound and touch. The sight of a sparkly holiday top is enticing, while the feel of a soft gray velour sweater is delightful. (I’m an extremely tactile person. I’m a sucker for anything soft and fuzzy, explaining why I’m sitting here in a new pair of JCrew lounge pants I impulse bought. Let’s keep this our little secret.)
The sound of Christmas carols get me in the holiday spirit, making me realize how much music can influence mood. Standing in the JCrew outlet checkout line, Chris Rea’s “Driving Home for Christmas” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czhZbqpyBm8 comes on, making me wonder how this catchy little ditty slipped my notice for 30 years. I must have been living under a rock.
Shopping in person also gives me a chance to try to get it right with sizes for my daughter the first time. I bring in her favorite jeans to the Lucky Brand outlet store in nearby Clinton, CT. Though the style has been discontinued, two saleswomen do their best to find a close facsimile.
One looks up the style in the computer, determining that they’re a mid-rise skinny jean. When they show me something similar, they ask about my daughter’s body type and whether she’s got muscular legs. This will help determine if they’ll look good or just sit in the closet.
Without prodding, they tell me which jeans they like, and how they hate low-riding (aka hip huggers) that slip below love handles (Doesn’t everyone? Seriously, why are these still on the market?). Our discussion prompts another customer to point out that she’s wearing the jeans I’m considering for my daughter. Sold.
At a nearby running store where I’m the only customer, a saleswoman who runs marathons accompanies me around the store, pointing out the best running pants and equipment for my daughter. She draws heavily on her own experience, giving me insight into why certain socks are great, or why every runner needs chafing protection. (Where has this woman been all my life?)
I’m not saying all salespeople are great. In fact, many are awful, preferring to stack and fold sweaters or chitchat than offer a greeting or assistance. But I don’t think there’s any substitute for a helpful and knowledgeable salesperson. Most are in their jobs because they want to help. They don’t expect you to know as much about the merchandise as they do, and are happy to offer advice if asked.
I know this because I work in a small gift shop that helps support a group of cloistered nuns. One of my jobs is knowing the merchandise so when people come in, I can point them in the right direction. My first rule is to acknowledge everyone. I don’t think there’s anything worse than entering a store and being ignored by a salesperson.
Most customers have a pretty good idea of what they want when they come through the heavy wooden doors. But others are stumped, unsure what to give the grandchild making their Confirmation or the young couple buying their first house.
As a salesperson, it’s my job to help people and I take enormous satisfaction helping them find the right gift. I think people would view salespeople differently if they understood that most of us want to be helpful. I think people would look at shopping in person differently if they realized that people count on it to survive.
With no online shopping, our shop depends on people coming through the doors. Perhaps this is part of the reason that I’m going to stores this year: I realize how important customers and the personal touch are to this whole operation.
I can’t expect people to shop in person if I’m unwilling to do it, so I’m making the commitment to show up this year. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long, but I’m doing most of my shopping old-school this year.
I’m hitting the stores, chipping away at it an hour at a time like my 84-year-old mother, who still does most of her holiday shopping in person. I’ve had my share of cardboard boxes. Now, I want to feel the weight of a full shopping bag and the sense of accomplishment it brings.