Removing ‘shop’ out of shopping?

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ONE of the great promises of the Internet was that we could buy absolutely anything for a much cheaper price from the comfort of our living rooms.

Many consumers are now communicating electronically which has led some social commentators to conclude that shopping as a leisure activity is on the wane.

After being celebrated by the media for over 50 years as the most enjoyable pastime, is shopping really going out of fashion?

It is certainly looking tattered around the edges, but preparing its requiem this early is ludicrous or to quote from a slogan emblazoned on a cushion from a certain global retail outlet “Anyone who is tired of shopping is shopping at the wrong place”.

Online buying is a vision of shopping Utopia that has proved to be a little on the optimistic side as Internet retailers also known as e-tailers find themselves stuck in the starting gates.

Without a doubt, they have made money but it is only a matter of time before these companies prove what we all know; that such a high level of service is unsustainable.

When shopping, the customer seeks a luxury experience where brands must transform themselves from manufacturers and purveyors of fine goods into top notch services that make every customer feel more pampered and unique.

Who can resist a trip into an emporium which is colourful warm and welcoming rather than functional and efficient?

A good smell greets the customers as they enter into a softly lit arbour with wares displayed like red grapes hanging from the branches and the sales assistants offer a false sense comradeship by being your back and call.

With concentrated attention, sales assistant stroke our fragile egos by complementing us on our “perfect” bodies and assure us that the size 20 outfit is actually a size 16 in “mall cut”.

Supermarkets have their own version of the arbour in that they deliberately create a maze in which the shoppers cannot find what they want without scrutinizing a great deal of what they do not want.

Retailers offer comforts such as club membership and royalty. The pecuniary rewards promised by such schemes are illusionary, but the illusion itself is cherished.

Shopping is a fundamentally optimistic experience. Those who do it are looking forward and embracing the new.

Whether one returns home with a “kill” which is an armful of carrier bags or nothing at all like tourist who would not dream of picking up a gun goes on hunting safari as a happy observer, the joy of the trip is unquenchable. It is about the bustle and the noise, the bright lights and the gleaming windows. The Dallas and Dynasty era propelled shopping to become number one in exciting leisure activities and women took to shopping like fish to water.

Shopping became the festival of the female oppressed impecunious old ladies would sign on for day trips to huge shopping centres where they could do fantasy shopping, while little girls who have even less money than old ladies learnt to shop by haunting boutiques to try on clothes when they should have been in school.

Over the years shopping has evolved into a social activity.

Women for example bond through clothes; many friendships have been formed while trying out clothes.

During their many forays into shop changing rooms strangers ask each other questions on issues such as whether bra straps are visible when trying out a particular dress or if one should choose a pair of trousers in this colour or that.

Psychologists have concluded that people who like shopping are friendly; it is those sitting at home who tend to be grumpy.

Any man who has accompanied a woman shopping feels like a surplus to the requirements.

Mostly he refuses to join in the experience by giving her the standard response that she should buy the dress if she wants it.
She then angles to woo him in the shopping process by asking her his opinion on the dress.

This is met with no response and she then turns her attention to the sales assistant who is on ready with a flattering opinion.

Women say shopping with a man over 35 years old can be a drag. You often spot these guys clogging up the entrances to changing rooms looking depressed.

They are likened to small children on long car journeys except instead of asking “Are we nearly there yet?”

They whine “What do you mean we have to go back to the first shop.”

That said, it is a bit of a myth that men hate shopping.

Younger men are keen shoppers and older men secretly like shopping too. It is just clothes shopping they hate.

Get them into a gadget shop and discover their peculiar male fascination with fishing rods, torches, braai forks etc.

Most men are only realizing now that when shopping, indecision is the name of the game. Indecision which maybe prolonged at will.

This explains why some large stores and shopping centers have coffee shops to facilitate the decision making process.

Admittedly shopping is not always an enjoyable experience. According to the 2001 research by Publics Advertising Agency, it was suggested that far from cheering people, shopping is a depressant.

However, the research is based on what has always been known about human nature. For example when you are having an obese day, it is not the best time to come face to face with a retail outlet’s changing room mirror.

Every pair of trousers that you cannot get over your thighs is another lunch bar you will end up eating later to console yourself for being such a lard bottom.

Of course if you do not understand this logic then you are definitely male.

Most people who go shopping when depressed always regret their purchases later (can anyone suggests a good support group for shopaholics?).

We are living in the experience economy and the customer is the star of the show.

The treatment of customers will have to be stellar from start to finish.

If consumers are spending their hard earned money on products, they want the whole experience to be a fairy tale.

Stores could and should do more to make shopping more fun, better staff, better changing rooms and a sizing system that does not make anyone over as size 16 feel like freak will be a start. Shopping will never really go out of fashion, it is the consumer’s primary economic function.

Most people have ceased making their own clothes and spend hugely increasing amounts on fashion and beauty.

They buy more food than they cook and vast quantities of compounds to make their already clean houses even cleaner. Let us be honest, even if you have just spent a chunk or hard earned cash on a foreign holiday you bought online, you are going to have to buy what to wear and accessories.

What better way to do this than to shop for these in an environment where you are complimented, admired and approved of by allies in the form of strangers and a sales assistant who keeps reassuring you that you are worth it?