Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The moral dilema of an online/offline shopaholic

Wow there really is a lot to do for Christmas, isn't there? No matter how much or how little time you dedicate to the cause, the preparations seem to expand to fill it. Then if you're anything like me, no matter how much or how little money you throw at it, the preparations seem to expand to fill your budget too, and then a bit more besides. And there's always those one or two little bits and pieces that you really need to buy before you can officially say you're done. I've so far been on about five separate expeditions to get "those last few things" and for some reason I'm still not finished, even though I inevitably come home with at least three plastic bags.

Thankfully I think I have actually finished the braving-the-shops portion of my shopping and am now just awaiting delivery of some things I bought online. They were apparently dispatched on 4th December though, so I am a little wary about where they might actually be at present; ten days seems a long time to get from Jersey to Belfast! I shall continue to assume that last week's snow is to blame for another few days and then get on the phone to ask where my carefully selected Christmas gifts be at, bitches.

I have to say, I have done a lot of my Christmas shopping online this year, which was much easier than traipsing round all the shops. However I do feel somewhat guilty about taking custom away from the shops in Belfast. I love that our wee city is growing up and has a lot of the "good" high street shops now, but I know that a lot of them won't stick around for long if people aren't spending their money there. If that happens we'll be left with lots of empty units on our main shopping streets, which looks awful for visitors and potential investors, and also gives you less choice when you do want to go shopping.

That being said there's just something so quick and easy about buying from the likes of Play, Amazon or eBay and it's pretty much one-stop shopping. An hour of browsing and hey presto you have gifts for about ten different people. It tends to be cheaper online too. I went on Amazon on my afternoon break a couple of weeks ago after an office discussion about favourite Christmas movies and ten minutes later, four Christmas DVDs were on their way to me for little over a tenner. Two days later and they'd arrived. No need walk around town, browsing in different shops for the best price, being elbowed or stamped on by rude people or standing in queues - they were just waiting for me on my doorstep when I got home.

Then again, it's nice to walk around the city centre, especially when it's all festively decorated, and have a look at things in real life. You might be able to buy colourful, chunky knit jumpers online but the experience doesn't quite compare to looking at them at the Continental Market, with the delicious smells of mulled cider, fudge and grilling meat in the air. You can browse the stocking fillers section of websites but it doesn't compare to the thrill of wandering through the shops and catching sight of that fun little thing that would be perfect for so-and-so. You can sit at home, nice and warm, on a comfy chair, merrily adding things to your virtual shopping basket, but there's something to be said for walking through the frosty streets, amidst the crowds, catching the refrains of various Christmas songs playing from the different shops, with the Christmas decorations lighting your way.

I think what I'm trying to say is that I like it both ways (trying so hard not to "that's what she said" myself right now). I like the thought that, all being well, when I get home tomorrow evening I might have some parcels waiting for me, which I didn't have to track down and then drag around town in plastic bags that might break at any moment and then manhandle them home on the bus. Yet on the other hand I had great fun yesterday evening, wandering around Cityside Mall looking for "those last few things", eyeing up the bargains and amusing myself looking at some of the more gaudy items for sale, then taking a breather to enjoy my book with an Americano in the café at Asda Living.

What I'm really looking forward to though is the January sales. Well, ok, in this day in age they're more December sales, since they seem to be creeping forward somewhat each year, but to me they shall nonetheless remain known as the January sales. I know that shops pretty much have sales all year round these days (summer sales, winter sales, end of season sales, refurbishment sales, warehouse sales, we're-not-making-enough-money-so-we're-hoping-you-buy-these-horrible-clothes-if-we-reduce-them-to-a-tenner sales...) but I like the January sales the best. It's not just that things are cheaper than the other mundane sales, or that there's more choice, but it's also the atmosphere: every shopaholic is out there looking for a bargain and won't rest until she (or he) finds at least one. Have you ever seen the queues for the Next sale on Boxing Day? People are standing in line from about 4am, I kid you not!

There are of course sales online too, and they really can be very good, but for me the January sales are all about the thrill of the chase. It might be harder work rifling through racks of unorganised clothing, hoping that there's something nice in your size for a reasonable price, than it is to simply filter the products on a website and look at each of the results one by one, but then excitement of the acquisition is somewhat diminished.

Plus when you're shopping in the sales in person you often come across things you didn't even know you wanted, whereas online it's very much a case of, "I need a new coat" … *click on 'Coats and Jackets'* … "oh look, coats". But what about that DVD boxset of that TV show you used to love and have forgotten all about? It's only £7! Or what about those black trousers that you would wear to work a lot? They're only £5! You just don't even think to look for them online but in town they're shouting out to you, "buy me, buy me, buy me!" As the Yorkshireman would no doubt agree, this is not always a good thing, especially when you have already overspent at Christmas and so should most definitely not be spending money on things you didn't even know you wanted, never mind needed. But then isn't that what the sales are all about? The shops get a little pick-me-up for their profits and we get to go home, pleased as punch with all the awesome things we've just procured?

I already have a mental list of places I want to shop in January. I'll probably only be able to budget about £50 for random spendsies (which means I'll no doubt end up spending closer to £80), but I can't wait to get bargain-hunting. I suppose that's why I don't feel that guilty about buying most of my Christmas presents online this year: the real shops are still managing to tease a little money out of me every time I head out to buy "those last few things" and they'll make even more off me when the sales start. Somehow I'm sure they'll get by until then. But if not, I hope they at least have the decency to hold a good closing down sale!

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