Years ago, during a trip to Los Angeles, I remember walking into an unassuming boutique on Melrose Avenue on a typically sunny California morning and being promptly presented with a glass of champagne while I tried on a pair of jeans. I wasn’t in the type of fancy-schmancy store where I was scared to touch things, just a regular boutique whose owners understood that if their customers were blissfully buzzed (and subtly complimented) items would inevitably be sold.
These days, especially in Canada, brick and mortar retail shopping experiences tend to be rather short on champagne and compliments.
Headed to the mall to look for a new dress to wear out on Saturday night? Prepare to spend eons waiting in line before being swarmed by eager sales associates, stripped of your valuables and escorted to a dusty, mirror-less box where you can then contemplate whether to disrobe or just run away.
More than three quarters of all Canadians shopped online last year and online retail sales are expected to hit $34-billion in Canada by 2018. In the meantime, grim photos have begun to surface of dead malls across North America. But it’s not just online shopping that has led to the demise of the mall.
While shopping on the Web has become increasingly convenient, in-store experiences seem to have gone in the opposite direction due to a strange set of operating principles that, as far as I can tell, make no sense.
I’m all for following rules, when they’re justifiable, by the way. In Japan, for example, you’re often asked to wear these gauze bags on your head while trying on clothing—and that’s totally cool, because nothing is nastier than discovering someone else’s foundation on the collar of a white shirt they didn’t buy.
I will gladly wear a bag on my head in lieu of dealing with the following:
How many times can a person be asked: “Can I start you a change room?” before they have a mental break? No, really. I get that some sales people need to hustle for commission, but does it have to be at the expense of another person’s sanity? When you head out in search of a bit of retail therapy there is nothing less therapeutic than being circled by vultures when you so much as glance towards the knitwear.
Spend 15 minutes in a store reviewing the merchandise and you can pretty much count on the fact that 13 different Ashleys will systematically snatch up the items in your hands and escort them to the change room as part of a commission-based pissing contest. If you’re like me, as soon as this merchandise escapes your clutches, it will be forgotten. Ready to try things on? Sorry, Ashley is busy stalking another shopper so you’re on your own until you hit the cash register. In the meantime, good luck finding your non-descript black tops among the dozens of others outside the change rooms!
Ever tried shopping for a bikini in a store that caps the number of items allowed in a change room? Basically, it’s a nightmare. Six seems to be the number most stores go with these days but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Faced with a fitting room full of more than six items will a shopper inevitably be compelled to steal the seventh? When faced with the six-item rule, I typically pick the half-dozen items I like best and abandon the rest rather than getting fully re-dressed just to retrieve them.
The mirror-less “fitting rooms”
I think we can all agree that a three-foot by three-foot square room devoid of mirrors or sufficient hooks is, in fact, a broom closet. Now, I know, you’re going to tell me that some change rooms are mirror-less so that sales staff are afforded the opportunity to praise me as I parade ill-fitting garments in front of an audience of squatting moms and bored boyfriends then jostle among the size zeros for a little piece of the communal mirror. However, I’m pretty much convinced that commission-based sales staff will bend the truth more than even the most deceptively flattering change room mirrors.
How many times have you stepped into a change room only to be greeted by this? Oh, the broom closet irony! While some retail chains may have put a bit of thought into redesigning the fitting room experience, I am convinced there is still no place dustier or more neglected. If you happen to accidentally drop something on the floor, it’s game over—the last thing you want to do is strut to the communal mirror with a dust bunny stuck to your ass.
Now, add to all of this weirdness the mere thought of surrendering your purse or waiting in line behind 20 other cranky potential customers and it becomes blatantly obvious why online shopping has become so attractive to the majority of Canadians.
I don’t want to hate the mall; I practically grew up there. But the mall has changed. I no longer feel comfortable in this place that was essentially a second home in my teen years. So, until things take a turn for the better, I’m happy to shop in a place a do feel comfortable: my house, where the champagne is at my fingertips.