Lillian Vernon trained us well. My mother pored over Lillian’s mail-order catalogs, staring at every product, carefully reading and rereading the descriptions. There were other mail-order catalogs that came to the house, and in each case their ‘hook’ was that they often sold things that you couldn’t get elsewhere. The things I wanted could be purchased from a catalog but there was the excitement of checking it out in person. Why order a stereo from a catalog when you could go to a local store and listen to it, touch it, try it out with different sets of speakers, or a different turntable. In fact, everything you wanted was available at a local store to see, touch, try, return if you didn’t like it so you could see, touch, try something else.
Amazon is a bit like a giant Lillian Vernon. You pore over their digital catalog, read the descriptions very carefully, and you can read something ol’ Lil didn’t provide: product reviews. But in the Age of Amazon, there’s something missing. There’s no local stereo store, no local shoe store, no local dress shop, no local stationery store. There are mega-stores you can visit — Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, etc. But the first thing you notice is that many of the stores have a limited selection. If you want something that’s not in the store, you can usually order from a catalog. But that’s not the same thing as seeing, touching, trying the product you want at the time you want it.
* * * * *
Ok, Mad Writer. What’s up. Why did you write this? Answer: I wanted to buy a new pair of headphones. The local Radio Shack sells junk, the local Staples sells a different selection of junk, and the stereo store no longer exists. I don’t want to burn a few gallons of gasoline to drive to the supermall to buy headphones when I know they’ll try to sell me those Beat things which Staples is also pushing. So I have to sift through the Amazon digital catalog, stare at the little pictures, read the descriptions and the reviews, all for a $30 dollar pair of headphones. Weren’t we better off when we could walk into a specialty store, ask for something in our price range, and they showed you the selection? The whole transaction could be ten minutes, not an hour of looking and staring and comparing prices, and then waiting for delivery.
One more thing. I’m getting old. I need a magnifier for some of the small print that I read. How do I test which magnifier works best when all I can do is stare at little pictures of magnifiers on a screen?
P.S. I see commercials for Trivago. It’s one of those Priceline/Travelocity type of websites. Their pitch is that they make it easy to find the ideal hotel. Actually, there used to be an easier way for you to do it. It required a single phone call to the local travel agent who did all of the work for you.by