Online Shopping: The New Humbug?

holiday shopping, toy store, mob
AP Photo
You probably know at least a couple of people who impress you — or more likely, annoy you — when they smugly announce in November each year that they have finished their holiday shopping. These days, there is a sub-group of these early bird shoppers: those who finish all their shopping weeks — or months — ahead of time and do it all online. I read about a woman who boasted that she did all her Christmas shopping on the day after Thanksgiving without ever leaving her home. To me, this is a dubious accomplishment. Why is it necessarily a good thing to spend the holiday shopping season without ever leaving your home? Is the current holiday slogan, "'Tis the season to avoid other people?"

Online holiday shopping can be a great convenience. If you definitely know what you want for that person who lives far away, and you want it wrapped and delivered, the internet is wonderful. And for people who aren't able to leave their homes, e-shopping is a blessing.

I'm just suggesting that for those who are capable of getting out there, they're missing out on something if they do all of their shopping from their computers. Don't you want to feel how soft that teddy bear is, or browse through that art book you're considering? Doesn't it make sense to actually smell that perfume you're buying instead of just clicking on a picture of it?

I know what some people consider the big negatives of holiday shopping, especially last minute shopping: It's hard to find a place to park. Stores are crowded, and they may no longer have that thing in stock that you've been buying "in your head" for months.

But these things aren't necessarily negatives. What a great sense of accomplishment I get after people tell me that I'll never find a place to park two days before Christmas when a big parking space opens up just as I pull in front of the store. And as for those stressed-out shopping crowds, try thinking of them as a community with a "we're all in this together" attitude. Complaining to each other about shopping is certainly within the concept of holiday sharing. And if the store is out of what you had planned on buying, isn't it a great feeling when you discover something else that's even better?

OK, maybe you think I'm being ridiculously naïve. You're not the kind of person who could ever see other shoppers as a "community;" rather, you feel they are the hated enemy that's keeping you from buying what you want, getting out of the store, and getting home to put your feet up. I still think it's important that you at least experience holiday shopping in person. Even if it's just for a little bit. Even if it puts you in a bad mood. Honk at that car that stole your parking space. Yell at that person who cut in front of you in line. And angrily insist on seeing the manager if a salesperson has been rude to you. But interact with real people at this time of year! I kind of think that's what we're supposed to do during this season.

When I was a kid, my parents would take us downtown to see all the decorations. We would watch those magical displays in the windows until we got cold enough to need hot chocolate. It was a nice tradition. Today, public decorations are even more inclusive, since more and more often, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are represented. To hear some of the rigid Christmas-only-ites tell it, so many holidays and groups are represented, that they are making it hard to see the downtown Christmas trees. So, you'd think that this tradition would be flourishing.

But I'm afraid it will die out. That's why I think people should put up with the inconvenience of old-fashioned shopping, even if it's just for one outing. If not, traditions like taking kids to see decorations, or listening to carolers, or running into people while shopping whom you haven't seen for years will be as outdated as, well, as a black-and-white computer monitor.

I can imagine in the not-too-distant future a family having a "tradition" like this: Everybody will be in their holiday pajamas when the parents call out: "Come on kids, gather around. It's that magical time of year again. Let's do what we always do, and look at that Web site that has the animated Santa, juggling a screwdriver set."

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Home Improvement" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them purchased in stores.

By Lloyd Garver