The Big 2005 Holiday Mail-Order Letdown
If I were writing a syndicated column for some news empire, I'd feel compelled to write a piece about how abysmally poor mail-order has been this year. Especially since, for the past few years -- ever since the dotcom boom really -- there was always this talk in the business world about whether the Internet would change the face of retail and put brick-and-mortar stores under. But in order for that to have happened, a trust would have had to be forged. A trust between buyer and seller that an item that the buyer paid for would get to its intended destination at the right time and that it would arrive in the way that it would arrive if they had lovingly packed and shipped it themselves. And it seems that you can rarely trust that will happen in the holiday season. Even with usually infallible Amazon.com.
With the wealth of aggressive marketing promising that it was not too late to order for Christmas delivery coming from nearly every retailer who knows my email address, I decided to take advantage of this convenience and do a good bit of my shopping online. My money came late and time was short, and I was pressed for time and working nearly all of my waking hours. I ordered from Urban Outfitters, The Discovery Store, Williams-Sonoma, and Amazon.com, and my results were lackluster at best. I ordered several items to ship directly to the recipients with giftwrap and a message enclosed. With Amazon.com, if you order multiple items to ship to the same recipient, you can't group those into a single gift shipment with a single gift card attached. You have to attach a gift message to each item. In the case of my friend Adam, that means that the one item he received today has the same gift message as the two other things he will apparently be receiving later will have. But as far as he knew, he'd gotten as much gift as he was getting. So he called and thanked me, and I asked him how he liked the things I sent, and only then realized he hadn't received all of the items yet. Boo. He said the gift card was also strangely overanxious about wanting you to open the package first and read the message after the fact. Which makes no sense to me. I sent gifts to several other people, and I hope they will arrive as planned, but who knows. The fifteen or so items I ordered to be delivered to my address so I could then wrap and bring the gifts to San Diego with me were a total bust. None of them arrived on time, and I dind't find out until I received an email from Amazon.com today that they weren't going to ship out as promised. So when I went and spent my super stressful day at the malls yesterday, I didn't know that I still had to cover the people I thought I had already checked off my list. One of whom is my sister, who is extremely hard to shop for. I don't know why the items didn't ship. All I know is that I even joined that Amazon Prime and paid $79 so I could get unlimited two-day shipping, and nothing I needed got here when it was supposed to. The only two items I ordered that arrived on time were things I bought for me. As if to teach me a lesson about greed. Urban Outfitters didn't get my order to me on time either. And The Discovery Store may still get my shipment to me by tomorrow, but I decided not to stay in Los Angeles and risk being further disappointed and also have to sit in godawful traffic. I have to go to the mall now anyway. I might as well shop for everyone. Only Williams-Sonoma got it right on the money. I used them to ship gifts to all of my clients, and as far as I can tell, the parcels arrived on time and in good shape. Unfortunately, a few of my clients have already left for the holidays and probably won't get their gifts until after the new year. If their co-workers haven't already pilfered them all.
If web retailers want to corner the market on sending gifts for people, I say they have to make it so that they send the gifts the way YOU would send them. Wrapped in holiday paper with a note attached and packed in a box that isn't full of in-carton marketing. And preferably shipped in such a way that you don't get one part of your gift one day and the rest of it another. As Adam pointed out, it would have really sucked if I'd bought him an RC car and batteries and only the batteries had arrived today. I did not buy him an RC car. But I certainly know what to get him next year. That's right. Batteries.
I guess it's more personal to handwrap the gifts and put your own peanuts in the box and take them to the post office and stand in line and everything. Further, I guess it's a lot easier to only exchange gifts with friends who live near you and are willing to pick their gifts up from you on Christmas day. Or to not exchange gifts with people at all. But in the absence of that, mail order would be such a godsend if it actually worked. I can't be trusted to do it right or on time. I only just sent out my holiday cards, and I forgot to affix my return address labels to them, so it's likely the recipients won't even know they're from me. My signature is unintelligible. It's why Beulah started calling me "Muzzy."
So, I don't know what the retail numbers will be like this year. Whatever they are, you can bet the current administration will use them to prove that consumer confidence is fine and the economy is not in the shitter. If I'm any case study, though, the numbers are more a reflection of consumer idiocy than confidence. I should absolutely not be spending as much as I have this Christmas. Especially considering how lean much of this year has been for me. But I get suckered in and I go apeshit. My spending isn't based on my confidence that I will have plenty of work next year. It's based on the mania that this season creates in me. And it's no good.
I am beginning to hate Christmas. I just hate the whole pretense of having to buy things for everyone. I love my family and I love my friends, and frankly I'm pretty darn nice to them all year long. And I buy gifts for people all year long. And then at Christmas it's like I have to top all of that. Because my friends and family are accustomed to having me give them that book they wanted or that handbag they touched at the store. You know, just because. So Christmas comes around and I end up having to spend thousands of dollars. Just to come up to par.
On top of that, celebrating every Christmas in San Diego is wearing on me, too. This is the fifth year I've had to do this, and it's such a stressful misery trying to get my shit together. Packing my clothes and my laundry and my gifts and the wrapping paper and all the little things I want to make sure not to forget. I always forget something. ALWAYS. I bought my parents a Honeybaked Ham this year, and I left it in my refrigerator. In Los Angeles. I guess I should be grateful that I didn't leave it on the living room floor. But still. When I give it to them next week, it'll just feel like dinner. What a let down. I really just don't feel very much of the holiday spirit this year. I like egg nog, but in every other respect -- HUMBUG.
I would so love a handmade Christmas. Just once. For real. I would love making things for everyone I love and having them make things for me. And I would even love it if all the gifts were awful. In fact, I would prefer it if they were awful. Really good handmade gifts would just show up how poor my gifts would be. Actually, I think I should start insisting that all my gifts be water-soluble. I'm working so hard to get rid of things in my apartment right now, the last thing I need is to cart home a carload of knickknacks in an elephant theme. Unless of course they can be taken into the bath tub with me and melted into colorful nothing that I can watch swirl down the drain as I clap.
But lest I sound ungrateful, I want my friends and family to know that I appreciate every kindness I'm shown and every gift I'm handed. Unequivocally. I do. And I save almost everything. And I look at my gifts fondly over the years and remember how wonderful it was to be important to whoever gave them to me. But I will also remember the pictures we took together and the drinks we raised and the things that made us laugh. And I will treasure those gifts most of all.