I Never Knew How Much I’d Miss Shopping in Person

I’ve come to hate everything about e-commerce.

online shopping

Online shopping became a lifeline during quarantine. Illustration by Christy Lundy

The small front hall of my Queen Village home has morphed into a full-on packing, shipping and receiving facility. (Jeff Bezos would be impressed.) On one side are the just-arrived boxes; on the other, items that are to be returned. Scissors and that God-awful packing tape that I always have to restart are nearby. Really, the only thing I’m missing is a brown uniform.

Online shopping was a luxury in pre-COVID times, but during and after the quarantine, it became a lifeline. Crafts for the bored kids, a new office chair for my aching back, medicine, running sneakers — even things as banal as paper towels landed on my stoop regularly. Safely.

But, man, I hate everything about e-commerce.

Shopping is an activity I’ve always enjoyed. It’s my pastime. There’s a real thrill to finding something I didn’t know I wanted or needed, be it a new potato chip flavor at Target or a warm winter hat at United By Blue. It’s colorful, stimulating and tactile. It’s creative. You can change the trajectory of your whole day with a new pair of butt-boosting pants. Landing a throw pillow in the perfect shade of pink or heels that are strappy and comfortable is an unrivaled micro-high. For my birthday, I always ask for the same thing: a few uninterrupted hours at the King of Prussia mall. For this busy working mom, the act of aimlessly browsing is as therapeutic as a deep-tissue massage.

My desire for new stuff is the one thing that didn’t get locked down last spring. Plus, entire seasons changed. I wanted a moisturizer with SPF, and sweat shorts instead of sweatpants; my daughters needed flip-flops. Just the idea of getting something new (even something as dumb as a reusable smoothie straw) was uplifting. But looking for this stuff online wasn’t. Combing through websites, selecting filters, loading pages — it all makes shopping completely transactional. You have to know exactly what you want. How boring.

What’s more, it’s a giant time suck. It can take me an hour to get a few new shirts when I have to read so many reviews about quality and sizing. And even then, I wind up returning more than 60 percent of what I buy online. Enter the Front Hall UPS facility and my version of the Process: searching through emails for order numbers, logging into accounts, printing labels, wrestling with the tape, dropping my return off at the right place. (I’ve brought USPS packages to UPS on more than one occasion.) Then there’s tracking the return and making sure my credit card gets refunded. (And don’t get me started on porch pirates.)

When it became clear the quarantine was going to be more than an asterisk, local shop owners rushed to put their inventories online. But for me, nothing can replace stepping into a boutique in Old City or Wayne where a sandalwood candle is lit, soft music is playing, and the promise of finding the perfect pair of jeans hangs in the air. An in-person purchase is so much more than just an article of clothing: It’s a memory of what you discovered, where, who you were with and how it made you feel. It’s an experience, no packing tape required. Eaves, Vagabond, Freedom Apothecary and everything in Suburban Square: Hold on. I’ll be back.

Published as “It’s In the Bag” in the October 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.