Merlene Davis: Online shopping is the way to go

Jeremy and Lauren Gibson searched for a specific book at Joseph-Beth at Lexington Green on Friday. They didn't find it, so they'll buy it online.
Jeremy and Lauren Gibson searched for a specific book at Joseph-Beth at Lexington Green on Friday. They didn't find it, so they'll buy it online. Pablo Alcala | Staff

My fingers are weak as they begin to type the following confession: I did not get up at 5 a.m. this Black Friday to wrap my fingers around one of those must-have bargains that lured me out of my warm bed in years past.

You have no idea how much it pains me to tell you that.

Does that mean I missed out on those bargains? Of course not. I am a serious shopper.

What that means is that I, like millions of other folks, have been wooed to the Internet by companies that know my desire to buy a product is far greater than my desire to stand in long lines and be banged about by other bargain seekers.

If I can get it online, with free shipping, for the same price as a doorbuster sale at a store across town, when gasoline is hovering around $3 a gallon, then I will.

I hear you gasping.

My boss gasped as well, basically saying I was a traitor to local small business owners who are slowly but surely disappearing from the landscape because many Americans are choosing to shop online. After all, this column came soon after local shopping icon Joseph-Beth Booksellers, which started here in the 1980s, announced it would close some of its stores elsewhere.

Heartless, I am not. Thrifty, yes.

That doesn't mean I don't shop locally. I do. It's just that if I can find the same or a similar item online for a cheaper price, I'm going to get it online.

The exceptions to that are perishable products and my desire to have good customer service.

If the customer service is exceptional, I'll buy from you day and night. The problem is local service is sometimes as impersonal as those unseen folks on the phone.

But despite what might be great service, many local businesses are failing, and that's saddening always.

As part of its decision to enter bankruptcy protection, Joseph-Beth is closing stores, and that move will be a blow to those communities. But sometimes books online are cheaper and with free shipping.

A friend of mine, Rita Badger, shops locally a lot, but she also shops QVC.

Does she see herself as a traitor to local merchants?

"I've thought about that," she said. "It's not like I don't shop locally. I do. But I'm on a budget. I just bought a (Today's Special Value) on QVC. There was no shipping and handling, and it was on four easy payments, which allow me to stretch out the payments with no interest."

And, she said, the return policy is far more lenient than with local merchants.

"You can eat the food and send back the empty box, and they will give you your money back if you didn't like it," she said. "They don't ask questions. I like that.

"It's shopping for dummies."

There is no standing in line, no traffic congestion and no hassles. Just lower prices and convenience, she said.

I'm with her.

Should we feel guilty? I don't think so.

Should local businesses evolve and adjust to our household budgets and new shopping needs? Yes, by all means.

Nothing stays the same.

I was told if you don't like a merchant, shop with your feet. Move on, in other words. I think more and more shoppers are doing just that.