My Offline Christmas Shopping Experience

With a week to go, this Christmas has already proven to be different from others.

Not just because I’m gearing up for a 24-hour drive to the Midwest. Not because I don’t have a Christmas tree. Not because I haven’t baked one Christmas cookie. (Seriously, who have I become?)

This Christmas feels especially different because I’ve only bought one gift on Amazon.

Why I Chose to Avoid Online Shopping This Year

It had started out like any other holiday season. I had been checking my email incessantly for deals starting Thanksgiving night. I stalked Amazon the whole Black Friday weekend, watching the price on a pair of wireless headphones for Kyle, hoping I’d catch a sweet deal. When Cyber Monday came, I was prepared to go Amazon crazy.

Instead, I started the day with a podcast that changed everything.

The New York Times Daily podcast episode, titled “The Human Toll of Instant Delivery,” was timed perfectly to crush the hopes and dreams of cyber shoppers who tuned in, but I’m glad it did. It opened my eyes to what goes on behind online shopping at some of these huge companies, to what other people go through to make my buying experiences as convenient and effortless as possible.

A warehouse employee named Tasha Murrell shared her experience on the episode. Here’s what I learned on my way to work that morning (warning: this story is not very warm or Christmas-y):

The story of a fall day in a Memphis warehouse for a major company (the company is named in the episode if you’re curious):

  • A woman who felt sick asked to go home and was told by her supervisor it would be an unauthorized absence.
  • The woman died that morning on the floor of the distribution center.
  • The supervisor instructed that no one was to stop working.
  • The woman’s body remained there for hours while people continued to work and hustle around her.

That was just the opening of the episode.

Murrell went on to tell about working conditions for pregnant women, supervisors who didn’t honor doctors’ notes, and a mysterious string of miscarriages among five women within a few months, all who had the same supervisor.

The hours are long, the wages are low, the work is physically taxing.

In some areas of the country, working at those distribution centers is the best job around for people without a degree who are raising families. It’s their only option.

I didn’t think again about buying those dang headphones on Amazon. 

It wasn’t even tempting to browse Amazon the rest of the day. No, this story wasn’t based on Amazon’s business, but it got me thinking about major online stores in general and what people go through to get me my Prime delivery within 2 days, whether I need it that quickly or not.

That day I decided I did not want to contribute to the added stress that distribution and delivery workers everywhere undoubtedly feel to get people their holiday gifts on time. I was going to buy all my Christmas gifts “the old-fashioned way.”

Offline Shopping: Reward and Inconvenience

Here are my takeaways from spending three full Saturdays shopping around Phoenix instead of 30 minutes pressing “add to cart”:

  • Before driving 30 minutes to a busy shopping mall, it’s important to double and triple check that the store you’re planning to go to is actually at that mall.
  • Stores are huge! Next time, I would browse the store’s website ahead of time to see if they have what you need. You may be able to place the order through their website and have it ready for pickup to avoid lost hours searching. Plus, you may be able to see online if they even have it in store. (Highly recommend!)
  • Outdoor malls are the way to go. Don’t even step foot in an indoor mall around the holidays (sorry non-Arizona readers, I know shopping online sounds WAY better than going out into the cold and then spending a day trapped in an indoor jungle of holiday shoppers).
  • Damn, online shopping is so convenient.

Things I Loved About Shopping in Person

  • The rewarding feeling of finding the item you’re looking for and coming home with it.
  • Nice interactions with cashiers.
  • Gift wrappers! Every Barnes and Noble I went to had dog adoption agency booths set up outside with human gift wrappers and adorable dogs. I got to pet golden retrievers while lovely people wrapped my gifts! (Reminder: Carry cash for donations set up at the shops!)
  • Seeing Christmas decorations: Shopping plazas are always decked out in holiday spirit.
  • Saying hello to the UPS driver knowing that I personally wasn’t adding stress to his day. He didn’t know that, but I did and it felt good!

In middle of my feel-good mission, we heard a knock at our door late on a weeknight. There was a single Amazon package left on the mat.

My automated 3-month recurring mascara shipment.

Dang, I thought I was doing something good! And here I may have had people scrambling to get me a single tube of mascara on time, an automation I set up to conveniently get me to swap out mascaras every three months.

Along with my automated mascara, I did end up ordering one Christmas gift through Amazon. After a defeating shoe-shopping experience, I surrendered to convenience.

What now?

Soon we’ll be able to click a button and the item will probably poof right out of our phones. But the more convenient online shopping becomes, the more likely we are to lose any sense of connection with people. We risk losing gratitude for the work needed to bring this product to life. We lose an opportunity to invest in where we live.

The positive of ordering online from big companies? We get to sit at home in our pj’s and drink coffee. I totally get it – this is one of my favorite things to do.

Online shopping is insanely convenient, and I know I’ll order from Amazon again. Some things you really can only find on that site – they have EVERYTHING.

But if I can help it, I’ll make more of an effort about shopping local. I’ll think twice about hitting the one-click purchase button that makes it all too easy for me and about 10 times as hard for however many people in the distribution process.

And I’ll wear my pj’s and grab a coffee while I’m out. 😉

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