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Escape the holiday shopping vortex

By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: November 27, 2020

I’ve never understood the thrill of camping out, standing in long lines and elbowing fellow shoppers on Black Friday, just to get a few bucks off of an Insta-Pot or Nintendo Switch.  Frankly, I’d rather stick a hot poker in my eye than fight the holiday crowds the day after Thanksgiving, when I’m usually sucking leftover turkey from my teeth and watching old movies.

So when the media reported that Black Friday had been rendered “irrelevant” by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, I felt vindicated and relieved.

However, I soon learned that Black Friday had not been canceled after all — it was merely “reinvented.” Instead of one day of holiday shopping mania, the consumer mayhem formerly known as Black Friday had been stretched out over October, November and December. The prolonged agony now included online and in-store discounts, incentives for curbside pick-up to avoid delivery delays, and “Health Ambassadors” to monitor occupancy limits and enforce safety protocols.

Oh, joy.

As a woman with beefy upper arms and habit of losing receipts, I am a firm believer in trying on and eyeballing items before buying. I would normally insist on shopping in store, but the pandemic restrictions have forced even me to bend my own rules. Against my better judgment, I reluctantly tried online shopping to buy my 2020 Christmas gifts.

Once on my laptop, I was sucked in by flashy digital ads promising “Forty percent off for a limited time!” and “Free shipping with coupon code!”  For a moment, I thought that I might actually save money. After creating accounts and accepting cookies that will no doubt fill my inbox with countless junk emails for months to come, I filled various online shopping carts with a variety of gifts for my whole family. 

“Who knew online shopping would be so easy and affordable!” I thought, just before keying in the first coupon code. I pressed the return key, excited to see my savings, when I suddenly found myself caught in a digital vortex from which there was no escape.

An agonizing two hours later, I had painstakingly discovered that one coupon was for in-store purchases only, three had expired, and although another WAS for online purchases, it only applied IF you used a store credit card, which we didn’t have. I tried to avail myself of the advertised military discount, but it only worked on Tuesdays, and then, only if I’d been pre-approved after scanning and uploading a copy of my husband’s form DD-214. Monday discounts were for first responders, Wednesdays were for seniors, Thursdays were for medical workers, Fridays were for left-handed dyslexics, Saturdays were for orphaned redheads and Sundays were for polka dancers. Or something like that.

In the end, only the free shipping discount worked, and after completing the transaction, I realized that I’d paid prices that were jacked up to compensate for the complicated Black Friday discount schemes. Feeling defeated, I longed for the pre-Internet holidays of my youth, when gift lists were shorter, shopping was limited to a couple of weeks in December, and people gave simple items that were appreciated.

Back then, we relaxed in our gabardine slacks at home, making thoughtful crafts like macrame owl wall hangings and pencil caddies made from mayonnaise jars stuck with bits of masking tape rubbed with shoe polish. We crocheted awkward sweater vests, made crooked cutting boards in shop class, and fashioned ash trays out of clay. And if we weren’t crafty, we went to old-fashioned department stores and bought our loved ones modestly-priced Avon perfumes, English Leather cologne, handkerchiefs, ties, tea towels, record albums, Nerf balls, Slinkys and mood rings.

Ah, the good old days …

On second thought, I hope this doesn’t give my family the wrong idea. I may have openly disparaged the evils of Black Friday shopping and extolled the virtues of handmade gifts, but let’s be clear: I do NOT want to open a box on Christmas that contains anything made out of macaroni noodles and yarn. If you are looking for a gift for me, I recommend you search online and use a coupon code. Size ten, roomy in the sleeves.

Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@gmail.com