Just a pair of socks

Remember how easy it used to be to go shopping? I don’t mean pre-pandemic – everything was easier then — I mean in years long past.

You headed to the store armed with a list, either written or in your head. On a good day, you found what you wanted or something close enough, took it to the counter, paid for it, got your change and receipt and left the store with your item(s) in a bag. Straightforward and simple.

My outing last week to Mark’s Work Warehouse was neither straightforward nor simple. I just wanted to buy a pair of warm fuzzy socks for my mother, as I do every year at this time, and figured I could be in and out of the store in five minutes; 10 tops. What a dreamer!

First, there was the matter of choosing the socks. There were enough variations on fuzzy socks  to make my head swim. I quickly ruled out seasonal fuzzy socks bedecked with Santa Clauses, reindeer and the like, figuring my mother might not want to wear such socks year-round. Equally easy to eliminate were socks with bells on them, which made me think of cats belled by their humans in order to warn birds of their presence. But then the decisions got more difficult: socks that were also slippers; knee socks or ankle socks; purple or pink or blue or red; knitted or sewn; synthetic or cotton? Who knew there could be so many possibilities?

I eventually made my selection, then headed to the cash, where I had a long wait because of all the questions the shopper ahead of me had to answer; questions I knew would shortly be visited upon me. Cash, debit or credit? (Debit.) Do you collect Canadian Tire points? (No.) Do you want to use any of your Canadian Tire points? (N/A.) Do you want to round up your bill to support the charity of the moment? (The rounding up from my purchase was three cents. I didn’t really want to support the charity on offer, but I agreed to, simply because it seemed too churlish not to for just three cents.) Do you want a printed or an email receipt? (Print; by this point, I simply could not cope with the thought of having to extend the exchange by providing my email address.) We finally made it to the last question: do you want a bag? (No.)

The anticipated five-minute undertaking had me in the store for at least 20 minutes and, while the clerk I dealt with was extremely pleasant, I wanted to tear my hair out by the time I left the store.

It’s a tiresome process for the customer, but my sympathy really lies with the sales clerks who have to go through this rigamarole with every person who buys something.

Mark’s is certainly not the only store that offers too many choices; it seems that wherever a shopper goes, they are presented with options galore. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want no choices when I go shopping, but there is little doubt that our consumerist culture has gone a bit too far.

Toothbrushes and trees

Toothbrush purchasing is a particular bane of my shopping existence. Each time I approach the toothbrush aisle, I feel my stomach tighten as I anticipate the hunt for the right toothbrush. Soft, medium or hard? Large or small head? Even or ridged bristles? What kind of handle will fit in my toothbrush holder? What colour? And, what’s with the stripes of colour in the bristles, anyway?

I know what I want, but finding it amongst the dozens of possibilities can be time-consuming and stressful. Every time, I am grateful that I am not buying a toothbrush for a kid, because then I would also have to think about which popular culture theme I wanted.

The same can be said for many toiletry items: toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, hand cream. And, as if the sheer volume of choices is not enough to drive a shopper screaming out of the store, I find the changes in available products frustrating. I buy a deodorant, like it, use it, then that brand is not on the shelf when I need to restock. While, of course, I can (and do) stock up, I don’t have the space to buy a lifetime supply of personal hygiene products.

As I get older and, I fear, less patient, I increasingly find routine shopping expeditions a chore. I head off in good spirits, list in hand (or on my phone), letting my partner know that I will likely be awhile, since I have many stops to make, only to return home, head hung in defeat, after just one or two stops, felled by the array of choices presented to me. Give me just two or three purchasing possibilities to choose from and spare the interrogation at the checkout counter and I’m fine.

Happily for me, my day that began with the challenging sock-buying experience ended on a positive note when my partner and I headed off to buy our festive season tree. We went into the lot, found the six-foot Fraser firs and decided that the second one we looked at was the perfect tree for us. In and out in under three minutes. My idea of a good shopping expedition.

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