Attention, shoppers: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Yuletide’s arrival is heralded by those seasonal perfume ads with their arcane messaging and enigmatic settings.
Notably, Chanel’s “Gabrielle” television damsel in distress rips to freedom from a warehouse full of tangled medical gauze only to dash through fireworks, crashing into a wall of glass blocks. Then Natalie Portman as Miss Dior flees from her villa after a lovers’ quarrel. She jumps off a Malibu pier, dances ’neath the Eifel Tower and spins donuts on the beach in a pink Jaguar roadster. Wait — a pink car? Is she Miss Dior or a Mary Kay regional director?
Likewise, current-day Aqua Velva men venture out. That Davidoff Cool Water fellow still recklessly cliff-dives in blue jeans. And the Azarro “Wanted” cologne gent, having stepped outside in a scuffle over a femme fatale no doubt, sports a skinny little Steri-Strip bandage across his right eyebrow. What a wimpy badge of courage compared to the 1950s Hathaway shirt man’s full eyepatch.
But at least these fashion house folks are actually leaving the house this Christmas shopping season, perhaps to peruse Saville Row woolens or sample marrons glacés at a Megève confiserie. The rest of us, bleary-eyed in robes and pajamas, are indoors, pointing and clicking for online deals and, most importantly, free shipping.
Online shopping’s stratospheric growth rates near no end it seems, increasing like that of Walmart grand openings in the 1980s. Coming from the vantage point of living in Bentonville, Arkansas, brick-and-mortar retail capital of the universe, I posit to distant friends that as this phenomenon continues there will someday be, with few exceptions like feed stores, bodegas, dollar stores and lumberyards, only two retailers — Walmart and Amazon.
I have shopped online off and on for several years. Thank goodness for the option. Otherwise I doubt I’d have found quarter-window gaskets for my old convertible or parts for a broken Kodak Carousel projector. A retailer stocking such low-turnover, specialized accoutrements in a traditional store setting would be insane.
But now online retailing is indeed insane with all that free shipping. It’s crazy to have ordinary commodities as pet food and paper towels delivered to your front door. The carbon footprints in such transactions have to be size 13-EEE compared to the traditional manufacturer-truckloads-to-retail distribution-center logistics popularized by Sam Walton decades ago and fine-tuned by every chain retailer ever since. Someday this free-shipping piper must be paid — by consumers. Kudos to Walmart.com for tilting in that direction recently with two-tier pricing, the lower for pick-up at the store, the higher for placement on your welcome mat.
Months ago, as Walmart was acquiring Jet.com, I became curious about ordering pantry staples online when the same goods were readily available at a store nearby. Giving it a go, I clicked my free-shipping cart to capacity: spaghetti sauce, dog treats, organic crushed tomatoes, laundry detergent, bathroom tissue and more.
I’m not a climate-change denier; neither am I Al Gore. Yet when my purple and brown Jet.com carton arrived I was appalled at the eco-unfriendliness inside. Everything was covered in shrink- and bubble-wrap of varying degrees, even the eight-pack of canned tomatoes. Is an octet of tightly-grouped steel containers not protection enough? The Tide liquid detergent was in a sealed sack to prevent leakage, understandably, but shrink-wrapped again for good measure. Even the toilet paper was separately wrapped! Old TV grocer Mr. Whipple would approve. No way was this Charmin to be squeezed.
There is irony here. Youngish, college-educated generations whose market segment drives this inefficient, in my opinion, online explosion are often the same people who have fretted over polar bears and greenhouse gases and decried the death of Main Street thanks to Sam Walton. And they shop at Target, thinking somehow this distances them from the fray, elevating them above the great unwashed across the road at Walmart. Truth is we’re all shopping at dime stores of one stripe or another.
I never bought that Walmart as Grim Reaper premise; there’s more to it than just one retailer with big parking lots. But if indeed independent Mom-and-Pops of last century were driven out of business by Sam Walton, then trending-upward shoppers and Jeff Bezos of today are burying their retail successors in an Amazon shipping carton — made of recycled corrugate, one hopes.
My Christmas wish, dear readers, is that you get out and shop traditional. Interact with fellow shoppers and shopkeepers, whether boutique or big box, instead of clicking on a chat box. This reminds me. I need to gift myself since my 1970s-era Paco Rabanne designer after-shave is running low. That means an excursion to the Dillard’s cosmetics department where I will shamelessly feign bewilderment while female consultants fawn over me, a rare male visitor to their glistening counters: positive proof a man can get a little female attention without risking injury to an eye.