Entry 116: Get Your Ass Offline

If every household in America was like ours, there would no longer be any retail stores, except possibly Lord & Taylor.*

That’s because we buy almost everything online.  Sometimes we even buy things we don’t want, just to prove that we can find and buy anything online.

I, personally, made my first online purchase in the late 80’s, almost before there was an online. The ad agency where I was creative director had as a client an outfit called Prodigy, which was sort of a precursor to AOL, except that it wasn’t an Internet Service Provider because there really was no Internet yet. It just kind of connected you to an assortment of individual sites: a bank, a couple of stores, stock market quotes, some advice columns.

So I made my first online purchase through Prodigy, mostly just to see if the thing worked, which it did, but only over a 1200 baud modem, which you had to buy separately, because computers didn’t come with modems in those days. Believe me, by the time you completed any type of transaction via 1200 baud modem, you could have walked to a store and back.

A few years later, I was probably one of Amazon’s first customers. In fact, one year Amazon actually sent me a coffee mug as a holiday gift to thank me for being a customer. (I even bought Amazon stock–at around $10–and was thrilled when I sold it at $20. I doubled my money! Yay.**)

All of this is to demonstrate how dedicated we are to online shopping. The reason I wanted to make this clear is to show you how unusual it is to encounter something that we’d prefer not to buy online.

You might think that would be something like a pet. Or maybe fresh seafood.  You’d be wrong. We have bought frogs online, and we have bought stone crab claws online. And let me tell you, stone crab claws are the most boring pets ever!***

What we’re reluctant to buy online is major furniture, particularly pieces on which our asses will be planted on a regular basis. But it’s becoming more and more difficult to do test-sittings these days.

For instance, I need a new office chair, because the one I have now has a defective pneumatic lift, and every time I get up, the seat sinks to its lowest point, so that when I sit down again I feel like I have shrunk, which is a very real fear at my age. For several days, I thought that my darling daughter Casey was sneaking into my office and pressing the lever, but it was happening even when she was not home, and I didn’t think she had the expertise to rig such a mechanism so that she could control it remotely, from work, via her iPhone.

Anyway, I did some research online, and I thought I might like the ErgoHuman chair from a company called Raynor. I went to their website, but there was no “RETAILERS NEAR YOU” button, so I called the company, and they gave me the name of the “Southern New England” sales rep, who I e-mailed, and who sent me the names of two retailers near me, and I went to them, and neither had the chair.

“But we can order it,” said the salesman in the first place.

“Let me show you their catalog,” said the salesman in the second place.

This is a furniture store affliction which we had encountered previously. Many stores believe that they don’t actually have to display merchandise; they can just show you pictures. This means, essentially, that their business model is to only serve people who don’t own a computer.

Listen up, furniture stores: I can look at pictures online. I can order online, and probably for less than you’re planning on charging. What I can’t do online is sit on the friggin’ chair, which is the only advantage a store has over a website. Why the hell would I go to a store just to order something? Because I want to get out of the house? Not only is it less convenient and more expensive, but I have to deal with a person.

And here I am, trying to see over my keyboard so I can type, and thinking I’m just going to have to order the same damn chair I have now, which is what I did the last time I needed a new chair.

Because at least I know it can hold my big ass.

See you soon.

*My wife loves Lord & Taylor, and there’s one nearby. Evidently they have a couponing/discount system that rivals the tax code in complexity, and is made even more intricate if you have an exclusive Black Card. She tried to explain it to me once, and I think they actually pay her to shop there.

**As of this writing, Amazon’s stock is over $200. Stupidly, I did exactly the same thing, at almost the same prices, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple. Bought around $10, sold around $20.  Big happiness all around. Today’s price: over $600. I’ve since altered my investing philosophy to eliminate the remorse of selling stocks way too early. I now buy only stocks that go straight down.

***Kidding. The frogs were the pets. Grow-a-Frogs™, purchased some 20 years ago and, to our knowledge, still living. We left them in our old house when we moved. And yes, we told the buyers we were going to. And, no, frogs don’t technically qualify as seafood.

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