I have witnessed 20-somethings partake in holiday shopping while simultaneously pouring syrup on waffles, brushing their teeth or petting the dog.
I’m in awe.
Milennials usually buy stuff while wearing pajamas: One hand is engaged in the physical world, like coaxing that bottle of sweet Vermont liquid onto a fluffy Belgian square. The other hand hovers over a cartoony shopping cart beaming from a cell-phone screen.
Without hesitation, a thumb gently touches the words “place order” and — boom! — another gift is crossed off the list. Just like that.
I’ve heard rumblings on the news that this is the year holiday online sales are expected to crush in-person shopping. I believe it. I’m seeing it happen in my own family, especially with my firstborn and his fiancée. They are both freshly minted, gainfully employed college grads. (An early Christmas gift for all parents involved.)
I have asked these two if they ever step into actual stores this time of year.
“Nope,” they say, as they nail a wool sock sale — click. “Never.”
They are smarter than me in so many ways. I can’t seem to let go of the frustrating, time-sucking brick-and-mortar experience. I’ve been conditioned to think the right way to do the gifting thing is to check my teeth for parsley, hop in the car, fight for a parking spot and walk into a physical building vibrating with endless loops of that Mariah Carey earworm.
It’s a reflex to personally visit retailers and fully experience all the dizziness at a fraction of the accomplishment, but there’s payoff in the three-dimensional moments that cannot happen in pixels.
The festive atmosphere, the frenzy, the stumbling upon cute things that never spackle one’s algorithmic Facebook feed. Tunnel vision is impossible in an in-person retail situation. There’s information overload, the thrill of the hunt and, of course, the delicious eavesdropping.
Overhearing stuff is the third best part of full-body shopping, right after feeling nicely folded cashmere scarves and downing sample cocoa shots in the tiny paper cups at Williams Sonoma.
My favorite overheard line from years ago occurred in a Macy’s when a cranky woman with a raspy voice said to her shopping pal: “Fred needs a tie rack.” Mundane, yes, yet somehow golden, because there’s no other time of year you’ll hear about this Fred guy and his dire wardrobe situation.
It’s heartwarming to know there are Freds out there who are loved — and who will now have organized ties.
Sure, through the years I’ve ordered gifts for faraway relatives, but Eddie and L.L. and Harry & David don’t count.
These old-school companies have been part of the holiday mix even before “It’s A Wonderful Life” first hit the silver screen. Finding their catalogs in my real metal mailbox is like a whiff of Bedford Falls. It’s really an in-between dimension of shopping, and I suppose their business models were the gateway drugs to Cyber Monday and online everything.
With options like old “L.L.,” I can still skip the websites and dial (dial!) a number printed on a dog-eared page. Who else answers before the phone rings and with such friendly voices? And where else can you find “loden heather” chamois shirts? Don’t answer, son.
Yet traditions can fall away or change. Now, the frequent chugga-chugga-chugga of online-fueled delivery trucks coming down the block catch my attention in a most Pavlovian way.
They pass my house more than I’d prefer. I don’t like that. I want boxes on my doorstep. I want convenience. I want to be an Amazon Primate, too.
Maybe the answer is to do both things. I believe in supporting our beautiful stores and the people who work there, but I might also take a cue from the milennials and let more UPS fumes waft over my driveway.
And maybe I’ll lure the kids to the joys of browsing a 3-D Williams Sonoma on a day they’re sampling Belgian waffles.
Reach Denise Snodell at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @DeniseSnodell.