I’ve never been a big Black Friday shopper.
Don’t get me wrong: Discounts are my friend. But the idea of getting up at 3 a.m. or camping overnight just to shop always struck me as ludicrous. It’s hard to imagine a bargain that would prompt me to interrupt Thanksgiving dinner.
I did not indulge this year, either. But as Thanksgiving weekend drew to a close, there I was, hunched over the computer, loading virtual shopping carts with early Cyber Monday purchases.
It was quite efficient. I managed to score some great deals for my kids without standing in line. I could price compare without wasting gas, get packages shipped to my door for free, even “chat” with an online salesperson about a particular item. All from the comfort of my kitchen.
What could be easier? It’s the working mom’s savior. Who has time to traipse from store to store anymore?
Except — it all felt a little flat. No warm, fuzzy feeling from strolling through a shop playing holiday music or buying a hot chocolate as you dash from store to store taking in the Christmas window displays. Just a “check that one off the list” sense of satisfaction.
Of course, those traditions from my youth sort of evaporated in recent years anyway as I squeezed in holiday shopping on the way home from work, at night after the kids went to bed, or when I had a free hour here and there.
But online shopping isn’t without its stresses. You can be lured into a site by promises of $10 coupons or buy-one-get-one-free/half-price offers, only to find the restrictions in tiny type — or not explained at all — until you’re halfway through checkout. Not that this happened to me.
And you never know if you’re getting the best deal. I bought two items for my son — don’t want to spoil the surprise here, but they rhyme with a certain frozen waffle — and felt pretty darn good about it because I saved $17.50 through a BOGO offer at Toys ‘R’ Us (the copy editor in me hates typing that name). The next day, I was browsing on Target’s site and saw one of the sets on sale for $20 cheaper. So I lost $2.50 in that transaction.
Or you encounter phantom sales — stores that offer televisions or laptops for ridiculous prices, knowing there are only four available nationwide. A friend tried to buy a Wii attachment that continues to be advertised online but is apparently sold at one store in rural Missouri.
Timing is everything. We get emails for sales with subject lines reading “hurry!” or “ends at midnight!” or “one day left!” Sometimes I succumb, and after hitting “Buy it now,” I have immediate remorse, wondering if it will be even cheaper the next day.
If you wait, of course, you risk losing out altogether — the dreaded Cabbage Patch Doll syndrome, for those of you old enough to remember their debut.
Last year, I briefly considered buying a collectible Lego Star Wars set for my son because it was a BOGO half-off sale. My fantasy went like this: I could buy one for $100, get another for $50, then sell one on eBay to some desperate shopper and make money! Genius.
Only I waited too long. They were gone the next day — only to be advertised later on eBay at much higher prices by shoppers savvier than me.
This is our world now. The thrill of the bargain hunt — epitomized by our love for TJ Maxx and other stores full of things we didn’t know we needed — has moved online.
Online shopping has even transformed that most noble stereotype, last-minute Christmas Eve shopping by panicked dads/husbands/boyfriends, according to a story last week in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. It cited a Paypal study that predicts Christmas Eve shopping will drop by half this year, from 14 percent in 2011 to just 7 percent, as British men use mobile phones to buy gifts. More than one in 10 said they’d already bought or plan to buy gifts using mobile phones this Christmas, and 46 percent said they had browsed for products on their phones.
Part of me yearns for the kind of shopping you see in movies — people carrying beautifully wrapped packages down a snowy city sidewalk, with lights and music in the background. (They never show you the shoppers they trampled to get those gifts, nor the crowds they fought to see the Christmas displays).
Over Thanksgiving weekend, we attended a party my cousin threw for her son, who was visiting St. Louis with his wife and new baby daughter from California. My sisters and I decided we’d get a little something for the baby.
So we stole away for an hour to Miss Bailey’s,  a gift shop in Glen Carbon. There were no crowds, no shoppers camped out — in fact, we were the only ones in the store.
The clerks greeted us like old friends (my sisters, in fact, shop there often enough to qualify), brought my daughter juice and cookies, found a chair for my mom, helped us pick out lovely gifts (including a few Christmas presents) and gift-wrapped everything. I’m pretty sure they lost money on us. When the new mom opened her presents that night, she said she hadn’t seen anything like them.
So I felt like I’d offset some of the online madness.
On the other hand, I’ve been so efficient this year that we may actually have more time for other holiday traditions, like our annual trip to see “The Nutcracker,” making gingerbread houses with friends or going up to see the Christmas windows in Chicago.
I think I’ll go make a hotel reservation online.
Julie Wurth blogs about families and kids and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org , or follow her at Twitter.com/jawurth.
Top: A line of customers waits outside the Kohl's department store in Middletown, Ohio, to start their Black Friday shopping in 2008. AP file photo
Middle: A shopping app demonstrated in San Francisco in November 2011. Jeff Chiu/AP
Bottom: A scene from this year's Macy's window display in Chicago, "The Magic of Christmas." Photo courtesy Macy's