The Demise of the Retail Store & the Rise of Online Shopping
It’s 4 a.m. and still dark outside when my mother sneaks into my room and tells me to quickly get dressed…it is the infamous day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday! As the oldest of 5 and only girl, I get the privilege of leaving the house before everyone awakes with my mom to meet my grandmother and aunt at Toys ‘R Us where we will shop for my brothers and cousins. After Toys ‘R Us, we will eat an early breakfast at Cracker Barrel before heading to the mall for the rest of the day. With Christmas right around the corner and my mom not being one to plan ahead for such things, this month will be busy and exciting as we spend weekends and late nights preparing for the holidays. I await this time in anxious anticipation as I love to shop!
As the years have passed I spent countless hours shopping with my mother and with friends. During the holiday season especially, it was tradition to shop, eat, and sometimes even catch a holiday show or movie with the girls. Shopping has been an enjoyable bonding experience where I was able spend time with those I love or a cathartic experience which allowed me to destress, window shop, and just live in the moment. In high school, it was time spent alone with my mom, in law school it was a brain break from studying and as a first-time mom with a brand-new baby it was a way to get out of the house.
Shopping is not only about spending money, but also about getting out into society and interacting with those around us. It seems that with the rise of online shopping, grocery apps, and delivery services, our ability as human beings to tolerate and talk to one another has seriously declined. We no longer feel the need, or honestly have the need, to get off of our couch, look up from our smartphone, turn off our giant 3D television and simply speak to one another.
Our children are truly lacking the developmental and social skills that come from true, everyday, human interaction. Not to mention the ability to exist without an electronic device at their fingertips. We are to the point where we have televisions and video games that literally come to life in our living room allowing us to “interact” with fake characters, talk to people we’ve never seen or met through a headset, and believe that we are really living, conversing and “making friends”.
Our society is becoming accustomed to sitting at home, not needing to groom or dress and still being able to take care of their basic needs such as food, clothing, and toiletries. Even full meals from restaurants of your choice can be easily delivered to your door daily in just about any city you choose. Throw in the online shopping ability and anything you want can be delivered to your door, usually within 2 days, with the click of a button. No need to interact with a sales associate, wait in a line, or speak politely to a cashier. For me, being the exact opposite of a homebody and always wanting to get up, out and on-the-go, this new seclusion is miserable. For our children and our workforce, it is detrimental.
With the closing of multiple storefronts and shops, retail employees are becoming jobless by the dozens. No longer do people even frequent the few stores that remain, requiring them to keep less and less real people in their employ. Their overhead alone is costing more than it is worth because with the internet, they can sell and ship directly to people’s homes making operations far more cost-effective…as long as you don’t consider the cost to humanity.
However, those costs are not always truly relayed to you the consumer. Although your online selections may be endless and shipping may be fast and free, the inability to try on the clothing or shoes, or even to judge the quality of the toy or household item may be making your purchases more expensive and less convenient.
Further, a large majority of online retailers will ship to you for free, but then charge a return shipping fee if you are not satisfied with the item. This can become costly as many companies charge a minimum rate no matter how many items are being returned, may charge for both the original and return shipping if you are not satisfied, and large items can be extremely cost-prohibitive. Bottom line is people end up keeping items they do not want or won’t use because frequently the return shipping cost discourages them.
As a parent I not only enjoy shopping with my children, but teaching them life lessons about real people and real scenarios while doing so. When we go to the grocery store, the boys have to help. Everyone gets list of what items they are responsible for finding, gathering, and placing in the cart. We play math games as we shop and they add up the prices of the items we’re buying. They learn the true cost of things because like it or not, even when we order from an app and pay with a credit card, that costs real money. Many older children (and some adults) honestly do not understand the cost or value of items any longer because they think you click a button and PayPal takes care of it.
In terms of social development, shopping teaches children speech and language skills, along with manners and publicly appropriate behaviors. My 2-year-old loves to go to Sam’s where he can get free samples. He has learned to say please and thank you to the store associates, how to politely ask where items can be found, to wait until we check out to start snacking on the groceries in the cart, to wait in a line, and most of all he has learned to help his mother with an important household task. To be honest, he has also learned how to do self-checkout, find the barcode and scan it himself, which takes sometime, but is definitely developing some of those fine and gross motor skills.
When back-to-school shopping, the boys love reading their own lists and hand-selecting their supplies. At Christmas they like to select, touch, and see the gifts they are getting for others. Spending time with them means more to me than purchasing items because being able to see your child’s personality, their likes and dislikes as they browse or buy, is a neat experience. Shopping in brick and mortar retail stores means more than simply accumulating items to stockpile in our already over-stuffed homes.
The demise of the retail store is the end of an era for some of us who took more pleasure in the shared experiences we had with loved ones than the value of the items purchased. As a young mother I couldn’t wait to go Black Friday shopping at Toys ‘R Us with my mom, not for my brothers but for my own babies. Luckily, I have had at least a few of those years to enjoy although knowing I have no more to come saddens me. Knowing that my kids will soon have to order birthday presents from the internet and knowing that I am just not going to see that same light in their eyes as they discover that toy they “have to have” is disheartening. The memories of the fun shopping trips I have had with family and friends will remain, and no matter what, I for one will continue to visit brick and mortar buildings and interact with humankind as much as I can.
Photo Credits: Kristen Douglas
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