IN YEARS PAST, we've seen various troubles with the dot-com shopping world, and thousands (perhaps millions) of bleary-eyed web surfers ended up on Christmas Eve at the Toys-R-Them in a mad rush to fill orders that the dot-coms couldn't. E-retailers were fined by the Federal Trade Commission for failing to meet their delivery promises and learned a sober lesson that you just can't beat bricks-n-mortar for fulfilling tangible product orders. The whole world got a taste of the ambitious, money-hungry online world when they fail to live up to online vendors like Amazon.com (and a few others) who still put customer service ahead of their own profits.
Don't get me wrong -- nothing would please me more than to see thousands of shoppers rush into the Designers' Bookshelf clicking to buy books. Yet there seems to be something missing from the online commerce experience that you should not let the dot-coms take away from you.
Last night Carol and I enjoyed a rare dinner out. Afterwards we took a short stroll to the 'Books-A-Million'* store right next door. It was the first time I had been into a real bookstore in a long, long time! WOW! This little voice in the back of my head kept repeating over and over: "Gosh, this is much cooler than the web!"
The magazine section caught my eye -- occupying the entire rear wall of the huge store. There I found the most incredible collection of eye candy. For nearly an hour i soaked up the visual wonderland of ink and paper... the fashion department; home crafts; automotive; sci-fi; and computers. Wow! What a great place to thumb away some time feeling, seeing and exploring the tangible world of publications. I wondered what time they closed, but then she said "We've got to go."
Our exit path serpentined through racks and racks of luscious books... each with its own enticing promise of discovery and fun. I could spend hours in the sci-fi rack -- how would I ever read all those Star Trek books? We both drooled over the Caribbean islands "dream" department -- maybe this summer. We were awed by the new Beatles anthology display, complete with every record (CD) ever produced by the Beatles. (Quick, where's my Santa's list.) I became a candy-shop-kid in the classic cars section... T-Birds and Corvettes, Hummers and Rovers: the things dreams are made of. The humor rack sent me into a fit of uncontrollable laughter -- whoa, here's the new Dave Barry book. (Making a fool of myself, bellowing in amusement to the shock of nearby shoppers.) It was wonderful.
On the way out, the trendy coffee bar was just too inviting to pass up. A smiling, friendly cashier served steaming java of the day and accepted my card for the stack of books and magazines we had accumulated. It was like an hour vacation.
Arriving back at the car for the drive home, I found myself actually looking forward to the next visit to the store. Gosh... so many shelves and racks to cover -- it will take a lot of visits to look at all those books. But I think I'm up to the challenge.
Folks, do yourself a favor.
Take a little stroll and visit what ever local retailer fulfils your passion. If you're a creative like me, then never pass up a good magazine display. Get out there and soak in the delights of actually seeing, touching and feeling the merchandise. Even if you don't buy anything, you'll be better for it. Sure, you can have fun clicking into the iTunes store or Target.com... logging into ToysRUs.com or any of those other dot-coms beckoning from the TV screen.
But don't let the dot-coms lure you into ever thinking the online experience will fill your dreams... that computer screen (while a wonderful toy) never quite comes close the real thing.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS ... and thanks for reading
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Oh, by the way, I hate to disappoint you, but this article first appeared in 60-Second Window in as #126, in 2002. But the message holds true still today -- and yes, my wife and I still love visiting Books-A-Million as well as the other bookstores in town! Have fun.