Al Gore, you’re my hero!

I’ve never cared for shopping — actual drive-to-a-store-and-walk-around shopping. I especially dread shopping with other people, because they want to look at things I have no interest in. They also like to linger, whereas I prefer to speed-shop.

Let me explain: When I shop, I’m on a quest for something specific. It could be a top or skirt, a pair of shoes, a handbag — whatever it is, when I find it, I will have one more piece of the puzzle that is the outfit I’ve mentally sketched.

My objective upon entering any store is to determine as quickly as possible whether or not they have the piece I need. If they don’t, I want to exit as quickly as possible so as to avoid encountering a sales associate. (Since I probably have only a vague image in my mind of what it is that I’m searching for, I have no way of articulating it to a salesperson. But once I open my mouth, I will have locked myself into a fruitless exchange with someone whose only real goal is to sell me something, whether it’s what I’m looking for or not. In the mean time, some other shopper could be in another store, buying the last remaining whatever-it-is on earth! Seconds count in this game!)Photo of pink ombre pumps by Prada

I’m not always successful at avoiding salespeople, though. The ones who are onto my strategy will quietly sidle up to me when I’m looking at something, and I won’t know they’re there until I hear:

“Can I help you find something?”

“Crap!” I think to myself. Then I give my stock, “No thanks, I’m just looking,” and make my escape.

I don’t always get myself out of it. The perfect storm consists of me having a clear shopping target, and the sales associate catching me when I’m exhausted from having just asked 30 of her brethren to leave me alone.

In my early shopping years, I was especially vulnerable to this type of attack. The first time it happened, I was shopping for clothes before going away to college. I had recently picked up a couple of outfits that were screaming for a pair of electric-blue flats. I covered the closest mall — Woodfield in Schaumburg — and felt pretty confident there were no such shoes to be found in the greater Chicagoland area. But I remembered another shoe store that was on my way home, and stopped.

I walked in, and before the clerk could finish asking me if there was anything he could help me find, I had already completed my visual sweep of the store. No electric-blue flats in sight.

I gave him a polite “No,” but he persisted.

“I’ve looked, and you guys don’t have what I’m looking for,” I replied, turning to leave.

“We might,” he said, giving me a glimmer of false hope as he explained they had more inventory in the back.

So I described the shoes I wanted, and told him my size.

“Let me check.”

I waited. And I will admit that, as the guy came out of that back room holding a couple of shoe boxes, I started to think I’d misjudged the situation.

I didn’t get very far with that thought, though. I don’t remember what was in those boxes, but it wasn’t electric-blue flats. Not even close. Dude tried his best to convince me they were, but since I’m neither an idiot nor colorblind, he was unsuccessful.

It only takes a couple of whirls around this dance floor to learn it’s best not to talk to salespeople. Man, before the Internet, when I had to go out and shop, I could cover an entire mall in less than 15 minutes. (I actually timed myself once. Full disclosure: It wasn’t Woodfield.)

Image of a fabric store.

The stuff of nightmares.

At this point in my post, the reason I hate shopping with other people should be obvious. Most people don’t shop like it’s a Navy SEAL operation. For them, shopping is a leisurely activity. Whereas, for me, the idea of being trapped with someone who wants to browse through e v e r y   r a c k   o f   c l o t h i n g  is pure agony. That’s the kind of shopping that gives me flashbacks to torturous childhood trips to the fabric store with my mother.

Needless to say, I was an early adopter of online shopping. I have been buying everything I can online since the late ’90s. I love that I can cover far more ground in 10 minutes online than I ever could in real life, because I can look for things in other countries. No decent shoes or dresses in the U.S.? No problem! On to the UK websites.

A few years ago, it struck me that, pre-Internet, I was “search shopping” at malls and stores all along, looking for one very specific item based on a string of search terms. While that kind of shopping doesn’t yield good results in the real world, the Internet was made for it.

And now that the Internet has caught up with my method of shopping, I can actually find the things I’m looking for! That never happened at a mall. If a shopping trip didn’t end in a complete bust, it was only because I compromised.

Online shopping is not without its frustrations, though. One search for a black sweater led me to this item on the Express website:

Image of a sheer top, labeled as a sweater.

It’s labeled “Cropped Sheer Stripe Sweater.” Express: I hate to be the one to break it to you, but THIS IS NOT A SWEATER. (And that should be “Striped,” btw.)

[I’m digressing here, but this whole post is a digression, so what the hell: There’s something fundamentally wrong with the concept of cropped sweaters. If it’s cold enough for a sweater, and your navel is exposed, you’re going to freeze. If it’s warm enough for a bare midriff, you’re going to want to cut the sleeves off within an hour. End digression.]

The length of the “sweater” is only one-third of the problem. This particular garment is also sheer. And sleeveless. Sure, it would be a fun little top to wear out for cocktails on a summer evening. But a sweater, it is not.

Wading through bad search results like this is par for the course, and only one of the inherent frustrations of online shopping. The only remedy I see for this problem is more accurate product description, which doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.

Aside: If every retailer were to hire me to write their product descriptions, this problem would go the way of smallpox.

Even more frustrating to me than not finding what I’m looking for, is finding exactly what I’m looking for, only to discover it’s from another season and no longer available. It happens all the time, and largely because of blog posts. Three years from now, someone will go to a search engine, key in “women’s sheer black cropped sweater,” and land on this post. She’ll fall in love with the image above, think, “My search is over! This is IT!” and be completely ecstatic . . . until she goes to the Express site and finds out the top is no longer in existence.

Do I feel bad about it? A little. But it’s happened to me countless times with housewares, makeup, furniture, antiques, purses. I’ll chalk this one up to karma.

Photo of a vintage orange Preway-brand freestanding fireplace.

Even more heinous are the entire evil blogs that are nothing more than venues for their authors to brag about the cool antiques they just scored through Craigslist, or at a local estate sale.

You know, Bloggy Bloggerson, I’m happy you found a blemish-free vintage orange Preway cone fireplace for $500. But if you’re not interested in selling it to me, kindly stop tormenting me with it!

(In looking for an image of just such a fireplace for this post, I found an example of yet another form of online-shopper torture: The “local-pickup only” auction listing. Can anyone explain what something this awesome is doing in Nebraska?! And why do the people squirreling away all the cool stuff hate shipping things so much?)

Despite these pet peeves, I adore online shopping. I’ve found some great things online; stuff I’d never have been able to acquire through traditional means.

I still believe in supporting local businesses, though. So, if you’re a local store and you have one of these fireplaces, contact me immediately. I’ll be right there. And please don’t sell it to anyone else in the mean time!

Ooh — and when I get home, I can write a post about it to torment others for all eternity. 🙂

Image of Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller.