Online shopping, while necessary, has become increasingly horrible
November 23, 2014
Shopping in New York City is infamous. People come from all over the world to check out the designers of Fifth Avenue and the knockoffs of Canal Street. But for someone living in New York City, shopping is more daunting than anything else.
Gone are the days of casually driving to the local mall to pick up a new dress or face lotion. Entire lunch breaks are spent hunting down nearby H&M and Sephora stores. If you decide to shop after work (God forbid), good luck getting home in time to catch any primetime television shows. And although convenient, the idea of going into Barneys, Bloomie's or Macy's in Midtown is cringe-worthy. The crowds, the inflated prices, the subway commute with an armload of bags -- no thank you.
Understandably, online shopping has long become a dear friend of mine. I have access to a world's worth of products, seemingly hassle-free. It's also a fun and easy way to pass downtime at work -- for some reason, perusing Amazon seems less criminal than Facebook on a slow work day. My credit card might disagree.
Lately, however, I'm having more and more issues with online shopping that are making me question if it's worth it. Anyone feel similarly?
Problem #1: I have no idea what size I am.
I hit my adolescent growth spurt earlier than most, while still in elementary school. For years I was one of the taller girls in my class, and for years I was embarrassed by clothes that didn't fit me well. Being gifted with long legs and arms meant a dresser full of flood jeans and sweaters sleeves that were severely stretched in desperate yet unsuccessful attempts to cover my wrists. My parents, tight for money, didn't want to fund a new wardrobe for fear that I'd instantly outgrow it. I was reigning president of the fifth grade's "Look at my weird socks while I walk" club.
Having had my jump start, I was completely done growing by the time I finished junior high. But, with two tall parents and my peers finally shooting past me in height, I had no way to know this was the case. Whenever new clothes were bought in my childhood, they were typically on the bigger side, so my brother and I could grow into them, thus lengthening their lifespan in our closets. I was taught that new clothes should also be loose (they would most certainly shrink!) and that new shoes should have enough space beyond your toes for an entire thumb to press down (sparing your toes from crunching when your feet inevitably grew). I unknowingly carried these habits into my teenage years, and would often be seen stumbling down the stairs in boots a half-size too big (spraining my ankle once), and using hair elastics to tighten non-cotton shirts that invariably never shrunk.
In wanting to encourage modest dressing, my mother also unintentionally sabotaged my perception of size. The trendy clothing to wear in the 2000's was almost exclusively form fitting and body hugging. Prior to developing womanly curves, I was most likely a size XS. However, deterred by the juniors department's "skanky" options, my mother convinced me to wear a size medium. I started shopping for myself and later that year, assuming I would continue to grow, began buying size large. Thankfully, my friends' bemused expressions in the changing rooms quickly pushed me back to the still-big-but-comfortable size medium.
Flash forward to present day: I've mentally (not yet physically, thank goodness) outgrown the juniors department, and most of my clothing purchases come from general women's stores. I primarily purchase size small (which I probably should have been doing all along), but have found it varies depending on store and designer. This point was hammered home during a recent trip to Ann Taylor Loft.
Though letter sizes are definitely ambiguous, I assumed number sizes were more concrete. I determined around age 18 that I was a size 4, and though my weight fluctuates every so often, a size 4 I have remained. In some stores I wear a 2, and in others I wear a 6, but there was never a drastic difference until I shopped at Loft. I had initially pulled several size 4 dresses to try on, and found them falling off my body like tenderized meat. I shrugged, returned to the floor, grabbed some 2's, and tried again. Still too big. I tried yet again with a size 0. It fit a lot better, but was still uncomfortably loose at the waist (my bust is large for the width of my torso, which occasionally makes shopping for bras/tops/dresses problematic). After nearly 30 minutes in and out of the dressing room, I finally found a size that fit well: double zero petite. I was somewhat flattered, but mostly flabbergasted. I'm small, but not THAT small. But I guess, at this specific store, I am.
I started mentally reviewing my wardrobe. How many fashion items that I've purchased online -- clothing, shoes, jewelry, etc. -- were just a little bit too loose or too tight in certain places? Nearly all of them. The safety (and perhaps naivety) I had previously felt shopping online with my respective sizes has flown out the window. I have become terrified of buying myself anything ready-to-wear, in case the sizing is off and I waste money on a piece that makes me look like Frumpelstiltskin. It's like the fifth grade all over again.
Problem #2: Shipping is flawed and expensive.
Amazon Prime is amazing yet dangerous. For an annual fee, I get unlimited free 2-day shipping (and also music and video streaming, which would be cool if I used it... but sadly I don't. #TeamNetflix). This perk often leads to me buying stuff I don't need, but with free 2-day shipping, who cares? Too bad NYC doesn't vibe with that.
My old apartment was part of a complex, with lobby mailroom and a nice indoor spot for packages to be dropped. I would get home from work and my goodies would be sitting by the elevator, waiting for me to squeal with delight and tear them apart upstairs. My current apartment has a front door, and that's about it. Unsurprisingly, mailmen don't drop many packages at our home. I learned this the hard way, and currently have a lonely book I ordered two months ago sitting at the post office (what is a "post office" again, guys?), waiting/hoping/praying for me to pick it up soon. Not knowing how/where/when to visit the post office, I've added "book retrieval" to my to-do list and have reverted to having my packages mailed to my office. This isn't usually an issue, except when it is.
I have an awesome coworker named Patrick who delivers the mail in our building. Patrick is friendly and kind, but not very discreet. The environment is relaxed and I don't order anything inappropriate, but there are some things I'd still prefer to be delivered privately. Example A: alcohol. I am of legal age and we occasionally drink in the office, but that doesn't mean I'm pleased to have my coworkers see an entire box delivered. I am significantly younger than many of those I work with, and I like to hold myself to a certain level of maturity. Booze is not in line with that. I was excited to sign up for the monthly wine program, Club W, but after having one package delivered to work, decided I would rather buy my bottles from the package store on my block.
But then there are times when, even with Prime's shipping guarantee and a ready and waiting office mailroom, my packages do not arrive. My office address is a little odd for Manhattan; it's a "Plaza" instead of a "Street" or "Avenue." Sometimes when I type it in online, websites prompt me, "Is this correct?" Yes, it is, and it's really not a hard address to find in person... unless you are the postman that was to deliver my most recent purchase.
Because we live in different states, I buy most of my family's gifts online. I had bought my mother's would-be Christmas present on Amazon, and anxiously awaited its guaranteed 2-day delivery. After about 10 days, I tracked the package and see what was causing the hold up. Apparently, my office address was declared "undeliverable" and my package was sent back. Amazon's policy was that I would receive a refund, and could repurchase the item if I so pleased. However, the gift was a limited edition item and not available for repurchase. I phoned Amazon. "You see, we only shipped it. It wasn't sold by us," they told me. "You have to contact the seller." I emailed the seller. "Amazon shipped it, it's their fault it didn't get to you," they told me. There was nothing either party could do. I got my refund, but is this why I'm paying for a Prime membership? To waste time and not get my products? Sigh.
Problem #3: Products are not as they seem.
This one seems obvious, but I never had a problem with it until recently. My first ever online purchase, a Britney Spears CD from eBay, was made with caution. I was nervous about sending ten of my hard-earned babysitting dollars into cyberspace, to receive an unknown item. When my CD arrived, there was a slight crack on the case, but the music seemed unharmed. Wow! What a novelty! This was pre-iTunes, but for what it's worth, I still buy CDs.
Now that online shopping is so commonplace, I've gotten lazy and trusting. In addition to clothing sizes being off, I've found that item descriptions, even from reputable sites, can be straight up misleading. Twice now, presents I have bought for my parents turned out to be significantly larger than I was expecting; to such a point where they are unusable. In college, I quickly found textbook descriptions to be laughable. My current roommate has been grabbing apartment furnishings from Craigslist, and a few weeks ago went through the trouble of bringing home a massive living room rug. Of course, it ended up being the wrong size. (It's now on our roof, so it kind of worked out. But still.) I consider myself a woman of faith, but to have faith in the internet is asking a little much.
I am starting to resent online shopping. I fill up my digital carts, only to leave them abandoned on the website, unwilling to commit to the uncertainty of their size, shape and delivery method. As the holidays are approaching, my hesitancy is proving inconvenient. How am I supposed to shop in New York City if online is becoming as stressful as in person? I suppose, for now, I won't. Black Friday is coming, and I will be in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. Time to drive my car to the mall.