4 Ways NOT To Shop At Big Box Stores


Big box stores make me whimper.

I think I know why. We’ve all got our ways to understand the world. My professor father taught me to read very early, and I must have decided reading was such an efficient system that it ought to work on everything. I was little. Little ones think like that.

Look.
Scan.
Understand.

I go by shapes and words. Big box stores aren’t friendly environments. This weekend I made an extended foray through Fry‘s (a local, 100% full concentration computer geek store), Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Crate and Barrel. Just saying those names makes me reel and stumble.

Walk into Fry’s. This is what it looks like. At least this was what it looked like once I could finally open my eyes. The problem compounded by relative ignorance of technical terminology.


When I am asked, “Have you found what you are looking for,” how can I know? I am still trying to differentiate rectangles from triangles. All I know is that I am in the land of irregular shapes. I can only tell the sales person, “I am looking for cable, which is tubular, and everything here seems to have been unnaturally made into squares.” The only words I can see mean very little. I know USB. Universal Serial Bus. Otherwise, gibberish. If they hung large graphic representations of the cables within, like those abstractions of people crossing the street, I would maybe be OK. Maybe.

The sign below is made for people like me. Lost in a useless scan for meaning, we catch sight of this sign, and our last flash of neural activity says “Yes! Yes, I can ASK someone! Words are available! Nouns I can make sense of!” We will ignore the fact that the friendly sign appears to be pointing only to another sign.


The retail equivalent of Papua New Guinea. Goodness.

Next, Best Buy. OK. The boxes’ shapes correspond a little bit to what they contain. The words are bigger. I can walk on in hope. Maybe I’ve made it to Poland.


Then Bed Bath and Beyond. Aha. Scotland. My language will be spoken. Fewer boxes. These shapes I know. Those are things you find in kitchens. See? I’m doing better. The Book of Bed Bath and Beyond I can read.


Crate and Barrel. The traveler finds comfort. They are taking even more things OUT of the boxes. Thank you! Not only can I read, I can take notes. I can perform exigesis. The shopping equivalent of Chicago. And yes, please, I would like a shiny new ice cream scoop. Whether I eat much ice cream or not.


Were I to have wandered a little further into the Stanford Shopping Center, say, to Neiman Marcus, or Wilkes Bashford, I would have come home. No boxes at all. No need for words. I can recognize articles of clothing at first glance, especially when displayed so lovingly on mannequins. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Clearly I lack skills required for 2010. And dwindling fortunes.

Helpful hints? Anyone? How do you shop in large retail outlets? Are there strategies? I can’t shop Frette forever.

32 Comments

  • 01/05/10
    1:27 pm

    Reply

    Suburban Princess said...

    Scotland rocks of course!

    If I get overwhelmed I just go right to a SA and tell them what I need. If they try to point me in the right direction I just make them take me to the item and put it in my hand.

  • 01/05/10
    1:28 pm

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    Deja Pseu said...

    Fry's I can't help you with. My eyes glaze over in there too. In fact, most big box stores are just too much sensory overload for me.

    I can do Costco if I steel myself beforehand, and try to go right when they open. The free samples of yummy things help. So does finding packages of Rembrandt toothpaste that will last all year and the odd faux granite planter box for the garden.

  • 01/05/10
    1:30 pm

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    red ticking said...

    i love the little guys… hardware, farm stands, butcher… anywhere but the big guys… occasional home depot if i must… just love supporting small business as i am one myself. happy new year…. x pam

  • 01/05/10
    1:33 pm

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    CZ said...

    Unfortunately, living where I do in Indiana, I don't have many options. Being a very frugal Hoosier, I have the weekly torture test known more commonly as Wal-mart…words cannot even begin to describe…thinking of it makes me want a xanax…but the groceries are SOOO much less expensive than other markets…one of these days that store is going to give me a nervous breakdown. Thank God we at least have Nordies and Saks and the internet…

  • 01/05/10
    1:44 pm

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    agirl said...

    Ergh. I can't shop in those stores. Even department stores and shopping malls give me the heebie-jeebies. (Early mornings only, NEVER in the sales.) High Streets with fun boutiques and independent sellers please! Otherwise? It comes from the Internets. Google I can handle…

  • 01/05/10
    1:48 pm

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    Sher said...

    I don't usually shop the big warehouses. It would be so tempting. I might just go in and never come out lol!

  • 01/05/10
    1:53 pm

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    see you there! said...

    I can't breathe in Big Box Stores. Berkeley has a ban on them, did you know that? Of course there's a Target just a couple blocks north across the border into Albany – but Berkeley? No.

    Darla

  • 01/05/10
    1:56 pm

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    Mrs. G said...

    No help here. I feel your pain. Costco I can do if accompanied by my husband but that is about it.

  • 01/05/10
    2:12 pm

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    Jan said...

    Since we work day in and day out with independent retailers, mostly high end clothing retailers, we try not to shop at "big box" stores for clothing (I can't remember the last time I bought an article of clothing for myself at some place like Target and I won't go into WalMart at all). However, Fry's and Best Buy? I guess I'd be at home in Paupau New Guinea.

    Boola boola.

  • 01/05/10
    2:38 pm

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    DocP said...

    Having moved house this past summer, I found myself making multiple trips to Bed, Bath and Beyond. Fortunately, I'm now past that stage. I have been known to order an item from a big box store's website rather than venture into the store.

  • 01/05/10
    2:41 pm

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    lauren said...

    palo alto fry's, valya's old nemesis! my beloved frosh/soph roommate, a blonde bombshell of a CS major, waged a four-year campaign to convince that very location to sell feminine hygiene products (cough) to balance out the prominent aisle of male convenience products (deodorant, shaving implements). as far as i know, she never succeeded.

    was the paly fry's in microserfs, as i vaguely remember it being, or is my brain just creating one hulking silicon valley monomyth?

  • 01/05/10
    3:11 pm

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    LPC said...

    Looks like so far Jan can help me in Fry's. However, with any luck, I am not going back in there for a while…not only do they have male convenience products they have boy magazines. It might have been in microserfs. However, I read that when I had younger children so all bets on memory are off.

    If all of you hate these stores, why are they always so crowded? Are those just beards? Hired for looks?

  • 01/05/10
    3:30 pm

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    Dani @ Weddings Fresh said...

    ooh, don't go into Ikea then…oh dear, you may loose your vision and ability to know up from down and down from up… :) i'm right there with you LPC. mind numbing.

  • 01/05/10
    5:32 pm

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    hostess of the humble bungalow said...

    I do have a Costco membership through my husbands' firm, I go maybe 3 times a year at most. I try to go with a friend so we can chat as we amble up and down the aisles, as it takes forever and almost a day. I usually buy Frisk mints and razor blades fro Mr. L and maybe a book ot T shirt for me. I do like the larger rounds of Brie, the Red Dragon cheese and have enjoyed some very large prime rib roasts in the past.
    I much prefer the smaller shops, think English Country Living magazine…the local Village Shop…that's my speed.
    I have never been to those other shops as we do not have them here…IKEA, I've been there and all I can say is go early and if you have a cup of tea do not be surprised that they do not have teapots.
    My 2 English friends and I filled out suggestion forms to have them provide teapots…haven't been back to check!
    I am a dinosaur…

  • 01/05/10
    5:38 pm

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    Leah said...

    LPC, I have one advice…let the husband take care of the big box stores. Hahaha! I myself get lost in translation in those stores.

  • 01/05/10
    5:39 pm

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    Amanda said...

    Close your eyes and run away. You might run into something, but you won't have to go into any of those places.

  • 01/05/10
    5:43 pm

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    QueenBeeSwain said...

    sifting out the rectangles from the triangles is EXACTLY how I feel too at those stores- as my mom calls it OWL- overwhelmed with life! holy cow, I need a drink just thinking about walking into a store with that many possibilities and the overly-savvy staff- please, talk blonde to me.

    xoox

    kHm

  • 01/05/10
    6:12 pm

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    Mrs. Lynch said...

    Wow. I'm wiping my nose now, I swear my brain just seeped through my nose just reading the computer stuff. My husband is a computer networking grad so I just stand there and smile while he explains and I act like I know what he's talking about.No need for me to interject if one of us knows what the hell is going on. For these visually abusive stores, dont shop there unless you have to.Get everything you need from someplace that may offer a wide range of things. Excuse me…brain seepage ruining my apron.Might stain.

  • 01/05/10
    6:42 pm

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    Maureen@IslandRoar said...

    OMG, you just described me perfectly. I was in Costco's once last spring and wandered around like a lost sheep, gazing upward and to all sides in wonder. Didn't really buy anything except cool lawn chairs. And stopped in DSW to look at slippers last fall. I did wind up with a great woolen pair, but again, I wandered around forever, convinced I needed to see everything. Clearly I am not meant for this type of store.

  • 01/05/10
    8:23 pm

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    Lipstick said...

    Poor LPC. I can't handle the fluorescent lights. Either I wander around, obviously disgruntled or race around manically, in an attempt to escape with something that resembles the items I need.

    I try to shop online. The shipping is worth it.

  • 01/05/10
    11:40 pm

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    metscan said...

    I read the first part of your post, but could not continue. I just hate these stores. I really get panic attacks in them, as well as in big malls, so I avoid them and send my husband on the mission instead. He has no problem there.

  • 01/06/10
    5:35 am

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    Southern Living: Preppy Style said...

    I DESPISE big box stores. Husband sends me to Home Depot to look for a part that he has drawn on a piece of paper with a name, and the lack of assistance has me staring in the plumbing aisle for 10 minutes looking at 100's of mini boxes while plumbers walk by and laugh. I'd rather go to True Value or Ace. Best Buy – I just need something to make the square HDMI (which I don't know what that means) fit into one of the round holes in the back of the TV.
    TJ Maxx, while I love the concept, I get overwhelmed by the stacks and rows of clothes. I need the mannequin to show me what to wear and then nice little hangers with all the same shirt in all sizes for me to choose.
    Sorry, wasn't much help – but I loved this post! xoxo :-) (By the way, I usually leave with a headache too from the lights).

  • 01/06/10
    6:27 am

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    Christina said...

    Hi, I found your blog yesterday and really like it! I hope you don't mind if I "follow" you. :)

    Being raised in a world of books, when I go into these stores, I turn the boxes around and read about the item. Yes this takes me a while but I find what I want and try not to go in when I need more than one or two things.

    Malls…ugh, I would rather eat my arm but having a teenage daughter, I cannot avoid it. You will usually find me sitting in Hollister on the couch they provide for tired moms while she does her shopping.

  • 01/06/10
    7:57 am

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    LPC said...

    Mind if you follow me? I would be honored and delighted. My readers, as you can tell from these comments above, are just wonderful. Funny, creative, no-nonsense. However, they are not, apparently, good guides for big box stores. Except Sher. Maybe. And Jan for tech goods.

  • 01/06/10
    8:18 am

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    Caffeine Court said...

    I'm so glad you paid my blog a visit, so that I could discover YOURS!! Love it.

  • 01/06/10
    8:20 am

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    Patsy said...

    I love IKEA. Love it. If I have to spend money on lots of stuff I don't need, I'd rather it came from IKEA. They get me.

    I've never been to Costco, but I hear they have cheap wine/booze, so I may piggy-back on someone's journey someday.

    When we're up north, the only game in town is Walmart. It's kind of depressing. And smelly.

  • 01/06/10
    8:23 am

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    Amanda said...

    Except don't run out of Crate and Barrel. Probably you would break something. And I rawther like it in there.

  • 01/06/10
    8:34 am

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    Class factotum said...

    I'm laughing because the advice I was going to give is the same advice everyone else gave:

    1. Send a husband (mine LOVES Fry's and goes there when he has a business trip to SF) or
    2. Go to a small store and pay extra so they will take you directly to what you want.

    PS What's up with Berkeley and their refusal to let in the big box stores? I don't like shopping at Wal Mart, but I don't deny others their right to shop there and pay low prices. (I do buy cat litter and car batteries there because that's where you get the best deals on those things.) Pretty elitist, don't you (not you, Lisa, personally, but the non-specific, Berkeley hoi polloi you) think, to assume everyone can afford to pay small mom and pop shop prices?

  • 01/06/10
    10:29 am

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    Duchesse said...

    Sure: Send your kids there with a list and your wallet while you stay home and make something delicious to thank them.

    I'll pay more to shop somewhere where I can talk to an associate if I need one. Where I live (Toronto) we have many stores between big box and what one commenter calls "small mom and pop shop" stores. Costco kills my soul.

  • 01/06/10
    10:48 am

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    The Blushing Hostess said...

    I don't, having made a career of costing for retail and wholesale (albiet fashion), there is no hope for me. I will do ANYTHING to avoid these places. The family owned hardware store in town, Bose. Anything, LPC, including standing on my head naked…

  • 01/06/10
    11:55 am

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    Plus Size Bride said...

    In a former life I called on The orange box and the blue box along with Scotland. The only advice I can give is to go on a Tuesday morning EARLY before the little bus drops off the residents at the local senior living center. Hopefully there will be a qualified tour guide available at that time.

  • 01/12/10
    10:49 pm

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    Vanessa @ Peace, Joy, Style said...

    Hi, I'm Vanessa. I stumbled upon your blog from "The Entertaining House" that I have on my Google Reader feed. Thanks for this entry. I'm thankful I'm not the only one who gets nervous in these big box stores. I remember spending close to two hours doing some holiday shopping in Target. Honestly, if it weren't for my gingerbread latte from Starbucks earlier, I would have never bothered to go out.

    Love your blog!
    I will be reading more. :)

    - Vanessa

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