I've been pondering my love-hate relationship with retail. I think l've figured it out.
I like to browse. I'll happily wander around interesting stores with no fixed purpose in mind. Anthropologie is a good place to browse. They have a large stock of quirky clothing, accessories, and home goods, creatively displayed. The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming. They get new stock and change displays around a few times a week, so there is often new stuff to check out. And occasionally, I'll come across something perfect — so browsing can be very rewarding from time to time.
I hate to shop. Shopping to buy specific items is seldom fun. When I need, say, sandals or a swimsuit, I know I'm not likely to find anything close to the perfect item I have in mind. I tend to have a lot of requirements, especially for shoes. I'm also fussy, lazy, cheap, impatient, and I hate department stores. If I have be overwhelmed by choices, I'd rather deal with them on my laptop instead of traipsing from store to store, digging through rack after rack, hoping to find my size. I still try to shop in local stores from time to time, but I usually fail.
So I shop online when I need something (browsing is fun, too). I gravitate to just a few sites, where I trust the quality and the fit. I always wait for discounts and free shipping offers. I can often return things to local stores, like J. Crew, or just carry my box of returns to the UPS store on Newbury Street.
It's never stressful to go online, scan options at leisure, and pick sizes and colors by clicking a few keys. I prefer to try on things at home, when I'm in the mood. (And I'm not fooled by a store's "skinny" mirror.) At home, I can figure out how new items work with what's already in my closet. I wear prospective shoes around the house to see how miserable they make me.
Of course, things are seldom what they seem to be online. By sticking to a few stores, I can rule out a lot of surprises in terms of fit and quality, at least. Colors and textures are often radically different from how they seemed online. Returning stuff is a big part of the online shopping process. But I'm so picky that I return most of the things I've tried on and bought in stores, too. I'm always hanging on to sales receipts.
For me, the biggest problem with online shopping is that it puts me at the mercy of the delivery person (no job = no office mailroom to accept deliveries). In my neighborhood, UPS can arrive any time from mid morning to 7:30 pm. That means I'm trapped at home, often all day, because it's risky to leave boxes on the porch.
Even though I'm longing for the doorbell to ring, sometimes I miss it anyway. The other day, I was waiting for nine pairs of shoes from Zappos. By late afternoon, I was so bored that I decided to vacuum. It turns out our little Miele is noisier than the new doorbell, which I'd thought was jarringly loud. That meant another day at home waiting; fortunately, the delivery person appeared around noon. (Of those nine pairs of shoes, one is a potential keeper. A huge victory for my fussy feet. Update: all losers, after all.)
I now have a pile of swimsuits and tees to return to J. Crew. (I'm donating an even larger pile of elderly, too-short tees to Boomerang's.) Many J. Crew styles are only available online, so they often offer free shipping and other promotions. I tend to go bananas and order multiple colors and sizes. So I'll be shlepping the returns to the store today, although I have some nice keepers, too.
I've never found the shlepping-returns aspect of online shopping to be annoying. While it's simpler to shop online, it's also good to get into the actual stores once in awhile to check out the merch up close. More than once, I've gone in to return stuff, decided to do a little browsing, and found something perfect on the sale rack — someone else's online return. What goes around, comes around.