As we all know, the entire nation’s economy depends on how much we spend during the Christmas season. It is a responsibility I take very seriously.
I know too that, for the good of the local economy, I should wantonly spend most of my holiday budget at area stores and businesses.
Unfortunately, like millions of others, I find shopping for gifts on my computer vastly superior to wandering the aisles at stores. I know in my heart that I should drag my corporeal form out of the house to pick out toys for the kids, but …
By shopping on the computer I can save gas and time. I can compare prices. I can have the gifts delivered directly to my doorstep. I can have 472 people explain why I should buy this toaster over that toaster. There are more items to choose from and no long checkout lines to brave.
A couple of mouse clicks, give my credit card info over an unsecure line to an Indonesian online store clerk and bam, I’m done.
The question is, what can store owners do to lure me away from home?
Slicing prices on a few items on Black Friday, causing dangerous swarms of shoppers, isn’t going to do it. A fat guy in a red suit smelling vaguely of bourbon won’t work either.
Forcing your underpaid workers to open up early on Thanksgiving morning definitely isn’t going to work. In fact I might boycott you for that one.
I do read your glossy flyers in the newspaper, but if you don’t have free delivery, or at least guaranteed, no-cost shipping-to-store, I hesitate. What if you’re sold out when I get there? What if some child wipes his nose on me? What if my vintage vehicle with the 167,000 miles on it is stolen from the parking lot?
The most effective strategy for local merchants, frankly, would be to eliminate Internet access to the region. I’m not recommending it, but it would be incredibly efficient. Cut the high speed cable or use declassified military jamming devices or enlist some out-of-work Soviet computer hackers.
If we find out what you’ve done, we’ll hate you forever and you’ll never sell another fruitcake or argyle sweater or sterling silver nose ring again. If you’re not caught, though, we’ll merely scream at our Internet service providers and hop in the car to go do our shopping.
Alternately, you could interfere with the delivery process. Ordering gifts on the computer is only useful if said gifts make it to their appointed destination.
First, put the United States Postal Service out of business. Apparently that’s almost already done. Second, pass the hat at the next Chamber of Commerce meeting and purchase Federal Express and UPS. Forbid them to deliver any more packages, and instead put their vehicles to use providing shuttles to area stores.
While you’re at it, make the UPS guys change out of those terrible brown outfits. Maybe some kind of Hawaiian floral pattern, or a gentle mauve.
If these steps are too drastic, you’re simply going to have to make getting off the couch worth my while. Give me something I can’t get online.
Pump in pleasant smells: warm chocolate chip cookies, freshly baked bread, freshly fried bacon. My computer has only been able to produce the smell of frying bacon once, and then it was time for a new computer.
Long checkout lines are a hassle. How about a checkout waiting room? While you’re waiting for your turn at the register, sit, have a cup of coffee, watch the football game, get a soothing foot massage. Maybe hand out chocolate chip cookies, freshly baked bread and bacon.
Offer to wrap my presents for free. Offer to help me bring my packages not from the store to the car — that’s easy — but from the car to my house, and up the stairs, and find some space in the bedroom closet.
Offer to watch people’s kids while they shop. You might even get the kids to help with the present wrapping. Offer to do my laundry.
Put in slot machines. Didn’t we just vote to allow gambling in all public buildings, or something like that?
Frequently, stores are too crowded with intimidating young people. If you set aside special hours for middle-aged people, I would be more likely to go. Also try setting aside special hours when I can shop in my bathrobe and slippers.
Providing entertainment might convince me. I would travel to see a top-notch juggler, or an insult comic. A good local band. Carrie Underwood in a community theater production of “The Sound of Music.” One of those Japanese game shows, where the shopper rolls around in a giant gerbil ball, or dives for coins in a vat of guacamole.
Or how about this: Tell me what to get my parents. No number of hours online can help me determine what to get Mom and Dad. Promise that you have the perfect gifts for them and I’ll travel almost any distance.
Otherwise, my brain is going to tell my heart to shut up, and I’ll just go back to the computer to finish my shopping. Sorry.
Email Steve Ouellette: firstname.lastname@example.org