Lee Suckling explains why he spent his Sunday afternoon browsing the aisles of big box Kiwi shops.
When was the last time you weren't rushing down the fluorescent aisles of the supermarket, eager to grab what you need and get the hell out of there?
Modern shopping has become a contributor to stress. It's a chore, not a pleasure. We want it to be efficient because every minute wasted in a store is time you could be at home "enjoying your real life".
I just spent five hours on Sunday afternoon browsing the aisles of Pak'nSave, Briscoes, Kmart, and The Warehouse. Technically, I went "slow shopping"; a retail experience designed to take the anxiety out of perfunctory shopping.
I read ingredients lists on condiment jars. I compared the durability of different suitcases and how they'd fare against airport knockabouts. I discovered tinned baba ganoush, barely contained my laughter browsing a selection of pirate and unicorn costumes for dogs, and found out that rugs are far more expensive than you think they should be.
Lingering in stores is something staff probably frown upon, but shopping is an essential part of life and we deserve the opportunity to do with pleasure. We'll easily spend hours online browsing, sometimes never buying anything at all. The same experience, when done physically, brings just as much joy and should be just as pressure-free.
Marketers know that the slower you shop, the more you spend. It's why IKEA has meatballs and fancy furniture stores offer you free Nespresso. The purpose of slow shopping for us – the consumers – isn't to throw away more of our money. It's to change the nature of shopping and make us all less bolshy when it comes to buying the things we need. Call it a return to "retail therapy".
As a concept, slow shopping has become popular for people who suffer from anxiety, struggle with communication or literacy, the elderly, and those who are differently abled. It presents them with a space to actually think. To take time, and not get caught up making decisions you'll regret later.
A slow shopping initiative in the UK formalises this by encouraging retailers to have dedicated times of the week where customers are allowed to do everything at their own pace. Staff are trained to be aware of the needs of shoppers and offer an equal balance of space and assistance. Chairs are even made available in store so you can pause, sit, and really take your time to consider a purchase. Supermarkets such as Sainsbury's and Waitrose have introduced slow shopping in some of their stores, offering set weekly hours (usually a weekday afternoon), samples of products, and an environment completely free of trolley rage.
While it seems like slow shopping might be a marketing trend to get people to buy more, I don't agree. On my slow shopping afternoon, I was able to completely refrain from impulse purchases. I didn't get home and wonder if I'd paid too much for something because I'd really taken the time to compare my options. Nor did I find any items that I would normally purchase because they were cheap. The emotional rush created by the "sale" or "special" stickers didn't have a strong effect – I knew I wasn't leaving the store anytime soon, so could consider something, walk away, and come back in 20 minutes if I still wanted it.
Slow shopping allows you to really consider the quality of something before you buy it, which can lead to fewer purchases overall (because things will last longer).
When looking at suitcases, for example, I inspected wheel quality and tried to figure out how they would fare on bumpy European alleyways. I wondered how my belongings would be protected if the suitcase was thrown from a cargo truck onto the ground. I actually took the time to read warranty information. The result, after 45 minutes of consideration between my shortlist of options, was a purchase I am confident will see me at least 10 years of use. I won't be buying another one in two or three years time like I'd usually expect to.
For maximum effect, it's important to chose a good time to slow shop. I found that nobody was in a rush at The Warehouse or Kmart at 5.30pm on a Sunday: the experience was positively relaxing (probably also thanks to their late open hours; they weren't about to shut). I wouldn't recommended slow shopping on a Saturday at lunchtime for obvious peak time reasons, nor would I attempt to slowly browse aisles between 5pm and 6pm on a weekday with the after-work crowd huffing and puffing down my neck.
The result of an afternoon of slow shopping, for me, was a form of retail mindfulness. It was therapy. I felt calm, even zen-like. There was no buyer's remorse, and I didn't arrive home eager to complain about other customers, staff, or my retail experience. I genuinely enjoyed myself by accepting what was on offer and the environment it was presented in.