Though I can’t say that I’ve ever been a tremendous fan of Black Friday, i readily admit that i had my moments of being a shopaholic. I delighted not only in the shopping, but in the browsing and discovering, and in immersing myself in a sea of other shoppers.
Recently this delight seems to have evaporated into thin air – heading out to a store is a chore, and more often than not i just do a quick browse before i’m ready to leave. I didn’t even contemplate heading out on Black Friday.
Why? Don’t i like to shop anymore? Have i outgrown it? Is my budget taking the fun out of it?
For months i couldn’t figure it out. Then, last month I read Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail (a book, though that link is for the author’s website). I realized that it wasn’t that i stopped liking shopping, but that the Long Tail ruined shopping for me, and maybe for you too.
Let me try to explain.
Think back five or ten years ago. A shopping trip wasn’t necessarily a buying trip – it was a voyage of discovery. Especially on Black Friday. You might know about a few tentpole items from television commercials or word of mouth, but you needed to walk the aisles to learn about everything that had been unveiled for the season. And, you needed to hit multiple stores before you could find the best deals on items from your wishlist(s). Shopping was a necessity to achieve your buying goals goals.
If you’re the least bit internet savvy, today much of that discovery process can be conducted virtually. In-store deals aren’t all that attractive… getting to Walmart at 5am on Black Friday might score you a few door-buster deals on their loss-leaders, but any price that they can afford to slash in a physical store is sure to be equally slashed somewhere on the infinite internet since websites don’t have to pay for employees and shelf space.
Stores are disappointing to me not only because i do a lot of discovery and deal-finding ahead of time, but because I find myself distrustful in physical stores – i see an interesting new widget, but without at least 10 user reviews i can’t possibly know if it’s worth buying.
As a result I’m just not excited by a brick and mortar shopping trip anymore. Now that you are thinking about it you might agree.
Furthermore, as our tastes splinter into ever-more distinct niches (as abetted by vast info on the internet) a physical store is less and less likely to even have what we want. Guitar stores hardly ever have the brand, model, or color that i’m looking for. I’m sure knitters feel the same way – after knitting for years will a Yarn Emporium have all of the special brands, blends, and colors that you want for your project? If not, while not just order all of it on the internet for a bulk discount?
There are still reasons to shop physically. Two primary reasons are expertise and hands-on experience. That’s why it’s so hard to eliminate clothing stores from our physical routine – we need help finding our size and we need to try things on to find out what looks good.
Groceries are another excellent example – when you have an indeterminate goal the physical act of browsing often yields the best results. Unless you have a specific meal in mind, grocery shopping is about options and ideas. Shopping for home decor falls into the same category. Since i don’t travel much, preparing for a vacation also fits – I spent hours shopping for Bonnaroo, looking for little items that might increase my chances of survival.
Yet, even these experience are being intruded on by the internet, with similarity-searches and tagging making the virtual experience more and more like scanning a shelf.
The Long Tail is not just a matter of quantity of choices, but of quality of information. As I become more and more accustomed to both I find that I am unsatisfied by a trip through a big box store that carries only the most popular (not necessarily best) items. Every trip is a disappointment – i can never find exactly what i need for the price that i want.
Reading The Long Tail changed my perspective on a lot more than just shopping through the utter obviousness of its conclusions. I have some more to say about that – hopefully before NaBloPoMo has ended.