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Why we can’t let ebuying take over

June 21, 2011

All this ‘shopping shifting’ – from physical goods to electronic goods, and shopping in physical spaces to shopping from ‘wherever you are’ (i.e. via mobile phone web/app) – will further reduce the quality of the stuff we can buy.

Of course there are many advantages to replacing a bookcase with something equivalent and yet which the content weighs nothing. But even putting aside the fact that you can never sell these books when you’re finished with them, I like physical books! I love books! There, I said it.

And I love bookshops.

I don’t like shopping much, but when I do shop, I prefer to shop in a *shop* (crazy idea, no?). There’s the serendipity factor of being surrounded by books you didn’t know you you wanted – but they’re in the section you always visit, so why not take a punt?

Amazon’s recommendation engine is pathetic, and won’t shut up about all the Philishaves I should be buying, because, you know, I bought one three years ago. For my dad. And I HAVE A BEARD.

Of course, Amazon doesn’t know this. Can’t know this. Never will know this.

But therefore, it’s useless. It has this built-in limitation forever.

Only I can know what I want right now, and most of the time even I don’t know. Even with books part of the choice comes through feel: weight, glossiness, spine-breakability (can I lay it flat on the desk if I’m following instructions from it?). I can also pick the one off the shelf that hasn’t been:

  1. snotted on;
  2. had notes made in the margins;
  3. had the dust cover torn in the post (thanks, Amazon!)

It applies to veg in the supermarket (who knows what kind of mould they’d force on me if I let them choose my apples?).

There was a none-more-concrete example than my recent laptop purchase. I needed a laptop. It had to be small, light and portable. I could specify centimeterage and kilogrammage, and buy online. But smallest and lightest isn’t the same as ‘small enough’ and ‘light enough’. And certainly not cheap enough. I ended up buying something that was slightly heavier than I would have done online, because having been able to see it in the shop, next to other laptops, and being able to test the clickedy keyboard too, I found that I could spend