Erin's Journals

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Just a thought… The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. [ on Malcolm Gladwell’s 2002 bestseller The Tipping Point

First, a confession: I have never been an avid shopper. I’m not one of those who finds satisfaction in “retail therapy” or consider shopping to be my cardio, but I don’t judge people who do. It’s just that I never had the urge to traipse around a mall and rifle through racks for hours on end; maybe once or twice a year I go into a store, pick a small mountain of clothes, and – heaving a sigh – start seeing what fits and whose sizing is accurate for my body.

Honestly, most of the stuff in my closet is more than five years old, a holdover from a life when I had a daily job and places to go and be seen. Now it’s jeans or my well-worn Roots yoga pants (so old they don’t even make mine anymore and it could well be nearly two decades since I bought them), a windbreaker, a t-shirt or maybe a hoodie. That’s my jam, even though I can’t quite bring myself to part with the clothes that accompanied the busy life I used to enjoy. One day, one day.

With one notable exception you’ll read about, I have only ever shopped online for clothing when I had an item and wanted another exactly the same. If, for example, The Bay was having a bra sale and I could still read the label on the one I’d worn out, I’d order a replacement. If I found some other item that had weathered the washer/dryer or held up particularly well and fit me the way I wanted, I’d try to find another like it. But, as in the case of those flared, durable Roots yoga pants, more often than not, the manufacturer had moved on even if I had not.

I haven’t had much success with trying to choose something new online. Last winter while in California, I clicked through on an ad that I saw on Facebook or Instagram and found some tops that looked like me, so I ordered them. Then COVID-19 hit and whatever shipment my linen tops was in didn’t move. I followed up a few months later and it was still “in transit.”

Now we’re not at that house and couldn’t find anyone stateside to take the delivery, so we’re hoping that if it ever does arrive (and frankly I’m tired of asking), someone honest sees our package and tosses it into our yard or puts it inside the house. We have a lady checking on the place from time to time, so we can only hope.

But I’m thinking that money is just plain gone. Lesson learned. Not everything comes in a matter of days; I may have overlooked the delivery date promised when I purchased, or it just wasn’t there. Amazon has spoiled us, for sure.

Shopping online can be a tricky prospect, but it can also be extremely efficient and rewarding, as you undoubtedly know. So today, a few other lessons I’ve learned that perhaps you also share.

The aforementioned Amazon has its act together. In every way, they have met their promise of performance, even if the delivery has not been as speedy as that on which they built their business. We get it: people have bigger needs than whatever internet-boosting doo-hickey Rob has ordered to help us with our podcast technology. And we’re patient. I mean, all we have is time right now.

Costco? Not so much. When we got home from California, we self-quarantined (and continue to do so, 95% of the time) and decided to try their online shopping because we couldn’t find anyone else who’d deliver. We took care to order enough items to qualify for free shipping.

Instead of one shipment, we got one or two things in each drop-off, (a card of AA batteries came from Calgary, while a pack of AAAs was sent to us from Whitby), which cannot be efficient for the Costco business model, no matter how convenient or inconvenient for the at-home shopper.

Their business is built on warehouse shopping and people are meant to go there in person, I get that. But what we didn’t get was…about one-third of our order, even though we were told our transaction had been completed successfully and the stuff was on its way. Rob followed up with the courier company and then Costco; the remainder of our supplies (most of which we’ve already replenished in person at our local grocery store) are reportedly still on their way…sometime. It doesn’t really matter to us; as I say, we’ve learned a great lesson in patience.

(Incidentally, because Rob didn’t get into Costco last week, as mentioned yesterday, we’ve placed another large order, even though the last one hasn’t been completed yet.) 

Other stores are doing what they can to keep up. Obviously they don’t have trillionaire Jeff Bezos behind them like Amazon does, and can’t always supply free shipping, something we’ve come to enjoy and, in some cases, even expect. Just mailing a very small package to Ontario this week cost $20; how can we expect something we order online to be sent for free? How does that even fit into a company’s business model if they’re going to stay afloat, when they have to compete against a behemoth like Amazon?

This pandemic has changed a lot of things (thanks, Captain Obvious!) but one of biggest has to be shopping. Sure, people frequently shopped online before 2020, but I’m guessing that the numbers have hugely increased, to the detriment of the brick-and-mortar outlets and the smaller independent merchants. People like those who run clothing boutiques. Small book stores. Restaurateurs who cannot afford to be gouged by outside delivery companies.

I have to believe that those relatively few people who still harboured fears about security issues have finally leapt into the breach and tried online shopping. Many will find it to be safe and comfortable and may prefer to continue to make many of their purchases this way going forward. It’s the perfect storm, really: online security has reached what I would hope are the highest standards yet, while people who were until now trepidatious about trying it are taking a leap of faith.

They’ve discovered that the most tiring part of online shopping is getting off the couch to get their credit card (unless, of course, that number is readily available when they check out, as is often the case). There’s no fighting for a parking spot, getting into a store with a wheelchair, no battling traffic, the elements and crowds. For some, this will be a real eye-opener.

What will happen beyond the pandemic, I wonder? More stores closed up, their windows papered over, with the people who put their dreams and their lives into those shops left to pick up the pieces and salvage whatever they can of their savings? Will this be a shift that is never reversed, or a temporary blip, as people, who enjoy the shopping experience, the picking out, putting back, trying on and girls’ and guys’ day out, return to their regular hunting grounds?

There are a great messages out there reminding and imploring us to “Shop Canadian” and “Shop Local” when this is all over. I am going to do my best to continue to do just that, eschewing the huge online conglomerates and trying to help out the mom-and-pop stores who have always been there for us – that is, the ones who survive this seismic shift, this tipping point.

But I wonder: how many others are going to do the same? For retailers of all shapes and sizes, is this the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?

Rob WhiteheadWednesday, May 27, 2020