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Shopping in the Plague Year

by Nyssa

Online or Hands On?

It’s been a challenge, that’s for certain.

Empty shelves, closed stores, wonky supply lines. Just finding a simple necessity such as toilet paper or eggs became a treasure hunt and a matter of getting lucky.

Stay at home orders made finding things even more of an elusive target, especially for those in the higher age groups or in rural areas. All for our own safety, of course, but still adding to the difficulties and frustrations of many to just find the items needed to be at least moderately comfortable and fed during the long months of shutdowns and lockdowns.

But one doesn’t live by food and toilet paper alone. Over the months, other items became needed that aren’t found in the local grocery store or pharmacy.

After a year plus of doing without or making do, there are many things you’ve just got to replace, repair, or buy new.

Shop online the pundits say. It’s the way of the future, get with the program!

Ignoring that not everyone has a smartphone or a broadband connection, there are many things in use around the house every day that either aren’t readily available online, available only at extreme markups, or simply not viable to purchase online.

Just try to match a color correctly when you need a spool of thread or zipper to make a clothing repair. Due to the differences in computer monitors and photography, you might be able to make a close guess, but there’s no guarantee that what you get will match that jacket with a torn pocket or pair of shorts that has a broken zipper.

Even if you find something that will suit your repair project, you’re then faced with shipping charges and minimum orders. The vendor you’ve found might have the item, but when you need to buy another twenty-five dollars (or more) worth of other items to qualify for free shipping or pay even more to ship the one item than the item itself costs, that repair doesn’t look as cost effective as simply tossing the item into the ragbag and trying to find new a jacket or shorts, also online of course.

Then there are the problems with shopping sites’ poorly designed search capabilities. Looking for a pair of sweat pants? You know your size, the acceptable colors, and even the features you want, but too many search engines don’t allow for ease of trimming down that avalanche of hundreds of items to winnow out the features, styles, or even brands that you don’t want.

Slogging through page after page of items that don’t meet your criteria is both time-consuming and frustrating. If you’re searching for women’s sweat pants, why are these men’s and children’s items showing up in the list? And where are the ones with the pockets that were specified in the original search requirements?

Think back to about how long it took to flip through a rack or stack of sweat pants in the store. You could tell right away if they were the right size, type, color, and even whether they had pockets as you slid the hangers across the pole or looked through the stack. It took mere seconds to get the job done. Compare and contrast the amount of time that would have taken going through pages of items on multiple websites.

As a bonus you could even inspect the items you were considering for subjective features such as softness of fabric and quality of construction without having to take the chance of ordering an item only to find that the fabric felt like sandpaper or the seams were crooked or not firmly stitched. It was shopping heaven instead of ordering an item online and then needing to package up the poorly made item and then go through the hoops necessary for sending it back to an online store.

On the other hand, when my classic Hobart KitchenAid stand mixer stripped a worm gear when making cookies just before Christmas, I was very glad that online shopping was alive and well. There was no where locally even in non-plague times where I would have been able to find those repair parts.

The most annoying problem was having to use three different online vendors to acquire the gear, gasket, and food-safe grease to complete the job. Add in long delays as vendors waited for their suppliers to get their own stocks replenished before being able to ship the needed item to me.

It took a couple of months, most of which was spent waiting for backordered items, but my mixer is humming along again thanks to those online vendors finally being able to supply me with the correct OEM parts.

It’s no surprise that the best situation is being able to shop both in person and online. Some things are hard or even impossible to find in local stores, others are pretty standard and can be found both online and in retail stores, but for those other items that you need to see and feel in order to make a wise and informed buying choice, only in-person, in-store shopping will do. The convenience of getting the items immediately is also a plus for local, in-person shopping.

There is good reason to hope that both forms of shopping can survive and thrive once things return to normal. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

I had been putting off several repair and replace items over the long months, and it was a joy to be able to walk into a local hardware store last week and within only fifteen minutes, leave with items that solved three of my long-pending projects and problems.

I for one, will welcome the best of both shopping worlds, the sooner the better.

Do you have any shopping problems, nightmares, or even (and especially) success stories to share from the Days of Lockdown? Please share! Any feedback or comments on this or other topics on our website are always welcomed and appreciated.