Once upon a time, mail-order catalogs and big department stores were the primary ways that consumers found and purchased clothes and beauty products. But with the help of technology, we no longer have to wait for stores to open or send in a mail-order form and then play the month-long waiting game for the products you purchased. Online retailers completely changed the shopping landscape. Sites like Asos.com, Zappos.com, and Amazon.com give you 24/7 access to so many products that it is overwhelming. Many online stores now offer free shipping on all purchases and returns which is a bigger incentive, knowing that if you do not like an item, you can return it without spending an extra dime. As an added benefit you can shop without the hassle of the regular Saturday/Sunday morning and afternoon Mommy and stroller crowds.

But for a young lady like me, the online retailers just do not cut it. Because I am such an in-between size (I swear I am not in size denial), I have to try on most items in at least two sizes to determine the most appropriate fit, I need to feel the fabric and see the colors in person, and lastly, I need to see how each particular item looks under horrible dressing room/sales floor lighting, because if it looks hot there, it will look even better when I get home. So while I am a fan of online retailers, they have not completely changed my shopping habits, which include a big retail faux pas: window shopping.

On my free Saturdays and Sundays or on my lunch breaks I take trips to different stores to try things that I have been eye-ing. The truth is that I do not actually do this as often as I would like because I have a really bad case of window shoppers guilt.

What is that you ask? Well, the keyword in “window shopping” is window, but we’ve taken that to a whole new level as consumers. If I enter a small boutique in Chicago’s Lincoln Park community, try on three dresses and get unsolicited recommendations from the sales associate, I feel uncomfortable leaving the store empty-handed. What do you say after you try those dresses on, you look awesome (and the stylist tells you as much like ten times), and even adds shoes to complete the outfit? Are your parting words: “I’m sorry this is just not working for me.”

Those words sound like the end of a relationship and hearing them can only bring up bad emotions for anyone so I try to avoid that awkward moment after trying on a dress or shoe, checking my angles, and hearing the dreaded question, “so what do you think?”, which is sales code for: are you ready to make that purchase?

That uncomfortable exchange is one reason why I believe online shopping is the preference for many women. No one feels guilty for spending their entire lunch break looking at shoes on Endless.com, saving the ones they like for later, and never returning to purchase them. We have no problem adding 20 new dresses to our shopping cart on Asos.com (hoping it is still reserved after the 60 minute limit). But after trying on 5 different pairs of shoes at Macy’s or a Nine West store or even grabbing a stack of shirts, skirts, and dresses in different styles and colors, knowing that you are only playing dress up for two hours and will walk out of the store empty-handed can kind of leave a sista feeling bad.

I spent most of my high school and college years (and a year after college) working in different retail locations, some commission-based, some not-so-much, and some that counted the number of daily visitors and set hourly sales goals based on that number, so I feel a traitor when I “window shop.” I was the salesperson who would gladly get you all ten pairs of shoes in both of your sizes because it was my job, but still hoping it would amount to a good sell. But when it does not you do feel cheapened, just a bit. So there is a special place in my heart for the associates who have to re-hang those dresses, re-fold those shirts and sweaters, and make no less than 50 trips into the dimmed back stock room to see if they have all five pairs of those clearance pumps you picked up in size 8.5.

Most of my guilt is reserved for the local boutiques and big retailer shops with commissioned-based salespersons like Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and Macy’s. Since customer service is practically nonexistent at the Forever 21 stores and DSWs of the world, I enjoy my shopping experiences there the most because I do not have to ask for help when I want to try on items and I can walk out the store empty-handed with my head high and my heart guilt-free.

So, while many others feel guilty for making three or four purchases and destroying their credit in the process, I feel guilty for not making any purchases. The only time my guilt seems to fade is during the biggest shopping season of the year: Thanksgiving/Christmas time, but even then, I still feel like a traitor. The only thing that would make me feel worse would be returning an item I purchased and only with that in mind, window shopping is not painful for me, at least that is what I am trying to convince myself.

Do you have window shopper’s guilt? What are your favorite stores to window shop and dash?

– Akudo Chigozie

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