Opinion Column

Online shopping makes for poorly stocked shelves

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

(Postmedia Network/Files)

(Postmedia Network/Files)

On Monday, I needed to buy a booster seat. My kids were going to spend the day with a friend and we needed something that would fit in between two other car seats in the back of a station wagon.

My first stop was Toys 'R' Us since this is where we bought most of our baby gear. I found one that was the right width and pulled it from the shelf. Unfortunately, as the cashier informed me, they didn’t have this particular model in stock, and no, they couldn’t sell me the floor model. They could, however, facilitate an online order. No good, I said, since I needed the seat that day.

The store manager directed me to London Drugs, which as it turned out also had an ample selection of car seats online but none in store.

Finally, I ended up at the posh South Granville Lussobaby. I found an overpriced booster that would work -- at this point I was desperate -- and was beyond frustrated to find out that this one too, was only a floor model that they couldn’t sell me.

It's no secret that online shopping has been booming. U.S. department stores like Macy's and Kohl's have seen a drop in in-store sales which they attribute directly to the online boom. North of the border many retailers have been complaining people only visit their shops to try on clothes and see merchandise before finding the same item somewhere cheaper online.

There are so many benefits to the online sales world -- the ease with which you can order goods and have them delivered to your door has revolutionized shopping but when physical shops end up acting just as showrooms for the online world, we've gone too far.

No matter how quickly Canada Post can deliver, there's no way they can match the speed of walking into your neighbourhood shop and walking out with exactly what you need mere minutes later.

When physical stores don't stock goods because they think customers will only order online, they are perpetuating the cycle.

Online sales pose a real challenge for local small business owners. When the game is lower and lower prices, there's no way they can compete. As commercial rents rise in Vancouver, small businesses who don't have a strong enough online presence to merit existing purely as a showroom are forced out of business.

As consumers we need to be more mindful of how and where we shop. The online world has already had a huge effect on the in-store experience and if we don't want to lose the convenience of being able to shop in person, we need to give retailers a reason to restock.