Is what I e-see, what I e-get?

Many of you will have been gorging yourselves on e-commerce services for a while, downloading all the music, movies, TV series and news services that you desire.

A few of you might even have paid for some of them. It’s brilliant, isn’t it? On Sunday, with only lifting a finger, I read one South African newspaper and one UK newspaper, watched (the soporific start of) the Life Of Pi, which reminded my simple mind of the rapper Psy, so I streamed his new Gentleman video, which was so similar to his Gangnam Style one that I streamed that too just to check.

We all love our easy, online, cocooned world – except for my wife, who still “likes to get the kids out of the house” and give some loose change to the newspaper vendor at the lights on Buitengracht while furtively listening to a sakkie-sakkie CD in her car before returning home with four DVDs rented to suit several generations’ worth of tastes. For her, the immediacy of all things Internet merely adds to the burden of consuming time before the kids go to bed.


The shopping mall DVD shop is terminally ill, the CD shop has emigrated to an unknown piracy-free land and some print media can’t afford the paper to print the story about their demise. But it’s got me thinking what wouldn’t I buy online?

What is a step too far for you? When we move from services into buying physical products online, for me at least, it gets a lot harder to make the jump into the digital world. Apart from a few books and CDs years ago on Amazon, I made my first online purchase of physical goods last week. What a positively painless exercise thank you, That might be a sad admission for someone with my job, but I suffer from ROPO (research online, purchase offline) syndrome and I’m happy with that.

So tell me, where does your limit lie? Would you buy flowers online? A TV? Paint? Or a painting? Groceries? A birthday cake? Clothes? Furniture? A car? A house? A puppy?


Yes, no or maybe all feature for me, and for some questions I was gobsmacked by my own answers. Until now, I didn’t realise that I have never bought groceries online, but I have bought a puppy. How does that work, when I think the biggest determining factor in answering these questions is whether I can trust that “what’s in the packet is what’s on the label”?

It’s this weird relationship between “I know it’s available in a shop just down the road so I will go and check it out rather than take the risk of buying blind from those online thieves” versus “it’s the only one in the world and I want it so, what the hell, I’m going to have it. It describes clearly what it is so it must be so”. That’s how I felt about the puppy, born 1 300km further away than my normal drive-to-view parameters.

But a painting? No way on Earth I’m going to buy that online. How big is it in real life? What’s its texture? Why is it available online? I want only myself to make the unintended discovery of an unknown artist in a grungy part of town. “It popped up in an online search” simply doesn’t cut it with art.


And that shirt? It says it’s Egyptian cotton and I know I’m supposed to like it but do I really? I’ve got lots of shirts, but how can I spot the Egyptian ones? If only I could touch it first. Is that an American or a European size and should I care, because I am in neither America nor Europe? Last time I went to a shoe shop I was informed that the shoe on my foot was “a big fitting size 11”, so I can barely imagine the capacity for distortion when it’s on the Internet.

But then again, got it right (or at least I think it did but I’m not American so I can’t get on their website). I know I could send it back if it doesn’t fit but it was so much hassle to get it here in the first place and, besides, in 25 years of decreasingly active high street shopping, the only items I’ve ever sent back are festering mussels and a few bottles of wine that tasted like they had already met the mussels.

And you, in Johannesburg, yes, you, understand this: I might have bought a beautiful puppy from you on Gumtree last year, but you’re having a laugh if you think for one minute that I am fool enough to go anywhere near that 2006 Corolla you’re selling…

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