Why I'll Never Be A Virtual Shopping Convert

by Tyler Atwood

Though online and app-based shopping appears to be the wave of the future, there's something about a real shopping trip that simply can't be replicated. Comptoir des Cotonniers anticipates sales spikes from its scan-and-buy phone app for clothes on the go; Square boasts a revolutionary new online marketplace for entrepreneurs everywhere; and Sims-meets-e-commerce site creates a virtual, online mall where shoppers can create a character and meander through their favorite stores, all from the comfort of the nearest computer. Sites like Amazon, Shopbop, and Net-a-Porter have cornered the market for everything under the sun from lightbulbs to Lanvin. Indeed, online and virtual shopping offers the unique benefit of product reviews for the earnest comparison shopper and competitive prices, in addition to multiple product shots from every conceivable angle. Each site/app/experience is almost like an actual store, but better.

Except the experience isn't better. Despite the many bells and whistles each site adds to make your online or app-based shopping experience convenient and enjoyable, it is still a virtual experience. Imagine, for example, you're shopping for a prom dress. You have a week to choose a gown which not only makes you swoon, but also renders your date, or the group of friends you'll be partying with, utterly speechless. Online shopping offers infinite options, with sizing suggestions, styling options, endless product details, and rush shipping. However, who's to say what size you are in this designer's line? What if the fabric, which looks exquisite under the studio lighting of its online images, is of inferior quality in person? And most importantly, how can an online shopping experience possibly replicate the process of trying on countless confections and duds with your friends and family there to provide sly commentary?

Of course, not every purchase necessitates the care with which you choose a prom dress. Sometimes, you need replacement for your worn-out jeans or that tee that's beyond repair. But when it comes to shopping on a whim or picking out a garment that gives an extra spring to your step, nothing really beats a true shopping excursion to your favorite boutique. The tactility of a beautiful silk blouse or a cashmere scarf can't be replicated by a few keyboard strokes, nor can the experience of trying on that perfect pair of jeans and realizing that you've achieved exactly the look you were going for, whether you love a slouchy pair with insouciant attitude or some dark wash denim that makes your legs look a mile long. And if you have an entourage in tow — best friend, significant other, sibling — you receive a brand of reasoning which a website can't supply, unless you've trained your computer to tell you how beautiful you look in a dress, or that capri pants aren't doing you any favors.

I love a good online boutique, especially for those evenings when I'm dreaming of a luxe Yves Saint Laurent leather jacket or bohemian Chloe dress but don't want to brave the judgmental stares of the boutique manager. However, even aspirational window shopping can be a diverting activity, especially when in the company of like-minded friends. Aside from the tactile facet, and of course the ability to see how clothes look on your frame, the social aspect of real stores trounce virtual ones any day. Even websites with helpful virtual representatives don't provide quite the same experience as a savvy store clerk or a fellow shopper who, upon seeing you clad in whatever piece you're trying on, exclaims, "I don't know you but that outfit looks so gorgeous!" And a casual post-brunch shopping trip with friends is more than a little entertaining.

So the next time you think about simply clicking or swiping to purchase that dress you've been eyeing, why not give the store an in-person visit? Even if you walk out empty handed, you still had a real experience instead of a virtual one.