Is purchasing on Amazon instead of a local store destroying their home communities that goes beyond the transaction or is it just smart shopping?
Q: I saw something I liked in a store but bought it cheaper online. Is this wrong?
A: I have been on a long journey with this. My first instinct was no; comparison shopping is completely legitimate. Why are you, the individual of limited means, required to compensate for structural injustices that dedicate large retailers an advantage over small ones? Then I supposed, hang on. Consumer power is a mighty weapon, and we should all be shopping more wisely, buying less, paying more, and spreading the wealth around more evenly. Then I rang a friend of a friend, who used to run a small shop in London, and heard what it was like from her side. And in the middle of this, I bought two pairs of ballet shoes online.
I should say from the outset that I shop on Amazon all the time and never feel guilty. Their nappies are even cheaper than Costcos, and given the crippling cost of baby essentials, cheap in my household wins. But you cant buy ballet shoes for babies on Amazon because the likelihood is they wont fit.And so I did what you did, and what a lot of us do.
There is a fancy dance shop a couple streets from my house. It is run by one of the big dancewear companies, so while it is not part of a multinational corporation, neither is it a mama and pop store. It is simply a venerable, old brand vested in a brick-and-mortar outlet that stimulates customers who arent prima ballerinas feel uncomfortable while shopping there.
I ran in. I asked the sales assistant about their rebate policy. I marvelled at the dread still brings with it by the words ballet and tap and wished to know why I was sending my children to dance in the first place. Then I bought two pairs of ballet shoes, knowing full well I was going to take them home, try them on for sizing, then take them back and buy them somewhere cheaper online. In the store, the shoes were $20 apiece. That night I saw two pairs, box fresh and unworn, on eBay for a total of $15 including postage.
For a moment, I felt good about this. I had got one over on “the mens”. I had utilized the power of the internet to connect with individuals who were selling something I wanted to buy. All right, a $31 bn company got a piece of the action, but whatever. This wasnt like taking fund from a local bookstore and dedicating it to Jeff Bezos. It was a victimless crime. In fact why was I going to these lengths to justify myself? it wasnt international crimes at all. It was just good sense and smart housekeeping.
The next day, I returned the shoes. There is something heartbreaking about ballet slippers induced for a two-year-old. They are tiny, and soft, and vaguely pitiful, and involving them in this dopey con did not give me a sense of wellbeing. The sales assistant remembered me and cheerfully processed the refund, and while I tried to make capital of the fact that the woman behind me in the queue an elegant, blade-thin ballet teacher, by the appears of things gave me the once-over, as if scanning me for the detonator under my clothes, I could hardly blame the store for this and felt lousy by the time I strolled out. A week later, I still feel vaguely shabby about it.
Im not entirely sure why and call Ruth, a friends friend, who used to run a small eco-friendly store in north London. People would come in, she says, and ask her why it was more expensive than Tesco. It would drive me nuts. They would say I cant afford your eco-shop, when theyd just ridden up on a $2,000 bike. Theres such a focus on cheapness; everything has to be cheaper, and discounted and Im not talking about buying a loo roll online, Im talking about luxuries.
Ruth doesnt shop from Amazon and makes a phase about the narrow words in which most of us define value. This is true. I like having stores in my neighbourhood that arent chain pharmacies or Starbucks. I like the idea of a dance shop on the corner, with a dame who recollects me when I go in and who will measure my childrens feet if I drag them in too. For what amounts to a 20 quid change, I wasted her hour and contributed to the demise of something that makes life more livable. By having shops, says Ruth, you fulfill a function in your community that goes beyond the transaction. Youre facilitating community interaction. If everything moves online, we push out the various kinds of shops that create these interactions. Its death by 1,000 knives.
If I were stronger, or richer, or less lazy and inexpensive, I might apply the relevant principles to more of my shopping habits. As it is, making a distinction between essentials and luxuries, or between small stores and giants, or between a trivial price difference and gouging, seems like a good place to start. In provide answers to your topic, if it feels wrong, it probably is wrong.
If you would like advice from Emma Brockes on how to be a human online, send us a brief description of your concerns to human.online @theguardian. com