When the whole online world goes to pots
I bought an expensive saucepan last Saturday night.
I didn't actually know I needed a new saucepan until I checked my emails just before bedtime. Along with a couple of notes from friends, there was a super-deal on Scanpans, one of my favourite cookware brands. The accompanying blurb hooked me, asking whether one's existing saucepans were past their best, "battered and bruised, with wobbly handles", or words to that effect.
A couple of my saucepans fit this description. They were a birthday present from my in-laws more than 30 years ago, and they've done a lot of simmering, steaming and the occasional singeing in their time.
Until last Saturday night, they were still doing OK, but viewed in the comfort of a warm home, the new model looked wonderful. Better still, it was half price.
"H'm," I thought, as I gazed at the sleek pot on the screen before me, "maybe I need to update".
Next minute, I was reaching for my credit card, and a shiny new piece of hardware is now on its way to our address. No need to search it out in town, lug it to the car. It will be delivered to the doorstep. How convenient.
If it seems a bit tragic to be buying a saucepan on a Saturday night, I am clearly not alone in committing random acts of shopping at odd times.
Online sales have become deeply embedded in the New Zealand retail experience. A new Nielsen survey reports the number of online shoppers has doubled since 2004 as broadband speeds have increased. About half the population aged over 18 bought products and services over the internet last year, and online shoppers also increased the extent of their purchases.
Travel was the most popular item, followed by shoes, clothes and accessories, magazines and books, and entertainment tickets.
The survey showed increasing numbers of internet shoppers are being drawn to overseas retailers, finding stuff cheaper and more quickly offshore than they can get it from local stores.
Online shopping has drawn me in slowly. It started with a few good deals on wine, then books, travel, accommodation and occasionally clothes, but never anything as daring as one of my colleagues who buys all her shoes on the internet.
A few weeks ago, she had a courier box delivered to her desk, and slit it open to reveal a stunning pair of red boots ordered from an American website. She popped them on, pronounced them a perfect fit and wore them for the rest of the day with no sign of blisters.
I can hardly be trusted to find shoes in a retail store that fit properly, so the online purchase of footwear seems like it has even more potential for mistakes.
And that – the potential for mistakes – is one of the downsides of internet shopping. If you're buying clothes, for example, you can't feel the fabric, check the quality of construction or be sure of the perfect fit. When the item arrives, and it's not quite right, you're often tempted to say, "Near enough is good enough", because it's a hassle to repack and replace.
Which is why I have quite a few garments I have bought online and have worn only a couple of times, kicking myself that I didn't immediately bundle them up to be returned.
It's the same with wine. You can't try before you buy, and sometimes on case deals you can be stuck with a lot of underwhelming wine. I once bought a Christmas cake on the internet that looked divine but tasted of rancid nuts. I'd been too busy to make my own, and I was too busy to send the shocker back.
I've also become wary of the impulsiveness that is inclined to overtake me at the computer: tapping in a credit-card number and pushing "send" seems far easier than actually handing over the plastic or the cash to a retail store staff member. It's as if you're playing at shopping, until the goods and the bank statement arrive.
I also worry about the knock-on effect of online shopping (and the off-shore websites) on local retailers and New Zealand manufacturers who are already dealing with the challenge of tight economic times.
While I like the convenience of shopping on Saturday night if I want to, I would never abandon the face-to-face contact with High Street stores.
I don't think anything beats engaging with knowledgeable staff and experiencing good service.
Like the man at Heathcotes in Hamilton recently who showed me a few finer points on printing photographs that I had not worked out myself.
The amount I paid for my prints was minuscule compared with the friendly service I received.
So all things in moderation, I reckon, online shopping and shiny saucepans included.