Online shopping has changed the back-to-school shopping season drastically since I was a child. I can remember spending the last few weeks before back-to-school trudging in and out of the local mall for new shoes and clothes and Walmart or Zellers for a new backpack and supplies. Some part of that always stuck with me, as even now in my thirties I still have a slight obsession with fun pens and other stationery supplies. When I was little it was so exciting picking out new markers and gel-pens, matching lunch bags and backpacks, and ripped jeans that would make my mother crazy.
Now I have school-aged children, and after a couple of years running around to find everything they need before their September start date, back-to-school shopping has lost its novelty. Not only do I hear my mother coming out of my mouth when I say, “Your pencil crayons from last year are still fine,” but I also just don’t look forward to the hustle and bustle of heading out shopping post-pandemic. This is especially true with two kids who want to buy toys and refuse to try anything on. It’s exhausting.
Online shopping first started just 28 years ago, meaning when I was growing up, it was almost nowhere to be found. In 2020, Amazon alone took up almost half of all online sales for the year. Once the pandemic hit though, ecommerce sales hit “$870 billion in the US in 2021, a 14.2% increase over 2020 and a 50.5% increase over 2019,” according to Forbes. In under 30 years, online shopping has become a 4.9 trillion dollar industry globally. Clearly I’m not the only one that wants to jump on this online shopping bandwagon, and it really does make back-to-school shopping feel like less of a hassle.
“Online shopping first started just 28 years ago, meaning when I was growing up, it was almost nowhere to be found.”
I’m lucky because right now, my children are still young enough that a trip to the store is fun and exciting—though they still always think they’re getting a new toy. I know these years go quickly, and by the time they are preteens, being seen in public with me will be their worst nightmare. Yes, I’m busy. Yes, I’m tired. Yes, online shopping can make back-to-school shopping a breeze, but at what cost?
Online shopping is changing the game. With Amazon Prime, for the most part, I can order everything my kids need online and get it sometimes next-day, even if I order at 11pm. Starting earlier in the summer, I placed some orders from Old Navy and The Children’s Place online and got all their clothes in a couple of weeks. Realistically, I could have gotten away without stepping foot into a store during the back-to-school shopping season because of online shopping.
Online shopping sounds like a clear winner here for back-to-school, but there are some other things I’ve started to consider. Are online stores and apps robbing us of in-person experiences? As I said, I have core memories of shopping with my mom. I can remember when I was finally old enough to be trusted with spending money on my own, being handed $100 to find myself some new clothes while my mom shopped. It turned out that when I was holding onto the money, I was a lot more stingy.
“Realistically, I could have gotten away without stepping foot into a store during the back-to-school shopping season because of online shopping.”
If I’m doing all their shopping online—likely long after they’ve gone to bed—my children aren’t getting the chance to make those same memories. Maybe they will whine now and be glad to get out of a day at the mall with mom, but looking back when they’re older, is that really something I want to take away from them? Quality time together is few and far between with small children and working parents. I want to spend that time with them, eat at the food court, buy something silly and just hang out with my kids.
Memories aren’t the only concern though. If I start handling all the back-to-school shopping online, they aren’t learning lessons about money or getting to express their individuality by choosing their own clothes and supplies. Of course, I can load up Amazon Prime with them, but I don’t think scrolling through pages and filters is going to teach the same lesson or hold the same significance as sifting through the racks at the mall.
Of course, this doesn’t just stop with back-to-school, and the issues don’t just end with inside the home. Christmas shopping is done online. Grocery shopping is done online. You can furnish your entire home from your smartphone—and can even test out how it looks virtually. Online shopping is taking the legwork out of shopping, but it’s also taking the personalization out of it. I don’t even want to begin to dive into what this could mean for malls, department stores and even local stores.
Back-to-school shopping can be completed in a matter of minutes through an app or two on your smartphone while you’re watching TV in your PJs. That sounds like a dream, but remember what you could be missing out on by making the switch to technology over in-person experiences. Learning about money, expressing individuality, quality time, and above all, food court food, is on the line.