In the past few weeks, Long Island witnessed the liquidation of Toys-R-Us, and the closing of a huge department store, Sears in Hicksville. Last year, we lost JCPenney in the Sunrise (Westfield) Mall, while witnessing Macy’s downsizing into a shell of its former self. Other merchants found almost exclusively at shopping malls, like Foot Locker, The Gap and Aéropostale, will soon be gone.
As much as we’d like to mourn the demise of these stores and glorify past shopping experiences, technology has once again combined with the one resource that can speed up the eventual extinction process of anything—all of us.
Much like the 12 people on the train who participated in the murder at the center of the Agatha Christie novel, Murder on the Orient Express, all online shoppers participated in the death of retail stores. All 12 of the passengers plunged a knife into the victim and each one of them had a different reason.
Some online shoppers like the ease and selection, while others do it for the pricing or free delivery. Many times, it begins with hard to find items and morphs into “oh, look what else they have!” Soon, you realize there’s no need to venture out of your house to buy pajamas anymore.
These vendors aren’t going out of business, mind you. The retail industry has taken notice that we are forgoing traditional brick and mortar stores for the comfort of shopping online in our underwear. Since the public isn’t going into the physical stores anymore, why would they keep them open?
People used to go shopping just for fun, but have you been to any shopping mall on a Tuesday night lately? It’s like walking around in the middle of a zombie movie. There are more stores than actual shoppers. Can you blame online retailers, like Amazon, if the buying public has lost their need for the fine art of shopping?
Most shoppers would grab a friend or two, head out to the mall, and spend a few hours perusing clothing racks, moving from store to store until they found something they liked. Many husbands and boyfriends spent time in purgatory, waiting for their significant others to decide on virtually anything, playing the good soldier and hoping to one day see their families again.
Now, shoppers scan tiny computer images that just don’t do the item justice. I’ve returned (or got stuck with) many things I never would have purchased if I was in the store and could have examined it. I stopped buying things from infomercials for that exact reason. I still like to go into Sears and inspect the tools, it makes me feel like grunting just like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor.
The most heartbreaking loss of all may be Toys-R-Us, depriving an entire future generation of kids the joy and wonder of going into a toy store. I loved going to Playworld and Toys-R-Us almost as much as the kids did. Our pre-Christmas tradition entailed combing every inch of the store, searching for toys they wanted to ask Santa for, followed by Happy Meals and playtime at McDonalds. Now parents and children will spend time huddled around the computer, looking at pictures of toys.
If you are wondering where all this simplicity is steering us as a society, you should check out the 2005 comedy Idiocracy. It details a culture roughly 500 years in the future, where every aspect of life has been technologically advanced to the point where people’s mental and physical capacities have regressed. No longer needing to think or act for themselves, civilization has been reduced to watching giant TVs and eating junk food all day long. Sound familiar, binge-watchers?
So, don’t lament the death of the department store and wonder what happened. Look no further than your browsing history. We decided that it was too much trouble to leave our chairs, embracing the convenience of shopping online. Yes, my friends, every time we placed an order online, we stuck the proverbial knife in the back of our local retail giants.
Humanity has regressed so much that we seem to have lost that basic, human instinct of venturing out of the cave for hunting and gathering. What is going to happen to our physical bodies now that we can have anything, and everything, delivered to our doorstep?
Is that the doorbell? “Honey, could you get that? I ordered a pizza.”