I spent a considerable portion of my day today running errands, trying to find several items around town. When I began my day, I assumed that I’d be able to quickly find what I was looking for, and with only two stops be on my way back home to enjoy a relaxing weekend afternoon. Alas, it was not to be.
The trouble was that the stores I went to, in spite of being in the business of selling exactly the type of things I was looking for, didn’t carry what I wanted. This was particularly frustrating to me because I know that the items I was seeking do actually exist, because I have seen them before, and have certainly been able to find examples of them for sale online as I was researching what exactly I was looking for to fill my particular needs.
Amongst my hobbies, I paint miniatures. That is to say, I use a brush with all of about a dozen bristles to paint tiny detail on figures not more than an inch and a half tall. In order to support this pastime, I have somewhere in the range of about 50 different colors of paint, each in its own half-ounce bottle. Managing this collection of paints has become more and more difficult as I’ve picked up additional colors for one project or another, and I was looking for a way to organize them. In the process of being repeatedly thwarted in my efforts to find a solution, I found myself thinking about a fundamental difference between the two primary ways I buy things.
Now, I know that I could go online and buy what I’m looking for. It’s a paint carousel, more or less a couple of lazy Susans stacked on top of one another, with slots for the paints around the edges, so that you can spin each tier around and see all the colors. The trouble is, they make these items in a wide range of different sizes, holding different numbers of colors, and each one designed to fit a slightly different size and shape of paint jars.
In order to find one that will suit my particular needs, I very much wanted to take a careful look at it in the store before I bought it. The trouble is, none of the stores had one. Instead, I could buy one online, but in that case, I’m trying to determine if what I’m looking at is really what I want based on a small picture, not to scale, and a description written by the person trying to sell it to me, which pretty much always reads, in effect “This product is perfect for everything. It holds whatever you put in it, no matter how large, and will fit on your table, no matter how small. We are certain, but can’t prove, that it also cures cancer, eliminates lower back pain, and will make your teeth shiny and white when eaten as part of a balanced breakfast.”
The internet, as a means of acquiring material possessions, is fast, conveniently available from the comfort of my own home, and offers a level of variety and selection that no store can hope to match. Unfortunately, it cannot give me the hands-on experience with a product that sometimes feels like it’s necessary in order to be sure that what you’re buying is really what you want. Even worse, if I buy something in a store and find it doesn’t work the way I’d hoped, I can usually just take it back and get a refund. Internet orders, on the other hand, require that I deal with shipping the item back to the seller, not to mention the much greater hassle of the paperwork usually required to get a refund.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain. In reality, the rapid expansion of internet commerce over the last decade has provided me with additional options I simply never had before. It’s not that being able to buy something sight-unseen is making my life any worse. In fact, it’s just giving me one more choice. Not too many years ago, if I couldn’t find what I was looking for in a local store, I might just have to special order it from the manufacturer, provided I even knew who made it. Ordering online often presents me with a great deal more information than a supplier’s catalog ever did. In this sense, my options have vastly expanded at no particular cost to me.
On the other hand, I turn out to be like most people, and what I really want is, well… exactly what I want. I don’t want to have to make compromises, and being faced with the choice of trying to find some other store near here that somehow escaped my initial rampage of every likely establishment in the county, or ordering something that might not be what I want and will be a great deal of effort to return if it’s not, feels like a choice between two bad options. The result makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it would be easier to have only one bad option, because that way, my path forward would at least be completely clear.
I really enjoy the fact that the internet has made a bewildering variety of things I might never have known existed available to me. It has also served, however, to make me even more aware of how important it can be sometimes to hold something in your hands, seeing it with your own eyes, before you buy it. This personal experience of a thing before a purchase is often, for me at least, an important component of making me confident enough in a product to be willing to spend my hard-earned money on it. I suspect I am not alone in this aspect of my psychology.
Tomorrow, I will have to decide between these two options. In the meantime, if anybody can tell me where I can find a nice, preferably multi-tier, paint carousel that will hold both Citadel 0.4oz (12ml) and Vallejo 17ml style paint pots for a reasonable price, I would be exceedingly grateful. Either a store in the Raleigh, NC area or an online retailer will do, though for all the reasons above, I’d prefer the former.
-posted by Mark