Thursday, April 27, 2006

Shopping Online

Just in the past few months I've realized that I'm now doing an astonishing chunk of my shopping online. It seems every time I turn around, I've got something shipping to me that I ordered from a website.

Actually I've been ordering things over the Internet now for years. If my memory is right, I was ordering books from Amazon through a computer at the public library before I even had a home Internet connection— as far back as 1998.

What's new is how much of my shopping I'm now doing online. I'm sure this is a development of only the past year or so. Just looking around me here in my study this instant, I see my office chair; my leather-soled wool slippers; a tin of Penguin caffeinated peppermints; a notepad; a stapler; a fountain pen; a mechanical pencil; a ruler; my wristwatch; a slide rule; a Tivoli Audio Model One radio; two rubberstamps and an inkpad; a floor fan; two framed prints on the wall. To say nothing of my laptop computer itself, and its leather carrying case. All ordered over the Internet.

Look, I live way out in the countryside, on a gravel road. The nearest small towns (population: a few hundred) are five or six miles away. I can perhaps pick up a few quick items there, but if I want to do any real local shopping— supermarket, discount store, drug store, whatever— I've got to drive 15 or 20 miles to the towns of Caledonia, Spring Grove, Lansing, or Waukon. And "city" shopping means a drive of 35 miles or more to La Crosse in one direction, or Decorah in the other.

I find more and more that I'm willing to rummage and hunt around some within that 15 to 20 mile radius. And I'm willing to drive the 35 miles or so if I know precisely what I'm looking for, and exactly where to find it. But beyond that, it's become my first resort to shop online. Why waste an evening driving around from store to store up in La Crosse, when I can find what I'm looking for online in a matter of minutes, and then have it arrive within a few days?

Books. Like I say, I've been buying books for years now from Amazon, or from their smaller competitors such as Powell's. There's a Barnes & Noble up in La Crosse, I was up there yesterday, and their selection can't even begin to compare with Amazon. What I've noticed in the past year or two, though, is that Amazon is now a reliable source, not just for books currently in print, but for just about any book I need, new or used, in print or out of print. Many years back, I used to carry a "floating mental book list" in my head, books I was looking for, and often it would take me years of combing used book stores to find them. If I was lucky. Now I just go to Amazon and search, and a fool and his money are soon parted. I mean, hello, Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce (Second Series), published 1964? A few clicks, and it's mine!

Japanese chess set. Found online, ordered from Japan. Folding knife. Found online, ordered from France. (Have to put up pictures of that knife some time, it's a beauty.) Russian watch. Found online, ordered from Russia— oh, and day before yesterday I went and ordered yet another Russian watch online. Or, to be more precise, a Russian chronograph. Will I never learn?!

It's sort of like the old Sears Roebuck catalog. I remember when I was a kid, we had a reprint of the old 1908 Sears Roebuck catalog sitting around the house. I used to spend hours paging through it, fascinated at all the things you could order back in 1908. Sears, that was new technology too, wasn't it? Railroads, the availability of items shipped over the rails? Only shopping over the Internet is a far more interactive affair, and there's tons more stuff available.

Getting to be, just about anything you can imagine.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous lucy said...

I've found that I shopped more online with the addition of each child to our family. PLUS then three years ago we moved to the middle of nowhere. About two hours from the city. Which is a great place to raise kids. Otherwise known as Shopping Hell.

Plus, I've found a reduction in selection in brick-n-mortar stores over the past few years. For example, in Knoxville the big department stores are now all owned by the same company and all carry merchandise picked by the same buyer. If I want something "different" here I trek into the city and spend the day browsing among a selection of stores that I know are owned by separate companies.

Or cruising the "closeout" stores like TJMaxx and Marshalls and SteinMart and TuesdayMorning. They used to carry closeouts from the "good" stores like Macys, Bloomingdales, Saks, etc. Now they've started filling out their inventory with lower-name-brands, some of which I suspect they're buying outright retail.

And I've also noticed a trend that I'm shopping more "individual" stores versus "department" stores. Like Coldwater Creek. Eddie Bauer. Stride-rite. HannaAndersson. Stores available both on-line and off.

Not to mention that the internet offers an almost infinite selection of colors and sizes.

But keep an eye on Amazon. They've started a program for "vendors" so that you may be using the Amazon site but actually placing the order with a different smaller site. And the shipping can really get you. I almost placed an order for $20 and the shipping was going to be $45 dollars! And it wasn't even overnight!

Thursday, April 27, 2006 1:09:00 PM  
Blogger Richmond said...

I too do a TON of shopping online. It is just so much easier!

Thursday, April 27, 2006 2:33:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Lucy:

Yeah, as far as the brick and mortar stores, I find that more and more, many of them around here carry the very same items, the very same brands. If I go up to La Crosse looking for a certain kind of pen, I can visit half a dozen stores and find probably an 80% or 90% overlap in the selection of pens each of them carries. Much wider variety available on the Internet.

The old, used, out of print books I've ordered through Amazon have indeed come from various third party vendors. I dunno, guess I've been lucky, so far I've had no problems or unusual fees from them. I'm still wrapping my mind around the fact that, yes, I can now find obscure, 40-years-out-of-print philosophy books and whatnot, within a matter of minutes. Books I've been scouring used book stores for without success, in some cases for almost 20 years now.

Another fast move by Amazon— I know they were doing it at one time, I've heard rumors they've been trying it again recently— is that if they detect, via cookies or whatever, that you've been looking at a particular item a lot, you may find when you add it to your cart and go to checkout that they've suddenly raised the price on it. One reason why I divert a certain amount of my book purchases to competitors such as Powell's.

Richmond:

It is indeed a lot easier. I might feel otherwise if I lived in the city, instead of living far, far out into the countryside. But then again, even in a city, if one can wait a couple of days for the package to arrive, it sure beats fighting traffic (at $3 per gallon) to that store across town.

Thursday, April 27, 2006 5:11:00 PM  
Blogger The Tetrast said...

For years I wanted to get Douglas Woolf's last and unfinished novel Loving Ladies. Twice I got somebody at the Gotham Book Mart to make an effort. One of them told me that he never wanted to deal with that publisher again.
But year later I found it online, no problem. How many times I combed through books in hopes of finding a random copy.

Also the prices of many rare 20th Century novels have come down.

But of course I miss the old days, when there were many storefront used-&-rare bookshops in Manhattan. I can't even remember all their names. Few survive. I remember the Gryphon, the Pomander, the Jolly Roger, a shop whose name I can't remember on Jones Street, and various others. You could hang out, talk, learn things, meet people, including the occasional author. Of course there's still the ever-busy Strand. This tribe of shops was among the relics of an already vanishing literary scene. It wasn't the Internet that thinned those shops out, much less destroyed the lit scene. But it's made rare books easier to find, and, for all I know (I'm too out of the loop nowadays to know), it's helping the American lit scene come back to life. I can't imagine how else that would happen.

Thursday, April 27, 2006 8:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Lucy said...

I hadn't given it much thought, but I've noticed something else at Amazon.

Sometimes I put items in my cart and save them for later. To either think about, or wait until I have better cash flow, or just don't want to have to hide until the appropriate gift-giving time rolls around.

Anyway, now that you mentioned it, I've noticed that if I put an item in my cart and "save for later" and leave it there for a little while I'll get a notice that the price has gone down a few dollars. Hmmmm.

Friday, April 28, 2006 12:39:00 PM  

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