By Sandy Cash
There is definitely a place for online shopping in my world. There has to be – most days I’m here behind my own counter serving, selling, being shop girl. On my days off (not that I am ever totally off, such is my obsession) I’m out and about scouring, sourcing or picking up stuff I have bought online.
We all live and work in a busy world where it seems a perfectly reasonable and sensible use of time to multi-task shopping, on the lounge with the laptop and glass of wine nearby while husband controls the television. I don’t watch that much TV anymore, my channel is the Wide Wide World of Web as Joy once called it in My Name Is Earl. I’m not always shopping, I’m also browsing, comparing my prices, looking at ‘pinteresting’ ideas. I’m trying to cut back though.
So what’s a bricks and mortar store got over the online shopping experience? Well very importantly, you know exactly what you are going to get and when, the condition (it is what it is) and it’s right here, right now. Things are not always as they seem online.
I bought something on eBay once (a fabulous retro resin sculpture) which was great only it turned out to be half the size I was expecting. So not quite the bargain or the delightful unwrapping. Huh? Wha?… The glass of wine nearby may have been a factor in the lack of attention to detail. There is definitely something to be said for shopping with the object in hand, and said object not being alcoholic.
Come on, who hasn’t done this? Come to your senses people. Go outside. Pick it up. Feel it. The touch, the texture, being able to see the exact colour, the fabric, the fit, the weight, the scale, the smell. All the tactile senses which are not activated by pixels.
I started my shop, Urban Rustic, online and it still functions online, but my passion is for the reality; the walls, the shelves, all my collections coming together. I get so much more enjoyment from serving a contented customer, trading the stories and memories that come with vintage pieces. You don’t get that opportunity with an online transaction. All I get is anxiety until I know that one-off item is delivered safe and sound.
The big players have created an expectation that postage should be free; fine if you’re posting necklaces or books but for me vintage Pyrex (some patterns I can’t even find anymore), art glass and fine china? Nightmare. Forget about it. By the time I’ve weighed it, photographed it, described it, calculated postage and uploaded it, some lucky person has walked in, grabbed it and is on their happy way out the door.
I like being local too. As mentioned before, I sell one-offs. I’d rather see it safely out the door. I’ve met so many wonderful people who I now source things for, customers who’ve become friends and a complete change of pace to my once stressful busy life of broadcast design where I was glued to a screen and had to outsource most of my parenting.
Local businesses offer support, a discount if you’re nice and deserve it, information about an item’s origins and how to care for it and what might work well with it etc. In a nutshell, we offer the humanity. It’s a hard slog though, competing with today’s savvy internet shoppers.
So should bricks and mortar stores drop their prices to stay in line with online? Well, yes, if you can. But it’s a tough one. Obviously real stores have rent, electricity, multiple insurance policies, staff wages, superannuation, etc etc. There are so many expenses before you even stock it and open the door, that someone working out of their garage or warehouse doesn’t have. But are you getting exactly what you want, or think you want?
This has been bothering me for a while after a Facebook ‘friend’ had a rant about an overpriced crystal item in a local boutique homewares store. She says she went home and found it for half the price on the interweb. I kind of hope it was not exactly the same or arrived broken. The important factor people forget is the intellectual property this lady is putting out there. She is a very talented stylist and has, to use a now overused phrase, a ‘carefully curated collection’. You are being showed something lovely that you would not have come up with on your own. On the lounge. Looking at pixels. Alright, yes there is Pinterest but you’re not looking closely, touching, sensing, being in the zone. Knowing exactly.
We are all guilty of seeing something we love in a beautiful shop and going home to look for a cheaper version online. How clever we are. And I get it, we live in an expensive world. I do it too. It’s crazy how much stuff we seem to want and need to have and even more crazy how much it costs. As the saying goes, ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’.
But I like to think that my time is worth something too. My free time. Don’t you? That time spent googling to save a few dollars could be otherwise spent offline, being present in the world. Having extra time with family. You know. Life.
And let that local shopkeeper have the extra dollars if you can (rather than a faceless business who knows where) so they can still be there the next time you want to come strolling the streets for inspiration and a dose of retail therapy. If they call it retail therapy, surely it’s better to get immediate treatment rather than having to wait four-to-seven working days for your remedy to arrive?
Without getting too preachy, I hope that as we people of Earth get more and more homogenised and universal by the virtual world, that we will still value small, family-owned businesses who are working quite often out of sheer passion, rather than for profit, and encourage them to keep going for the greater good of the community.
Otherwise? Have you seen Wall-E? One global store, no competition. The local shopping strip which is so great to wander down of a weekend could die a sad, lonely slow death. You may not be able to look at beautiful decorator shops and get ideas for things to go home and google.
This is perhaps too black and white; online shopping opens up a virtual wonderful world for people in remote areas or have limited access to the shops and of course not everyone behind that PayPal account is in their pyjamas in the garage.
So how do bricks and mortar shops stay relevant? Be as competitive as you can afford to be. Offer the best happy, smiley service you possibly can and hope and trust that there will always be enough people to just be in the moment and get their retail fix immediately or just hate paying postage. And if they do have to go home and think about it well then, I guess that website wouldn’t hurt. I’ll be honest, I have bought things from Lee Mathews online when her store is across the street. Sometimes I just can’t actually get back there.
So yeah, I have to add that I will be working on reinventing my website soon, because even though I would like to host a technology rebellion where typewriters and Dymo labellers rule supreme (yeah right!) I want to be part of this real brave new world, browsing and swiping my life away. It’s #totesawesome.
–Sandy Cash runs Urban Rustic. She’d love you to visit her store in real life at Shop 1/ 371 Barrenjoey Road Newport Beach, NSW 2106.