I do a lot of shopping online and have for years. And it has spoiled me for the regular kind. Sort-of.
There is a lot of talk lately about buying local. Everyone wants us to shop the mom-and-pop stores. I'd love to. Really I would. I wish more of them would put their inventory online. I know, I know, that's expensive to implement and time-consuming to manage. But when I have money to spend but no time, I don't have time to browse through six shops of unknown goods. They might well have better options, better prices, and/or better customer service. I just don't have time to find out.
I'm not talking about just the convenience factor. Sure, it is a lot easier to sit in bed with a laptop at 11:30PM and browse toys than it is to find a babysitter so I can wander the aisles at Toys R Us without the kids in tow. And it is wonderful to spend five minutes on my phone ordering something while I'm watching the kids' soccer practice, and have it arrive on my doorstep two days later, without me setting foot in a retail store.
Don't get me wrong, I love brick-and-mortar stores. I love the sensory experiences and the way you can walk down an aisle and find things that weren't on your list. The sights, the smells. The tactile experience of feeling a fabric or hefting a box. There is a sense of quality and scale that is hard to convey through online shopping.
Online storefronts have far too much whitespace and far too much text for true browsing. Come on, folks, just put 3-d, rotatable images of items and pack them on virtual "shelves" on the screen, without all the miscellaneous text and buttons and such taking up the whole screen! I'm sure that's coming...some day...
One way that web shopping really works for me now is in the shopping cart. I can load up thousands of dollars worth of items into a shopping cart as I browse around a site, and then whittle my way down to $20 with just a few clicks before I actually checkout. Brick and Mortar stores get a little annoyed if you dump three tons of unwanted merchandise on the cashiers to put back away. So these days I find myself walking loops around the big box stores, putting items in my cart on one pass, and putting them back away on the next (assuming I can remember where they came from).
And I love that an online shopping cart always tells me exactly how much money I'm on the hook for as I shop. No last-minute math errors at the checkout there (occasionally there are shipping cost surprises though!).
I love that I can easily shop half a dozen stores at once. Open a tab for each website, load up six carts full of merchandise at once, compare shipping dates and total price, and I'm in business. Now, with my trusty smartphone, I'm getting that experience more and more while in a physical store, too. I can scan a barcode at Target and see how much it costs at Walmart, Amazon, ToysRUs, and Big Al's Toy Barn.
I get very annoyed at in-store-only deals these days. On the flip side, I like being able to look up on-line whether something I want is in-stock before I go loop-de-looping all over a store to find out for myself.
I have stood at an empty shelf and ordered myself the out-of-stock item from the store's website. Stores really ought to enable this a bit more by adding QR codes on shelves and/or in paper ads. Who needs a raincheck when you have a mobile-friendly website? Just don't make me download your special "store app". Providing basic WiFi for those of us who lose the phone's data signal in the back of the store would be nice too. Or maybe just build a touch-screen, camera-enabled device into your shopping carts (Immediate access to your website! Smart shopping cart! Two wishes in one!)
And somebody, please, make the full-color Sunday Ads easily findable and viewable on a phone-sized screen. I shouldn't need to kill trees, but online viewing of the ads involves lots of zooming and scrolling and tons of wasted space around the edges of screens (plus actively seeking out the proper ads on a dozen or more websites). If a process is too time consuming, people won't bother doing it. Online Sunday Ads are still well into that time-consuming stage for me.