Paul Batura: Online shopping has lots of pluses – But one big minus

Macy’s has decided to close dozens of its brick-and-mortar stores amidst an accelerating retail revolution.

Founded by Rowland Hussey Macy in 1858, the iconic retailer joins several other popular brands like JCPenney and Kohl’s that are currently struggling to navigate a titanic consumer shift in personal purchasing habits.

Despite retail sales growing 3.7 percent industry-wide during the past holiday shopping season, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to convince patrons to actually drive to a traditional store to buy something.

ONLINE SALES RECORD LEADS HOLIDAY SHOPPING SURGE

Can you blame consumers for not wanting to trudge out in the cold, find a parking spot and run the likely risk of not finding the item in their desired size or color, let alone at the best possible price?

The explosion and convenience of “one-click” online shopping is truly one of the most remarkable developments of the last few decades. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were debating whether even inputting our credit-card number online was wise.

Incessant hacking and identity theft notwithstanding, we’ve all pretty much acquiesced to the new ways. Even my late father was ordering items from Amazon when he was in his 80s.

But convenience always comes at a cost – and the cost is not always financial.

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In many ways, I grieve the fading of the brick-and-mortar store for reasons great and small.

Revolutions often come in incremental waves these days, and so it’s not unusual for people living through them to not fully appreciate the scope and significance of the change happening right before their eyes.

Of course, I appreciate being able to order what I want, when I want. The arrival of the big blue Amazon van on our Colorado Springs street elicits a good feeling, especially if I’m waiting for a new pair of running shoes or a David McCullough bestseller.

Yet, turning shopping into a purely transactional arrangement is something of a blow to our sense of humanity.

As a former retail employee myself, I have wonderful memories of conversations and interactions with so many of my customers. Almost all of them were serendipitous and interesting in numerous ways. At the risk of overstating it, those happy (and sometimes tense) exchanges helped shape me into the person I am today.

By contrast, and with no offense to Amazon Prime, I’ve never walked away from an online purchase a better man.

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One of my best friends is David Bervig, a renaissance gentleman of the old school, but also something of a do-it-yourself sage. Whenever I’m flummoxed with a home project, which is often, I know he’ll have the solution.

David’s late father, Farris, was the long-time owner of the True Value Hardware store in Alamosa, Colo. He was also the mayor of the town, a sprawling Adams State College community in the high-altitude San Luis Valley. As a high school student, David went to work for his father at the store, and encountered contractors coming in for plumbing, paint and electrical supplies.

“In helping them find what they needed, they wound up teaching me everything I know,” he told me. “And you know what? The more they taught me, the more I was able to help those who walked into the store.”

Change is always inevitable, and the loss of one tradition usually ushers in another benefit we wonder how we ever lived without. YouTube tutorials are quickly replacing how-to-chats with weathered hardware store aficionados. The change may help you get the job done, but it will never leave you changed like a warmhearted face-to-face chat with Farris Bervig would.

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I guess I mourn some of the shift in retail trends because behind all the numbers of the closed stores, there are the names of people I’ll never meet and conversations I’ll never have with the good folks who would have been inside of them.

Bervig’s hardware store closed several years ago, shortly before Mayor Bervig passed away himself. A happy man with a wide smile and an infectious laugh, I think a part of him died along with it.

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