In today's New York Times, there's a short article on online shopping (New Tradition: Eat the Turkey, Then Go Online) that says that Thanksgiving Day itself (vs. Black Friday) has been the busiest online retail shopping day of the holiday season for the last four years. According to the US Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2007 accounted for 3.4% of total retail sales - still a small proportion of total retail sales, but roughly triple the rate of online purchases from 5 years ago.
Today was my first experience with Easy Shop - a new service from Stop & Shop wherein you use a handheld barcode scanner to scan your items as you walk around the store. At the self checkout line, you communicate your purchases via a single barcode swipe vs. scanning each item individually at the checkout. You bag your own groceries. You don't have to interact with store personnel at all if you don't want to.
In days not so long gone past, going to the market(place) was a social activity. You met your neighbors, caught up on the news, and supported local businesses with your trade. These businesses were owned by your neighbors, and supporting them strengthened your community. I live in the smallest town in Massachusetts - Nahant. There are no big box stores in this 1 square mile peninsular community. There are small locally owned businesses where the owner knows your name, and will trust you to come back later to pay back the couple of bucks you were short when you ran into the store.
With a full time job, a long commute, and multiple community and philanthropic commitments, my time is precious, and I do much of my household shopping on the Internet. Like lots of people worldwide, I appreciate the convenience and time savings, even if it means paying a premium for shipping. None of those online businesses, however, are ever going to spot me $5 when I need milk and have no cash.
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