Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Luring Me Physical

A good friend of mine from college came through town last weekend, which was awesome- and not just because we accidentally double-booked the weekend and Mr. Snarky resolved the problem by taking the girls on the promised camping trip with our day care buddies while I got to stay home and hang out with my friend. (That was pretty awesome, though.)

My friend is an expert in commercial real estate, and at one point, we ended up discussing what it takes to get people like me to go to physical stores. Apparently, relatively wealthy mothers like myself are a much sought-after demographic. I laughed and said that I spent much more time in stores back in my single days, but she pointed out that one of the things we did with my kid-and-husband free time was run an errand at Target. Fair point. We'd gone to Target because I needed to get things for Petunia's upcoming birthday party and a gift for one of her friends' birthdays. I could probably have found the party plates and favors online, but I like to get kids' gifts at a physical store, for the ease of returns. I don't know what the other kid likes, already has, etc., etc., and I don't want to hand some other family the chore of packaging up my gift and shipping it back to Amazon.

And that started us talking about what it takes to get someone like me into a physical store. Here is my list of things I prefer to buy at a physical store, along with my reasons:
  • Gifts for other people's kids (so that they can have easy returns)
  • Clothes for me (so that I can try them on)
  • Shoes for me (same thing)
  • Groceries (no idea why- I guess because of the delivery timing problem
  • Technical books (I like to scan through these before I buy- but with the advent of things like StackOverflow and other online tech resources, and with my transition into management, I buy very few tech books these days.)
  • Furniture (so I can see it and examine the quality)
And that's about it. I do sometimes buy other things in a physical store, but only if that works out to be more convenient than ordering online. I suspect my days of just ordering things for Pumpkin are going to come to an end relatively soon- she is starting to have some strong opinions about what sort of clothes she wants. So far, though, I haven't seen a need to try her clothes on before we buy them, so we can still order online, I just need to have her sitting next to me when I'm browsing.

My friend and I talked some more about my idea clothing store, too. I would love to find a store that stocked an invariant core of staple clothing (I guess the industry calls these "classics"), and just had a varying range of fashionable things around that core. I hate how hard it is to find a shirt that fits right, and that even if a shirt from one store fit one year, I can't count on it having the same cut the next year. And don't get me started about finding pants that fit!

After thinking some more, I thought that a store that had some clothes for me, some clothes for my kids, and a train table and a bunch of books to distract my kids while I shopped would get a lot of return business from me, particularly if they also had the core staples I want. I could see going in to pick up a new pair of black pants, for instance, and letting the kids play for a short time while I browsed through the fashionable tops. Somehow, I never have enough tops. I'd probably end up buying whatever the kids needed at the time, too, rather than ordering it online. (This only works if the prices aren't outrageous- they don't have to be cheaper than the discount places, but they can't be in the "only for the independently wealthy" range, either. Maybe $10-$20 for kids items, and Nordstrom level pricing for me.)

Of course, no such store exists, at least not here in San Diego. Old Navy is the closest, and their clothes just don't work for me. Also, the store is too big and chaotic for me to shop while letting my kids play. So I'll stick with my current infrequent clothes shopping schedule- and I'll probably continue to try to buy some of my clothes online, even though I have a pretty poor success rate with that approach. I'd say that about half the time I'm really happy with what I ordered, and half the time I'm not. I am rarely unhappy enough to bother with the return, though, so I guess the online retailers are winning- except that I do eventually learn and give up on a particular store/brand.

What about you? What things do you prefer to buy in a physical store? And why? What would a store need to do to compete with the online retailers and get your business on merit? I'm less interested in people choosing to shop local on principle- that's cool, but there are a lot of principles competing for my time, if you know what I mean. You can, of course, argue with me about that in the comments, too!

40 comments:

  1. This is a topic near and dear to my heart as i love to shop but rarely do it anymore thanks to having a 3yo and also a body that hasn't been a stable size for about 4 years now :D

    Hanna Andersson may be something worth checking out, esp if you have an outlet near you. Ours has a few toys for playing with, the prices are in the range you mentioned and their kids clothes are GREAT quality. But there's a definite style to their adult clothes that you'd have to like. Some of it is way too frumpy for my tastes, but their PJs and sweats and casual stuff are pretty awesome.

    For birthday presents we need to send to other people far away, we buy through Amazon typically, so even if it's work for them to return it, they already have the box and stuff. I've returned Amazon gifts and it's not much harder than dragging myself out to Target, Toys R Us, etc. as long as I have the original box and receipt.

    I also keep some standard kid gifts at home (crayons, markers, coloring books) mostly for T as needed, but we've raided the stash for birthdays too. I figure art supplies are easy, and ok to have duplicates.

    Target is our go-to store for most inexpensive things, though (household stuff, diapers, wipes). We gave up our Costco membership because it was too annoying to have *another stop*.

    I'd love grocery/household shopping to be "one stop" but we can't find a store that has it all. Trader Joe's is close, for grocery, but doesn't have baby stuff nor does it have certain items that hubby and T "need". Fortunately hubby has taken over the grocery shopping and doesn't mind it. Otherwise i'd outsource the whole thing to Amazon Fresh, and the occasional Target run.

    Books I definitely buy on price, so I'm almost exclusively an Amazon shopper, esp now that I have a Kindle. Or I go to the library when I feel like "browsing" - ours is pretty awesome.

    I don't have the time or energy to shop "on principle" though we do buy organic fruit and humanely-raised meat (hence the extra trip to Whole Foods sometimes).

    But I just can't bring myself to pay full list price on a book just to keep the local indie bookstore in business when Amazon has it for 40% off or whatever. I actually love the convenience of Amazon and don't view them as the evil online entity set to drive out small business. (Plus does it count that they're local to me, and LOTS of my friends are employed by them?)

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    1. We don't have a Hanna Anderson store near us at all, but I do buy things for the kids from them online. I agree, their quality is top notch. But their women's clothes just won't work for me. I need a reasonably deep V neck or scoop on my tops, or I look like a linebacker. This is also why I've basically given up on LL Bean (plus, their styles don't nip in enough at the waist for me- again with the linebacker look).

      I prefer eBooks because of space considerations, so Amazon gets my books business, too. I don't think they are evil, and I also don't think they necessarily have to drive local bookshops out of business. The local shops will just have to find the magic combo to lure people in. For me, it would take having a kiosk where I can buy an eBook. I'm watching the changes in DRM in eBooks with interest. They already have the kids books, which I'm more likely to want physical (although I like having some kids eBooks, too, for travel and because sometimes I can get a kid to sit still and read on my Fire when they won't do so for a physical book).

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  2. Whole Foods needs a train table! In fact, I can't think of any store that wouldn't be improved with a train table.

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    1. Yes. Stores that recognize that kids will behave better if entertained (or if there is a non-food reward I can offer for good behavior, like 10 minutes at the train table) get my vote- and dollars.

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    2. Whole Foods does have free healthy kid snacks, which is a big attraction for us (box of raisins, banana, applesauce, etc.)

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    3. Alexicographer7:37 AM

      We had a local store with a train table (a toy store). It went out of business. I'm not claiming causality, just feeling woeful.

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  3. Iris fell in love w/ her ENT because he kept his children's outgrown toys in the waiting room.

    Have you tried the Lands' End boutique in Sears? My daughter and I can both try on clothes for fit. If our preferred size and color is not available in store, they will ship it to your home without charge.

    The LE pants come in 3 fits: 1 is low, 2 is just below the waist and 3 is at the waist. Pants also come in Petite, Regular and Tall, with corresponding rise lengths. Inseam length is independent and can be custom-hemmed to the 1/4" and they will do different lengths for each leg. I am a size 8, regular rise, Fit 2, R29.75"/L30" inseam gal.

    For girls, they have regular, slim and plus sizes.

    In mass-market RTW, it doesn't get any better than that.

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    1. I may have to try that! I haven't been in a Sears in years. But there is one in a not too out of the way mall for us, and the mall has a play area with a train (so I can bribe- uh, reward- for good shopping behavior without having to resort to candy). Hmmmm.

      Plus there is a Nordstroms in that mall, and they have my current favorite t-shirts. Soon to be redesigned, no doubt.

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    2. Our Sears stopped stocking Land's End. Sorrow, sorrow. Actually, it seems like they stopped stocking pretty much any clothing (but when we asked they said they'd purposefully stopped stocking Land's End).

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  4. We have local stores in our pedestrian downtown with train tables for kids. I love physical stores and would shop at them a lot of the time - I prefer to buy local anyway (though we use a lot of amazon and diapers.com). But mostly, I would say, I love to window shop. The biggest impediment to me shopping in real stores is that I dislike shopping malls (too crowded, too full of chains) and I'd like to be able to walk around, preferably outside, and kind of *graze* on stores. I buy more when I do this. I like to see and handle and try on. I buy all my books from "real" bookstores because most of the time when I'm buying a book, I don't know exactly what I want. I have to look. I got used to this lifestyle when I was living in Big European Capital City, where that's basically what everyone did - wander around densely packed commercial areas, sit at cafés, and wander in and out of stores. Then the kids can be in the stroller sometimes. So basically, what I want is difficult to attain in the US - a densely packed commercial area, even if small, where I can walk around outside and wander in and out of stores. If it involves some kind of long a$$ car trip, I don't want to do it and I'd just prefer to buy online where I can. I'm very spoiled where I live, and that will change dramatically after my move next summer.

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    1. I went to a conference in a small European city that was the same size as the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) that I'm living in now, that is to say, small... but everything was consolidated into the town square and it was a totally different shopping experience, than our sprawl. They were able to have much better stores, probably because there was a lot less duplication of chains all over town.

      If only I spoke the language! I would so love to live someplace with excellent public transportation and a great city center. We went around Christmas too and it was magical.

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    2. Anonymous1:12 PM

      That's one of the main reasons why I wanted to move back to Europe. It is also a reason why I try to limit my online shopping, since I really don't want our nice inner city to die. However, since I got kids I end up doing it anyways because it's so much easier and faster. It's also very hard to try on clothes with my very active 11 months old, who will not stay in a changing room if he has any way of crawling out of it.

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    3. Awhile back, there was a trend for development companies to do "town square" type mallish things, at least out here. I wonder if that would work for you? Or, if you lived in San Diego, I'd point you to Hillcrest or one of the beach areas for a strollable shopping street. I just don't happen to live in those areas (anymore)! And my nearest beach area has a target audience that is a good 20 years younger than me now.

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    4. Cloud, I have to admit, while I think those things are better than the suburban alternative, they tend to creep me out. It's basically an outdoor mall, and don't have any of the charm (or frankly, interesting stores) that I have on my pedestrian downtown mall (a real part of the big town I live in). And you have to drive there, because they are always in some weird isolated place. We chose where we're living in part because we could walk to the downtown mall, which is an important part of our weekend lives.

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  5. For a while we were buying groceries online and it was the best thing ever. Produce was difficult (and I think it was produce that eventually sunk the online grocery provider we were using) but they had a policy that if you didn't like the look of it when it arrived, you just let them know, and you didn't pay for it. Still, sometimes the apples look good, and sometimes they're all bruised, and in the store you can make a last minute decision about them.

    Awesome things about the online grocery experience - they gave you a $5 discount for ordering in your preselected 3 hour weekly delivery window. Their interface brought up a list of "previously bought" items, and you could customize it for staples that you bought every week. We had a corner store where we could get last minute stuff, but it was pricier than the grocery store, and didn't have everything, so this was something that worked brilliantly until they realized they weren't making money doing it.

    I agree that Old Navy is outrageously large and impossible to shop at. I'm seeing a problem with making a store that has all the things you've listed, but is small enough to keep track of your kids while you browse. What about some sort of online/real world store. You go online and fill your shopping cart with all sorts of stuff that you want to buy/try on, and specify what time you will be ther. When you arrive at the store, there's a central area for the kids to play in, surrounded by fitting rooms. One of these fitting rooms holds all the things you wanted to try on, along with a selection of items the staff things you would like based on previous purchases and additions to your shopping cart. They would get to collect a ton of info about you and your preferences - including what you chose to try on but not purchase - and you wouldn't have to spend your time at the store searching through racks of clothing for just the right size. That's a store I would shop at. Not sure I could afford what they would have to charge though...

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    1. You're right, for my dream store to be a manageable size, it'd have to only stock things I love. Which is probably not a sustainable business model!

      I love love LOVE your idea. That would rule. And they could have some small things out that I'd impulse buy to increase the amount of money they make off me when I come in. Like small kids toys, cards, etc.

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    2. what a great idea!

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    3. Engineering Elf8:10 AM

      Most definately a store I would shop at as long as they had kids clothes and adult clothes. They could sell snacks and drinks for monetary increase from impulse shopping too.

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  6. I love in-store grocery shopping so much that even though my husband has way more time to do the household grocery shopping, I still volunteer to do it. For me the reason is that I love to browse and impulse shop. This is probaby why my pants are all getting tight.

    Basically any time I am in the mood to browse, I prefer in-store shopping. The Kiwis did a great job of curbing my prediliction for retail therapy with their pragmatism about waste and DIY-ness, so I don't browse-and-shop very often, but sometimes the itch just needs to be scratched.

    I have had great experience with buying furniture online, but I am right there with you on clothes/shoe shopping. That has to be done in person.

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    1. Oh man. You want to come do my grocery shopping? Warning: you have to take at least one child with you, and said child(ren) will insist on getting one of the little kid carts and pushing it around, and will tell you which things go in your cart and which go in the kid cart.

      Basically, it is a good thing my kids are cute and most of the other shoppers are elderly folks from the retirement building across the street.

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  7. I like Zappos for shoes. Shipping is free both ways. I have ordered four pairs of shoes before, tried them all on, and then returned the three I didn't want. I end up paying a little more than my local discount shoe store, but I don't have to leave the comfort of my own home.

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    1. It isn't the cost of shipping that keeps me from returning my misses, it is the hassle.

      I know. I suck.

      I have had some successes, though. Maybe sometime I'll do a post on those!

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  8. mom2boy8:00 AM

    I don't know that I regularly buy anything online except for ebooks that can be instantly delivered. I'm a procrastinator and online shopping requires planning ahead.

    Then again I've had the luxury of daytime, weekday errand running hours available to me. I'm sure things will change when I have to start allocating weekend hours to that sort of thing. Physical stores can't add more hours in the day or make a crowded mall less crowded - crowded is good for them, bad for the shopper. Hard to make that work for everyone.

    Also, I am underwhelmed by Trader Joe's and my grocery shopping selections here. No matter that I can get cheap wine - Publix roasts their own rotisserie chickens.

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    1. All the big chains roast their own rotisserie chickens here. Heck, even my 2 store local grocery chain does. Have you checked Vons, Albertsons or Ralphs? I consider TJs great for some items, but could never do my entire shopping there. At one point, we lived in a neighborhood that had a TJs and a Henry's (local store like Sprouts- in fact, now merged w/Sprouts I think) right across the street. We'd hit both to get all our items. Now we just go to TJs for a big stock up run once a month. They carry New Zealand cheddar and my husband basically won't do without that.

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    2. mom2boy2:23 PM

      I think I'm just taking my homesickness out on the grocery stores. I've been in one or another almost everyday (new target demographic for in store shopping: relocated spouses) out here and it just reminds me I'm somewhere unfamiliar - neighborhood grocery stores are so familiar after awhile you know?
      I've been shopping at Vons (and buying their chickens) and there is a Sprouts nearby but I haven't ventured in it yet. TJ did not have chicken when I went on my second night here and I think I'm still bitter over that. lol

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    3. I know exactly what you mean! When I moved to New Jersey after graduate school, it took me a long time to settle into the new grocery store situation. The regional differences in layouts and line behavior expectations would make an excellent dissertation for someone....

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  9. Alexicographer8:00 AM

    Basically, if I could I would avoid ever setting foot in a retail establishment for as long as I live. I so dislike to shop. So I am probably not the demographic of interest! And I am perpetually grateful for Amazon and similar.

    I mostly figure out what to buy where (largely a pricing decision, though not to the neglect of quality -- I mean, it's "what item do I want" and then "where can I get it cheapest," not "where is the cheapest item?") and then I go there over and over again, and typically just back to the few items I know I buy in that store. If I can get in and out of the store within 5 or at most 10 minutes, I am a happy camper (this pretty much rules out establishments like Costco, Sears, Target, Walmart, etc. as well as any shopping mall, though I will go to our small local mall). Need I mention, I buy clothes/shoes as seldom as possible? I just stuck a pair of LL Bean shoes in brown on my Amazon wishlist, because I already own a pair that is identical except for being black and can thereby avoid the whole go-to-store/try-on-shoes thing. And there was much rejoicing (or will be)!

    Stores that have clear labeling and make it easy for me to find what I want get bonus points. Stores that play loud music get minus points. I will shop at Trader Joes in our town, but only for a few items (they lose on clearly labeled/easy to find, for one thing) and literally, only if I have my earplugs; the store is that loud. Which reminds me, I went there last night and then forgot to put the earplugs back in my car for my next shopping trip.

    Do I sound like a crank? Clearly I am about shopping. But otherwise, I am exactly the right demographic.

    A seriously detailed and current map app (showing me where to find the size 12 Lee jeans, for example) would be of huge value, except for the minor detail that I don't own anything app-able. But conceptually, wonderful.

    A good coffee/pastry shop has some possibility of getting me into somewhere and then shopping. But even that's limited; I won't, for example, go to our nearby Barnes & Noble (except in absolute emergencies), though it does have one, because it takes 5 minutes or more just to get into/out of that parking lot, so I actually can't even get to the store without violating the time standard.

    I did recently go to the Best Buy in the same shopping center (as the B&N) to see if it was time to buy a tablet + keyboard yet, since as far as I can tell I'm actually going to have to try one to find one I want to buy (I didn't). So I can be lured in. But mostly I shop just for household stuff. We even have a local organic (etc.) produce compiler who will let me order (from different local suppliers) and then aggregate my stuff and deliver it to me ... I do use them, but not too often because of the cost.

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  10. I do not like to shop. I will go to great lengths to avoid running errands--my husband teases me about this (and usually does them himself--what a guy!).

    The only things I buy in person are groceries and clothes. Even shoes come from Zappos now. It took me a year and a half to get new sunglasses because I needed to pick them out in person and kept putting it off.

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    1. I just ordered replacement Maui Jims from Amazon. I left my last pair at the restaurant on my night out w/o husband or kids. I blame the sambucca.... They came today, and they are awesome, as usual.

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  11. I would kill for a store that always carried the same staple wardrobe items! By the time I realize that a certain cut of shirt or pants is perfect for me, they never have it any more, and then I'm back at square one the next time. In the rare instances that I predict I'll love something, I usually buy three of it.

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    1. I know so many people who say this, and yet no store does it. No doubt they have market research that proves we're all lying about what would make us spend money!

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  12. Alexicographer9:51 AM

    You know, thinking about this further ... first off, we have had wonderful weather where I live for, like, a year -- a phenomenally mild (warm) winter followed by a phenomenally mild (cool) summer. That works against my willingness to shop, as I'd much rather be outside/active than inside if the weather is decent. But with my son, I need to get out of the house, so if the weather is bad, I'll contemplate retail as a destination, though I usually prefer our town's (indoor) public pool.

    So a mall with a good indoor playground would be a draw in bad weather. Indeed, one of the few places I do now go to go (i.e. by choice/as recreation) is a (very, very small) local mall with a nice outdoor area near its food co-op/cafe. But that area has actual trees on actual ground (covered by actual mulch) with actual rocks and such -- it is not (in contrast with another, large local mall) a paved outside area with a few sculpted (not actual) natural features that are not intended to be touched. There's got to be comfortable seating (and likely, free wifi), and it's got to be a pleasant place for kids to play -- a good playground, a place appropriate for, say, tag or casual soccer play, or an interactive fountain, say. So then I'm going there to hang out, but might also shop since I'm already there (and look, if you can get me to shop, you can get anyone to shop).

    And just in general, I think the US separation of retail from public, from recreation, and from residential is a bad, bad, bad thing. Our town has recently moved its public library into the (mid-sized) local mall while renovating the library building (which sits in solitary splendor on a large chunk of town land, though I understand the completed renovation will add a cafe), which is SUCH a wonderful thing. While it lasts. And does actually get me to go to the mall!

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    1. I agree! I hate how we zone so that it is next to impossible to buy a "family" house near shopping unless you have lots and lots of money and can live in one of the hip areas. I can walk to my grocery store and drug store and a few restaurants, but not much else. Also a dollar store. I hear they are nicer than they used to be, but I've never been in my local one!

      I can walk to my local library, too, and that is great, even if the library itself is not one of the best branches in the city.

      One thing SoCal does right though is that in the coastal climate zones, the malls are all outdoors. So you can stroll and be outside.

      The thing that makes me sad is that my local strip mall (with the grocery store and drug store) is mostly neglected by its management company, and doesn't have much in it. And yet there is some serious money in my neighborhood, particularly now as the demographics change and the original generation of owners die off and young families move in. (Turn over in this neighborhood was seriously distorted by prop 13, but that is another post altogether....) In fact, my moaning about this is what prompted the conversation that prompted this post!

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  13. It would take something spectacularly fun for the kids for us to devote precious weekend time to shopping.
    I've only gone into a store (other than grocery or drugstore) a handful of times this year: 3 times it was clothing for me, which was more a social outing (met friends for brunch/shopping downtown), once was for baby's first pair of shoes, since we wanted his feet measured (they had a train table, it was a tiny little 'boutique' and the shoes were $$$), and once to Target when we had family watching the kids. We'll probably go to Macy's to see the organ/light show for Christmas. That's it. Hopefully my boys will be happy in Oldnavy.com's finest for years to come.
    We don't do online grocery shopping anymore because we got burned too many times when we meal planned around some main items that somehow didn't make it. Plus we now do mostly organic produce and the stores that do on-line don't have much of those. we got something in the mail yesterday for freshdirect. i've never heard of it before (maybe new to our area?), but it looks promising.

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    1. Since you have boys you may get away with just picking their clothes longer than I do. I am not surprised to discover that the desire to match the fashions worn by the other girls has already started in kindergarten. But I am sort of sad.

      I think the thing that pushed us away from online groceries was the fact that we ordered one size of milk and got a completely different size, and then had to figure out how to make it fit in our fridge. So a pretty small problem, really.

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  14. Holly5:43 PM

    I do a lot of my clothing shopping at a small local boutique. It's next to the Ann Taylor Loft I used to shop at, and about the same price range. I love it! I walk in, and the owner will immediately show me things she things I'd like and which would fit me. (And she's really good and guessing both those things!) Some of my favorite outfits are things she brought me that I initially thought "really???" but liked once I put on. If I'm looking for something in particular, she'll remember that when she goes to market to get the new styles. It's a small enough store that if I had kids (I don't) it would be easy to let them play in the corner (there's a good kid sitting spot). So, basically, just a plug to actually seek out and see if you have a nice little botique - I walked past this place for years assuming that it was probably way out of my price range. Now I've got lovely, unique, clothes, and a really happy shopping experience.

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    1. You make a good point. I'm afraid that finding the right boutique would take some serious work or require driving up to the mall near where most of the fairly wealthy moms in San Diego live... i.e., not my neighborhood. In fact, I have seen stores like that in the big strip mall/shopping center up there. I can't really justify the drive. Maybe if I found a way to do the shopping on my lunch break (the area is near where I work).

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    2. holly7:30 AM

      Yes, I can certainly understand the difficulties in first finding such a boutique. I kinda lucked out. This all ties in, too,with the concept of zoning and the american habit of making the stores driving distance from where the families live (a favorite topic of mine=)). I'm just about to move to a few neighborhood where I will be (gasp!) walking distance from a grocery store, and lots of cute locally-owned shops and restaurants. It will be interesting to see how that affects my shopping behaviors, as I suspect I will be out and about just walking/running/window shopping more. (Unfortunately, said boutique will still be driving distance).

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  15. Re clothes shopping. I hired a personal shopper a few years ago to do a major trip with me for work/speaking/grown-up clothes, and it was a good investment. Not just for what she picked out (some misses but mostly hits) but also because she (and watching What Not To Wear back when I still sometimes watched TV) taught me what worked and what doesn't. If you found someone who came well-recommended, she'd not only design a game plan (stores to go to, cram it all in 3 hours) but would probably know of cool little boutiques, so you could go back when you got bored with your new clothes in, like, 3 years.

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    1. I have friends who do this for fun. I don't understand it, but I appreciate it!

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