Thursday, June 20, 2024

Which ‘window’ shopping are we talking about?

By N Jayalakshmi | January 04, 2022

The way we shop has  drastically changed, and while the transition to omnichannel had begun a few years ago,  the pandemic has only accelerated the process. In fact, one wonders if shopping will ever be the same again?

I recently headed to a popular mall in Bangalore. When I reached the entrance, I noticed a group of people seemingly lost and desperately tapping into their phone screens or digging into their wallets.    The reason became apparent enough when my turn came. “Madam, Vaccine certificate?” Ah! That figures. Forgetting that the rule had kicked in the city, I had completely missed storing a soft copy of my jab certificate in any easily retrievable place on my phone. And as luck would have it, my DigiLocker too had an issue retrieving my certificate. Finally after about half an hour of  desperate search,  I gave up and returned. It was obvious that  there were many others like me, oblivious to the sudden need for showcasing our immunity status even for something as mundane as shopping. But that’s the nature of the times we live in.

Joining the group of other casual shoppers stopped in their tracks like me, I lounged outside and mused. My mind reeled back to the times when we shopped in age old markets -  Fashion street and Linking road in Mumbai; Lajpat Nagar and Sarojini in market in Delhi - oh those carefree days of jostling against the crowd, inhaling the aromas of street foods, absorbing the sounds of loud haggling, sated with the feeling of having struck a great bargain and then heading to the nearest chaat wala, shopping bags in tow, savouring the tanginess of paani puris and bhel puris, indifferent to fears of catching any virus … And cut to a sanitised present where anxiety is a constant companion even during retail therapy - the need to constantly look over the shoulder, ensuring the  masks are securely in place, ensuring  the documents are in place - not very different from an air travel check-in process.  Sigh!

Nostalgia may be an over rated indulgence, but the need for it tugs at you at the most unexpected of times. Even the term ‘window shopping’ has gained new meaning today. It struck me recently in the midst of my online shopping. I looked at my laptop screen and there was a line of browser windows sitting on the bottom panel, all from various e-commerce sites that I had been browsing! Suddenly I wondered when was the last time I did some window shopping in the real sense of the word - peering longingly into shop windows, making  mental notes  and then casually walking into a store, trying to mask the disappointment of not being able to afford a prized project and assuming a casual air of indifference just to put up an appearance in front of the store staff….Now it didn’t  matter.  In the safely anonymous digital world of ecommerce, it didn’t matter what kind of shopper I was - a desperate wannabe or  a focused, practical one. There was no one to judge because there was no human contact to  be made. There were only shopping ‘carts’ to be added to or reduced at will.

Convenience is the biggest reward of a pandemic induced transformation. The price we may be paying for it is perhaps too complex for us to be able to discern immediately. But it also reiterates the  importance of brick and mortar retail as  community and social spaces. In a completely post pandemic world, may be a couple of years from now,  one of the  first things, brands and retailers may want to do would be to make the store space as socially conducive as possible -   well trained store staff,  DIY, hobby and recreational spaces, perhaps even counselling points , besides of course transactions spaces. After all, radically different times call for radically different ideas.       

Meanwhile, let me go back to my ‘shopping cart’…

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