In recent years brick-and-mortar stores, especially bookshops, have bewailed the rise of Internet shopping. Is one type of shopping better than the other?

I enjoyed browsing at the local Borders bookstores. I’ve found some books that I probably would not have noticed otherwise. However, my last venture to a Borders was annoying. I was casually perusing the shelves. Every 10 minutes, a clerk asked if I needed help. After this happened several times I was ready to shout, “No, I’m not shoplifting, now leave me alone!” Then all the Borders stores closed and the clerks didn’t bother me anymore.

The local indie mystery bookstore closed a few years ago. I went to several book signings and met some great local authors but the store mostly promoted the “big name” titles that I could find at a regular bookstore, a big chain department store or a library.

The closest bookstores now are a Barnes & Noble and a small indie general bookstore, both about 20 miles away. I could take time from my weekends to drive there, battle traffic, hunt for a parking spot, or I could sit in the comfort of my home and browse online. Granted, I’d have to wait a week of so for the book to arrive, but the post office is only three blocks away for easy pickup.

Last November I received a B&N gift certificate so I made a trip to the store. I made sure to arrive early in the morning before traffic got heavy. Finding parking spot was not impossible and I parked closer than I expected, an eight-minute walk to the door.

The front of the store had a huge Nook display. The first floor contained magazines, comic book action figures, sales items (i.e., the price is cut because nobody wants them), a cafe, DVDs and music, tote bags and reading lamps, Dr. Who stuff and, surprisingly, a few books: reference, self help and some specially bound “classics.” The kids’ section was a generous size, but I don’t have kids.

To find the fiction and rest of the nonfiction I had to ride the escalator to the mezzanine. Why tuck books away on the second floor in the back of the store? The mystery section was a bit forlorn. The “new titles” section pushed the usually best-selling suspects and only one or two local authors (B&N does not carry my books on their shelves. For shame!).

I didn’t see any Father Brown mysteries. Isn’t that considered one of the “must read” classics? A clerk said she could order a book for me, but I’d pay for shipping to my home or return to the store for pick up (Hmmm, a certain online retailer offers free shipping). When I remarked, “you don’t have a wide selection,” she relied tartly, “We can’t carry every book.” That was true. The selection in all areas was quite limited.

Back downstairs I couldn’t browse a certain section because a large man stood in front of the shelves, blocking my view. So I moved on. At least when I’m online I can look at any book uninterrupted.
I ended up in the DVD/CD area. By now I was getting tired of standing and walking (at home I can take a break before I resume online shopping). I looked for Christmas music, but even that section was pitifully skimpy. I finally found a music CD marked down to the price of my gift card. Hurrah!

I took the CD home, opened it and the jewel case broke. No wonder it was on sale. I’d received broken jewel cases with some of my online orders so I mailed them back for a replacement and the online retailer provided a return label with postage.

The next week I schlepped back to the store to return the CD. The clerk said the store didn’t have another CD of that title. I said I’d take store credit. I spent an hour browsing around. I returned to the clerk who had simply found another jewel case to replace the broken one. This case had a small scratch in it but the CD played all right and I guess that’s what mattered the most.

I had a pleasant time browsing in the store. I enjoyed flipping through a book to get an idea if I really wanted it. I was introduced to a number of books that I would probably not have found online. I didn’t know this particular CD existed. But I admit I love online shopping at times convenient to me without having to drive and not waiting in line for checkout.

Online shopping also provides a far great selection of items-not just books-than I can find in the local stores. And online one isn’t pestered by salespersons striking up a conversation and pushing for sales.

I like to support local vendors. But a brick-and-mortar store is limited by what it can hold in its walls and what it can sell. It’s a matter of supply and demand. If the Internet can supply what I demand, I’ll buy it.

Do you prefer shopping online or in person?



  1. I used to enjoy just hanging out in Barnes & Noble until the past 2 or 3 years. It’s only 5 minutes away so travel time is not an issue. I didn’t realize why it might not be such a pleasant experience any more until your post. New releases are still prominently displayed, but now behind the enormous Nook display and the racks of Nook accessories. I am accosted by both a security guard and a Nook ‘expert’ before the front door has closed behind me. There are more and more sale tables, racks, and bins. There is a very large section of games and puzzles and TV/movie-related items (not the children’s section). I used to use their read-in-store service to take a peek at a book on my Nook. Not even sure if they offer that anymore but there are not enough chairs anyway. The cafe area has not expanded but the coffee mugs and other items for purchase have taken over part of the magazine section. So it doesn’t really feel much like a bookstore any more but kind of like an expensive Wal-Mart. And specific books are not easy to find. In the mystery section one author’s books may be in the regular mystery section, the New Releases section and the Just Released in Paperback section – but all of them will not be in any one place. I get free shipping with my BN membership, but generally that big online store everyone hates usually has better prices for print and ebooks.

  2. Hey Sally, I enjoy reading your blogs. It’s sad that bookstores have closed. I really miss perusing the shelves and shelves of books and smelling the freshness of words. I still walk the aisles of my college and public Library, but I do shop online.