Online vs. personal shopping? Two buyers discuss.



The way we shop has changed dramatically. for more and more people, their purchases are accompanied by a click of the mouse rather than a checkout ping – and this trend began long before a pandemic put many others off personal shopping.

However, as anyone who has bought something on the internet can attest, there are also downsides to shopping online. When you can’t see or touch something you can never be entirely sure of what you are getting. Additionally, the growth in online shopping is hurting our friends and neighbors who own thousands of brick and mortar stores have closed in recent years. This wave of closings is known as the “retail apocalypse”.

We asked two Philadelphia buyers: Is personal shopping the way to go this year?

Have you finished your shopping? Because everyone is saying you should start shopping online early because it will take a lot longer to ship this year? Yes, it is true. I know because this year I did all my shopping online.

That’s because I’m different this year (aside from supply chain issues and delayed shipping). On April 4th, 2021 my life changed dramatically. I went hiking with my husband, a good friend, and her daughter. On a fairly steep descent with serpentines, I descended from the path on loose leaves. I had walking sticks and was trying to bury them in for support, but I felt myself tip over and knew I was going to fall. I remember thinking – relax, join in, and maybe it won’t be that bad. I was wrong. It was bad.

After rolling upside down a few times and bumping into a few rocks along the way, I stopped about 25 feet downhill from my starting point. I don’t remember much other than my husband frantically saying my name, asking if it was okay, and my friend overheard 911.

I was operated on that night. I had fractured several vertebrae, one of which was twisted and pressing on my spinal cord. The surgeon removed the twist and fused several vertebrae together. I also broke eight ribs. And I couldn’t walk.

I lived away from home for two months, first in intensive care units, then in an inpatient rehab facility with intensive physiotherapy and occupational therapy. But I still can’t walk.

»READ MORE: 1 in 6 Pennsylvania voters has a disability. Why don’t the candidates advertise their support?

So I have to do all of my Christmas shopping online because I can’t go to a store on my own. And whoever I also need to know how to switch from a wheelchair to a car. Then, when we’re there, I have to hope that I can get into the shops – which is not something that can be taken for granted as there are many where a small step or a narrow door frame does not fit through. Even if I get in, I can’t use a cart or basket, so I can’t carry much. I also have to be able to navigate through the sometimes tight spaces Corridors. I only know grocery stores, pharmacies, doctor’s offices and hardware stores that I can enter without any problems. I knocked over displays in a candle shop because they were so close together that I couldn’t get my chair through. Ditto in garden centers and restaurants.

While I personally want to shop and support small businesses during this difficult time, being in a wheelchair makes personal shopping a royal ordeal.

There are also the looks of compassion that I get. I hate them. I know people mean well, but you wouldn’t walk past someone with a cold and say, “Oh, you poor darling.” But I get it in a wheelchair all the time. Before my accident, I never really noticed how the world wasn’t complying with the disability regulations, but now I notice it all the time. I wish there was some way to do everything better, but the fact is that it is expensive to set up a shop / restaurant / everything to be fully compliant.

“Before my accident, I never really noticed how the world was inconsistent with disability regulations, but now I notice it all the time.”

Emily Fernberger

So I shop online for everything this season, and I do so because it is the most efficient way for a disabled person to finish their shopping. I can shop online with no worries, without asking for help, without planning, and with the freedom to slowly scroll through options and browse what I think my family and friends would like. You deserve it: my accident hit all of us, and getting them something nice on this vacation is the least I can do.

Emily Fernberger is a financial advisor and lives in New Hope.

Hakim’s bookstore, which my father opened over 60 years ago, was around long before Amazon was even an idea, let alone a competitor. And while online shopping is becoming increasingly popular, the city’s oldest black bookstore doesn’t stop there.

»READ MORE: Philly’s oldest black-owned bookstore doesn’t have to compete with Amazon

There are distinct advantages to shopping in local brick and mortar stores – which I prefer as both a buyer and an owner. For one thing, you can see and feel the goods and know exactly what you are getting – you don’t have to order anything according to a picture and it will arrive (or not arrive at all) much smaller (or larger) than expected. There’s also no confusion about using them because when you buy our merchandise we explain how to use them.

Ultimately, that’s the main benefit of in-store shopping: the people. I’ve run this shop since 1997 when my father died, and I know every inch of it. This also applies to everyone else who works here. We can provide personalized attention to each buyer, answer questions, build relationships, and even place special orders. If you want to know anything about black history just go to the store and ask. We keep getting questions from customers “want to know” on a variety of topics and we can direct you to the right books and resources. If you need something else we can talk about it and pan in a different direction. A computer can make recommendations based on algorithms, but not based on conversations.

And if you have a problem with what you are buying, you can just bring it back and have a human interaction about it. No inconvenience or shipping costs.

A store like Hakim’s is more than just a physical store: it’s a community. That encouraged my father and I kept going. He went to great lengths to maintain and build community, including planning meetings with local experts and writers. We had to cut because of COVID-19, but in October we held a Haiti fundraiser with local writers who were born in Haiti and Haitian food. Our West Philly area doesn’t have many cafes or other central hangouts where people in the community can meet and meet open-minded people. We are proud to be able to fill this role.

“A shop like Hakim’s is more than just bricks and mortar: it’s a community.”

Yvonne Blake

Our customers tell us again and again how much they appreciate the fact that we are a family company, a “mother-child” with decades of experience in the industry. We have a reputation for encouraging new writers and other local writers who can come to us to ask if we are selling their books or merchandise, and for advice on how to be taken seriously in their field. We also know what it takes to keep a physical store open despite the challenges of online shopping and a global pandemic. So when other stationary stores open – like for example Uncle Bobbies in Germantown and Harriett’s Bookstore in Fishtown – someone from Hakim reached out to greet them. Every community needs a common room like a bookstore, and we’re glad you are here. This type of inter-store connectivity can be difficult to replicate in a virtual enterprise.

According to the Small Business Administration, if people spend $ 100 in a local business, $ 48 ends up in the local economy. The same amount spent in a national or large retail store will return just $ 14 home. Small businesses Give twice as much to local charities and nonprofits than bigger stores.

So when you shop at Hakim, Harriett, or Uncle Bobbie, you’re not just helping those stores, you’re helping the community as a whole.

Yvonne Blake is the owner of Hakim’s Bookstore & Gift Shop in West Philly.



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