You remember the feeling. Maybe it’s been a while, but you know what it’s like to walk into a climate-controlled space (that often smells good, too), find a nice item on a shelf, hold it in your hands, hand a clerk a few bucks, and walk out the door with that new thing in a bag. We don’t do that enough any more, and that’s a shame, because you know what? It’s fun to go to stores.
People have been talking about the death of brick-and-mortar retail for about as long as the internet’s been around. That conversation has largely reflected reality. America’s great shopping malls are dying in droves and online retailers sell so much stuff they’re building a new sort of private postal service to deliver all those goods to customers’ doorsteps. In recent years, however, we’ve seen a weird inversion. Internet-native companies like Amazon are actually opening brick-and mortar stores of their own.
One of the latest online businesses to do so is Casper. The mattress seller just announced that it would be opening 200 stores across North America. Casper “sees retail shops as a way to stand out from mounting competition for online shoppers,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Seems ironic! But it’s not ironic, because Casper finally figured out the truth. It’s fun to go to stores.
Think about it. When was the last time you wanted to buy, say, a mattress and thought to yourself, “I’d love to spend a ton of money on this new thing without ever seeing or touching it?” It might have been when you bought a Casper mattress after your favorite podcast told you they were great. Casper, for what it’s worth, promises free and easy returns, as do most major online retailers.
But if you’re really being honest with yourself, returning most things you buy online is a huge pain in the ass. You’ve got to find the right box, and then you’ve got to find a printer to print the return label. You might even have to drive to the post office and dump that unwanted online purchase back into the mail so it can travel hundreds of miles back to a warehouse, where I’ve always assumed it gets repackaged and shipped out to some other fool. Think of the carbon footprint, for heaven’s sake.
Why endure this drudgery when you can just go to a store, which is a fun thing to do? Imagine the joy of spending your day at the mall, walking from store to store and plopping your butt on as many mattresses as you want until you find the one that soothes your weary joints. A lot of these stores will deliver the mattress to your house and even set it up in your bedroom. This might cost a little bit more than the classic $1,000 Casper mattress, but you also get to interact with the object that you’ll spend a third of your life sleeping on for the next few years. You might also have a hard time finding an old-fashioned mattress store, since they all seem to be going out of business. But wouldn’t it be fun to go to the store?
Enjoying yourself in a house of commerce isn’t restricted to buying mattresses, of course. It’s also fun to go to the shoe stores, where you can sit on that weird little bench and wait for an apathetic but relatable clerk to bring you box after box of sneakers. They’ll even thread the laces through the holes and squeeze the front to see if your toe has enough room. Few things in life are more satisfying than stuffing your tired dogs into two brand new shoes, standing up, and saying, “I think I’ll wear them home.” And then doing it!
Contrast this with online shopping. You Google a brand you think you like, and you click through page after page of grainy images that might not even be photos of the shoes you’d buy. Once you find the right ones, you have to guess your size or even order two sizes, simply expecting to try them both out and send back whichever one you don’t like. Then you’ve got to wait what seems like eleven months for the package to get delivered. You might not like either pair of shoes, and then it’s off to the post office to wait in line while clutching one or several hastily packed boxes, which is not a fun thing to do.
The list of great reasons to go to stores really is endless. For some products, like shoes or mattresses or TVs, there’s simply no substitute to seeing it in real life. For other products, like pants or sheets or wigs, you really have to feel it to know it’s right. And we haven’t even talked about food products. Grocery stores are stores, too! Just think of that naughty satisfaction of sneaking a grape in the produce aisle or tasting a new flavor of hummus provided by a nice, aproned employee serving product samples. You can buy those grapes and that hummus, and you can eat it in the car on the way home. You should not, however, attempt to watch a newly purchased TV on the way home. That would be dangerous.
So if you’re sick of giving all your money to Jeff Bezos and sending ill-fitting slacks back to the warehouse, consider going to the store instead. There are still plenty of stores left. They sell all kinds of great things, often in comfortable settings that frequently feature chairs to sit in if you get tired of shopping. Really nice stores will have coffee shops nearby or even inside. Really nice stores, like the ones that require appointments to visit, will give you a free glass of wine. Drinking and shopping in public, by the way, is always preferable to drinking and shopping alone at home, in the dark, in front of your laptop.
But even without these frills, the real reason to shop in stores is because you deserve it. You deserve to see or touch or taste what you want to buy before you buy it. How else could you make a truly informed decision? And why not have a little fun in the process.