Category Archives: Shopping

Online shopping

Consumerism at my fingertips in my pajamas, mouhahaha.

Consumerism at my fingertips in my pajamas, mouhahaha.

My family were early adopters of the internet, thanks to my geeky father, who was a computer engineer at Hewlett Packard in the 1980s and 1990s. We had access to the internet in our house as early as 1993. And yes, for the record, we also had a Commodore 64 (which we used to play Paperboy, of course) and my earliest memories of using a computer meant STARTING MS DOS… C:\>_

I was also an early adopter of online commerce. As an enterprising cash-strapped teenager in the late 1990s, I used to make extra money for myself by selling on eBay all the random unused things from our closets, shelves, and attic… books, CDs, video games, and clothing. I must have made around $500 that way… a hefty sum when you’re 18 and yet to earn your own salary.

That was back in the day when eBay was still edgy and people were afraid of buying things online – they would nervously ask, “But is is secure to enter your credit card details on a website?”  Well, a lot has changed in the decade I spent living outside of the US. Nowadays online shopping is not only accepted, it’s the standard. And I’ve gotten sucked right into it.

Before I left the US (for the first time in 1999, and again at the start of 2005 after a one year stint in New York in 2004), I mostly sold things online, on eBay and Amazon and (which was bought out by eBay in 2000). Since returning to the US, I still sell things online, but now I also BUY things online. What things? Like, everything.

Not only have I gotten into online clothes shopping, but I also buy all of the most random stuff online. It all started when I needed an American-size three-ring binder to organize my American-size papers. I went to buy it at CVS and a 3″ binder cost $10.99. More than a tenner, just for a silly binder? No way.

So instead of buying it at CVS, I went home and looked it up on eBay, and realized I could order it for under $7, shipping included for free, delivered to my doorstep. Later, when I remembered that I also needed a hole punch and  a stapler, rather than go out to the store to buy them, I also ordered them on eBay, for a combined total of under $7.

During my period of initial excitement, which resulted in a flurry of low-value purchases, I did learn one important lesson: avoid ordering items from China. I ordered a stainless steel tea ball for brewing tea – for the grand sum of $0.95 – but it has a tendency to stick shut (I’ll need to replace it by buying a new one, which I’ll do online of course). I also ordered a beautiful flowing white satin dress from China, which turned out to be the crappiest, cheapest, worst fitting piece of sh** I have ever tried on in my entire life. So, I now limit my purchase to US-based sellers.

Long live online shopping! Now let me move over the to the next tab in my browser,…

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Filed under Consumerism, Shopping


Save $3 when you spend $5... magic.

Save $3 when you spend $5… magic.

Americans love to save. And what better way to save than to spend? Using coupons of course! I am in the process of moving into a new apartment (yes, you will see me at IKEA this weekend) and, as part of that move, I signed up for the USPS mail forwarding service.

I was very impressed that USPS (a) gave me the option to register online for my mail forwarding, (b) offered me the service for free, and (c) as an added bonus, emailed me a “mover’s welcome pack” of coupons to moving-relevant retailers such as Target, Pier 1, Verizon, and Budget rental. Sweet.

I giddily printed them all out, satisfyingly cut them along the dotted lines like a kid in arts and craft class, and proudly tucked them into the file-folder compartment of my wallet. It reminded me of my childhood, when I used to accompany my mother to the grocery store (good old “Super Stop & Shop”). She would inevitably have a chunk of coupons culled from that weeks’ flyer sheets, which always came nestled in the newspaper (that was also back in the day when we used to get a lot more post).

Nowadays of course most coupons don’t even require printing my CVS coupons are sent automatically to my CVS card, and most coupons are read directly from your smart phone. But Americans still love coupons as much as always. Coupons were invented in the US in the late 19th century (first pioneered by the Coca-Cola company) and 48% of American consumers today use coupons (a higher figure as compared to other countries in the survey).

So, let’s get spending! I mean, saving.

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Filed under Consumerism, Money, Shopping

Shopping malls

What, you mean this isn't your idea of a fun Saturday outing?

What, you mean this isn’t your idea of a fun Saturday outing?

I went to the mall on Saturday. It was a a whole production, a full day out. My friend, who has a car, drove us out of the city, along humdrum highways, out to the soulless suburbs that housed the sprawling outlet shopping mall. The occasion was: (a) tax-free shopping day in the state of Virginia, and (b) a dire need on both his part and mine for fall clothing (prior to the shopping trip, my wardrobe literally consisted entirely of dresses – I owned one pair of pants).

My day at the mall brought back memories. “Going to the mall” was an integral part of my suburban youth in Connecticut. In high school, teenagers would hang out at the mall on weekdays after school finished. On the weekends, I’d tag along with my Mom to the mall while she did her shopping. It was the thing you did. What else, after all, was there to do in the suburbs?

I forgot how overwhelming the mall can be. A throbbing mass of humanity slowly ebbs through the mall like blood through arteries, except the arteries are artificial tunnels lined with bright shiny distractions and broadcast with muzak, and the blood clots up around corners and on escalators. And the flow slows down for strollers and toddlers and a troop of teenagers and that wobbling obese person in too-tight jeans who struggles to walk from Auntie Anne’s pretzels to Bath &Body Works and is blocking your access to the exit when you really need to get out NOW! Okay, calm down and breathe…

And then there is the food court. The food court is the pumping heart of the shopping mall beast. All those suburban blue-jean blood cells fixed onto plastic swivel seats in between the greasy smell of heat-lamp Chinese noodles and the pepperoni pheromones of Sbarro’s fat triangle pizza by the slice and the sweet cinnamon scent of Cinnabon. My slow loop of the food court reveals a falafel sandwich as the only remotely healthy food item. And there I am, another blood cell, eating my falafel, chomping chomping chomping, before continuing my circuit of the tunnels of consumption, buying buying buying.

I now own six pairs of pants total.

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Filed under Clothing, Consumerism, Food, Shopping

I have to WAIT to pay?!

Last Sunday afternoon I made the grave error of going to a central shopping mall which is notorious for being a crowded cluster fuck. I had a grand total of four items and, when I saw the line of people snaking away from the “express” check out lane, I nearly dropped my items and walked out, filled with rage at the prospect that *I* would have to wait in line to *give* them *my* money.

I feel Americans harbor a unique indignity and resentment for queuing. Rather than being seen as an unavoidable fact of life that must be endured, waiting in line is tantamount to a violation of one’s rights as a consumer and a citizen. I find Americans are much more likely to complain about having to wait and are much less patient about doing so. In the land of customer service, the customer is king and should not be made to wait. Especially not for the bill or to make payment. Who is serving who here?!

The British, on the other hand, are master queuers. British people are in their natural state while waiting in a queue; they do it automatically and naturally. On more than one occasion when I was living in the UK, I saw a British person join a queue as a default behavior, even if they could have easily avoided queuing.

For example, there were usually two registers at a Boots drug store: the main check out area near the front, and then a secondary check out in the cosmetics or pharmacy section. I would routinely do my check out at the latter two, where there were few to no customers. Meanwhile, there would usually be a long line of people at the front check out.

The queue was not something you questioned.  You just got in it. And across the pond, Americans (such as myself) are suffering from queue rage. How dare you!

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Filed under Practicalities, Service, Shopping

SAVE NOW! Or not

Somehow I've managed to save more than I spent.

Somehow I’ve managed to save more than I spent.

I feel like every time I go into any store (and, actually, even when I don’t go into a store) I am bombarded with promotions about saving money. Macy’s Coupons, Deals, and Promos – SAVE NOW! Safeway: More Savings to Love. Washington Sports Club: Join Now and SAVE BIG! etc.

American retailers and consumers seem obsessed with saving. Oftentimes when you make a purchase, the receipt will even detail the discounts you received and contain a message saying “You saved $5.73!” or “TOTAL SAVED: $248.96.”

Except, the thing is, you didn’t save $248.96.

Rather, you actually just spent $154.96. Recall that saving is, after all, the exact opposite of spending. By going out and shopping, you are precisely not saving. If you had wanted to save your money, you shouldn’t have gone to Kohl’s and spent it.

Does nobody else realize this? Does this not bother anyone except me?

So, it seems what Americans love is not saving, but spending.  And rather than just admitting it, they like to fool themselves (or let themselves be fooled) that they are doing otherwise. You might as well offer someone two donuts for the price of one, tell them that they saved a dollar, and then when they eat both donuts, tell them they have lost weight.


Filed under Shopping

Walking on four wheels

Strip Mall

It’s a long walk to the cleaner’s.

I went home over the weekend to visit family and friends. We drove to the strip mall near the house. Actually, we could have walked, given that it is just less than one mile from the house. But, that was clearly out of the question. We were, after all, not carless.

We ate lunch in a sandwich place at one end of the strip mall and, after lunch, I fancied having an ice cream. The ice cream parlor is located at the other end of the strip mall. You can clearly see the ice cream place from the sandwich place. The strip mall is, after all, not much more than one tenth of a mile long (say, 500 feet).

So, we walked to the ice cream place. And by “walked,” I mean went went back to the car (which was parked right next to the sandwich shop), got in the car, drove to the other end of the strip mall, and re-parked the  car in front of the ice cream parlor. Because this is America, and that’s what you do. Why walk when you can drive? If you want exercise, just go to the gym, stupid.

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Filed under Shopping, Transport

Man versus machine

I went to the super market yesterday to pick up a couple of items on the way to meet a friend. Since I was in a rush, I wanted to check out as quickly as possible. When I got to the check out area, I saw that there was a line of 3 or 4 people queuing up next to the self check-out machines. Ugh, there’s Sunday at the supermarket for you. But wait. Immediately next to the lane of self check-out machines, there was another lane with a human cashier. And nobody waiting in that lane. (Except for the customer the cashier was serving at that very moment.)

And there’s me: confused. Not wishing to violate the queuing etiquette that is a cultural hallmark of developed nations, and not wanting to incite the wrath of the Sunday shopper, I politely asked the woman in the front of the line if she was waiting for the self check-out machines or the cashier. When she said the self check-out machines, I of course immediately proceeded to the cashier and was checked out by a friendly human being after approximately 30 seconds wait time.

What on earth just happened there? Am I missing something? I thought the whole point of self check-out machines was to speed up the check-out process. Doing the check out yourself – using those inevitably ill-designed machines (“Please remove item from the bagging area! Please remove item from the bagging area!”) – is an annoyance you have to endure if you don’t want to wait in line for the ease of having another person do the check-out for you. But here people were queuing to avoid contact with human beings. I don’t understand.

I had a conversation with my friend the other day who recommended his bank to me; when I told him that I would call them to open an account, he laughed and said, “Why don’t you just do it online?” Apparently in the ten-plus years that I have been gone from the US, American consumer society has evolved to the point that nearly all consumer purchases can be done online or by machine, and that has become the default.

I have nothing against automation or e-commerce; I do loads of shopping online, and if the internet or a machine can more efficiently or effectively serve me than a human, then I’m all for it. But I feel like things have become over-automated and over-engineered to the point of being nonsensical. When it requires MORE time and effort to do it the “high tech” way, what is the point?

I tried to call a restaurant the other day to make a reservation, and the woman who answered the phone said she was too busy to take my reservation (for real?!); she referred me to Open Table. I was at a friend’s place with a group of friends and we decided to order food for delivery; my friend spent about 20 minutes tapping away on her iPhone to enter our order. Apparently you don’t call Domino’s for pizza anymore; you order online for home delivery. When I was growing up, we’d just pick up the phone and call. Imagine that.

Even taxis, one of the most human-oriented services, have become automated. Rather than walking onto the street and hailing a cab, you use this service called “Uber.” OK, I get it that sometimes it’s tough to find a cab, especially in a big city on a Saturday night. But I have literally seen people standing in the bitter cold, on the side of the road, leaning into the window of a taxi and asking, “Are you the Uber I ordered?” And when the taxi driver said no, I hopped straight in. And I didn’t even have to take off my gloves to use my iPhone.


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Filed under Shopping, Technology