Stephanie Smith: The joy of shopping on the High Street can never be matched by virtual shopping online

Nothing beats the sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch of proper shopping on the High Street.
Nothing beats the sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch of proper shopping on the High Street.
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I love shopping. Real shopping. Proper shopping. In the flesh, within an actual building of some form, whether bricks and mortar or steel and concrete or wood and canvas.

I want to be able to try on the clothes and shoes I buy, feel the fabric, note the stitching. I want to play with the glasses and pots and cushions I am considering, hold them up to the light, touch them, decide whether or not I want to place them in my home. I like to sniff perfume bottles, apply squirts of lotion, test lipstick on my hand (using the samples provided, obviously). The joy of shopping on the High Street - seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling, connecting - is something that virtual shopping online cannot ever hope to match. I love, want and need to see and try before I buy.

And buy I do. Plenty. I spread my love fairly between shops old and new, from small indies to large department stores, and everything in-between. I’m always looking for something different – bargains, sometimes; fair prices, always.

I almost never buy online, although I can and will, if a real shop doesn’t have in stock my size or something I am lusting after. Washing machines, yes, but only after they have been inspected in the flesh in a real shop.

I do a weekly essentials shop at one of the major chain supermarkets. I’m not loyal to any in particular. But at least two or three times a week, I walk to my local independent shops, especially the grocer, butcher, fish shop, gift shop and the Polski sklep.

If shopping is my favourite pastime, it is perhaps because it brings together and anticipates most of my other loves – fashion, art and design, home-making and cooking. To me, shopping is magical, theatrical, a quest, a path to inspiration and discovery.

So I wonder, when did the language of shopping become so dry and unappealing and business-like, all about consumers, empty units, customer service and footfall? Shop talk should be about more than this. Shopping is about appreciating craftsmanship, creativity and painstaking human care. It’s how we celebrate and experience what we design and make, from a beautiful satin dress to a wedge of Wensleydale cheese. Shopping should be a reality, not a theory or an ideal business model.

Somewhere along the way, proper shopping has become seen by some as trivial and a chore. Increasingly, I meet people who tell me they prefer to get it over with and buy “stuff” online, delivered to their door without meeting a single human who made it or sourced it or knows how to wear it or cook it.

We shop to live, not live to shop. Yet, to my mind, and to misquote Samuel Johnson, if you are tired of proper shopping, on the High Street, in a real shop staffed by real people, perhaps you should ask yourself exactly what your life has become.