And This Is How I Finally Got My Christmas Shopping Done

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Christmas decorations, Ottawa, December 2017

Remember that week when I was too sick to go through the proper Santa letter-writing process?

Well, funny enough, when you have a fever and can barely function, you don’t really feel like scouring the mall for gift ideas and do your Christmas shopping. And then, as I got better, I had to catch up on work (no sick days for freelancers!) and the rest of my routine tasks, so I had even less free time than usual.

Oh, and it got very cold, too. And snowy.

“I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping,” a close friend of mine confessed over the phone. “I mean, when am I supposed to go? Either I’m at work or with the kids, including one who is old enough to understand absolutely everything.”

“I know! And it’s not like we can just visit a few stores all conveniently located on main street, right?”

“Nope, cause we don’t have a motherfucking main street or a pedestrian shopping district but strip malls here and there. You have to drive all over the place, because that store at the Rideau Centre is going to send you to the other store at Bayshore when they’re out of stock or something…”

“… and then at the end of the night you spent two hours in traffic and thirty minutes driving around the parking lot just for three purchases.”

“The only gift I have ready so far is for my in-laws. I stayed up until 1 a.m. to make them a personalized calendar with pictures of the kids—”

“—I just did exactly the same thing!” I shouted.

If you’re a grandparent, if you’re reading this and if you’re not that into photo calendars, do speak up because I guarantee you this is the gift you’ll be getting for the years to come. I have data about this—I polled my friends.

“It takes forever to design!”

“I know!”

“I think this year I’m gonna shop online.”

“That’s usually what I do.”

I’m not a big online shopper, which may sound strange considering that like anyone with power and Internet access, I do so much with my laptop. But most of the time, inconsistent sizing, high shipping costs and the lack of Canada-friendly shipping sites in the U.S encourage me to go to brick-and-mortar stores. Plus, customer service is usually better.

And this year again, I did try to visit physical stores. I had a gift card from The Bay I wanted to use for Christmas shopping, so naturally, I went to the closest location, at Rideau. “We’re out of stock, sorry. Try at St. Laurent, maybe?”

This is how I made my first online purchase of the season. Instead of driving all the way to St. Laurent, it made sense to order directly online from The Bay. Besides, I was getting free shipping.

Bad idea. First, the company’s website looks like it was designed when the store was founded, in 1670. Eventually, I placed an order for two items and waited. Four days later, I received a padded envelope—it was obvious it contained only one of the items. I tried to contact customer service by email but the link provided in the confirmation didn’t work. So I called the 1-800 number and I was put on hold for thirty minutes. When someone picked up, I was told I’d get the other item by the end of the week. Guess what? I didn’t. I fill out the contact form on the website, no reply. I called back customer service, waited on hold for another half hour and I was instructed to check my tracking number. “My tracking number says I received my package, which I did—except there was only half of my order in it!” I explained. Then customer service hung up on me. A week later, I did receive the missing item. Phew. That same day, The Bay emailed me a survey about my shopping experience. I gladly answered it (no follow up, obviously) and swore I’d never shop at The Bay again.

For the rest of my shopping, I turned to that convenient giant retailer—Amazon. This is one of these companies I love as a customer but hate as a person concerned with labour standards because of the way it treats employees (I give you a clue—like shit). Ideally, I’d rather support employers who don’t base their business model on labour exploitation, but again, I just bought imported bananas at Walmart, another monolith that routinely stoops to dismal lows in its hunt for endless profit, so there is theory and practice.

Amazon charged my credit card, tried to get me to sign up for Prime, then delivered packages in a timely manner even though I declined the Amazon credit card and the free Prime offers.

Now I have a bunch of boxes in my walk-in closet. Mission accomplished, although I still have to wrap the gifts because I didn’t want to pay Amazon almost $5 per item to do it for me.

I’m still feeling a bit sad about this Christmas shopping. Sure, buying online is efficient, occasionally cheaper and saves me from carrying stuff back home. Yet I can’t help missing social interactions in stores. We live in a a weird society where we seem dedicated to avoid each other as much as we can…

How about you? Do you shop online or would you rather go to a physical store? And if you celebrate Christmas, are you ready for it?



About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. We did a combination of both. All gifts for the kids (except my son) were ordered online and shipped directly to my in-laws’ so we’d have a few less things in the car. Most of my son’s gifts came from actual stores, but who knows if that’ll continue in the future. This year was easy, because all the gifts could be bought, wrapped, and stored in his presence as he has no idea what is going on.

    For clothing, I do typically prefer to buy in store unless I’m really familiar with the products and sizing. For certain American stores, I take advantage of online sales and ship to my mom’s.

    • Like you, unless I know the brand and sizing, I don’t buy clothes online. I do buy shoes, though, because I know my size with a few brands. What are your favourite American brands?

      I find it so cute you bought gifts for your son! I… I’m not sure I did for Mark’s first Christmas. I think I did. Gee, can’t remember. We were exhausted and confused!

      • I tend to buy a lot of cheap basics from Old Navy and Gap. They always have sales going on. When I’m in the US, I also like New York and Company and Target, but those are harder to buy online from.

        Some of the gifts we bought were second hand, others were things he can grow into. We also got him a Sophie as he can’t be the only French kid without one. He always loves to chew on her nose!

        • I agree for Gap/Old Navy! They have cheap stuff that actually last (sometimes). That said, I’m not a huge fan of the “new” Gap, i.e. the way the brand revamped the stores and fashion style a few years ago. I loved Gap before, bought so many clothes there when I first came to Canada!

  2. I feel exactly the same way as you do about Amazon… I have to admit, it’s really convenient to order on for my family in France! Free delivery 🙂
    I did get something for my brother in Canada (Carpenter trousers from Mark’s Works as per his request for working trousers) and it cost me a fortune in shipping! Seems to be cheaper to ship to Scotland as well which makes no sense!
    And we don’t have much of a mall in the town I work in, and cute local (read expensive) stores where I live. So a mix of online and real life it great.

    • I did order on one year and I saved so much on shipping fees! Canada Post charges a lot for overseas packages :-/ Even stamps are expensive now.

      Mark’s Work makes really nice clothes, good pick!

  3. I shop online. In my country there are a lot of app-based for shopping (in case you’re wondering, Tokopedia / Bukalapak) and you can find EVERYTHING and those app subsidized the shipping fee up to certain amount. I do sell my pereloved stuffs over there too.
    btw, seems it is not common giving money to kids as present (like Angpau on CNY), isn’t it?

    • Giving cash doesn’t seem to be common (maybe it is for teenagers, I don’t know!). I’d say the closest to cash would be giving gift cards. This is kind of popular!

  4. Je fais un peu de tout! J’ai acheté les cadeaux des filles dans des magasins ici, utilisé Amazon pour le cadeau de mon chum et de mon frère, Et Belle maman pour les cadeaux de mes neveux. Quant à ma famille j’ai envoyé un paquet par vous maritime qui m’a coûté aussi cher d’envois que de cadeaux !!

    • T’es la fée des cadeaux! 🙂 Je dois avouer que j’ai un peu arrêté les vrais cadeaux à la famille en France, les frais d’envoi sont ridicules. J’envoie de petites choses puis je me rattrape quand on y va.

  5. Unless I know of something that the person really wants, I find that a box of oranges or chocolates and several $3 Crossword scratch tickets are well received. There is supposed to be a 30 percent chance of winning and the retailer has nice free Christmas cards and envelopes for them if you ask Last year my niece won $50 on the 7 tickets that I gave her.

    I have never ordered from Amazon but I have read some negative articles about their “Fulfillment Centres”. I like these type of euphemisms. I worked at a Sear’s warehouse before and we were not employees but Associates in a “fast paced environment.” (translate: low paid sweatshop) I remember I got 2 shipments wrong out of 18000 and the manger asked me what happened. Dammed if I know, I told her that I should have got an award not criticism. Once they gave out buttons “Thanks For a Job Well Done” and an employee threw it back and said “give me a raise instead”. I see that the managers got the goldmine when they dissolved and the employees got the shaft.

    Amazon is apparently great for startup businesses. I read an article in the New York Times about an Instant Pot maker, Robert Wang , in Kanata. The pots are made in China and shipped directly to Amazon and they do all the packaging and shipping.

    “He also revealed a secret: in every official photograph of an Instant Pot, the unit’s timer is set to 5:20 — a series of numbers that, when spoken aloud, sounds like “I love you” in his native Mandarin.”

    “It’s a subliminal message,” he said. “It shows how much we care about our customers.”

    I think it would only be subliminal to Mandarin speakers but it does sound like a good pot. Does 5:20 sound like ” I love you”?

    • I’ve been saying “5:20” out loud in Mandarin for two minutes and I still don’t get it! 😆 Wǔ diǎn èrshí fēn… nope, doesn’t quite sound like Wǒ ài nǐ (I love you)!

      The Sears you describe sounds a lot like what I read about these “fulfillment centres” (and I agree with you on the name…dystopian!). Were you surprised to hear Sears was closing stores? In Ottawa, they raised prices because putting everything “on sale”… what a way to go…

      I like your “standard Christmas gift”. I would have happy with it! It’s a lovely gesture, personal enough and fun.

  6. I I was not surprised that Sears closed. Every year there was a rumour that they were closiing. They were slowly losing business year after year to the discount stores like Walmart. It is too bad because they had a distribution network throughout Canada that no other store had. In isolated areas like Iqaluit they were the only option. If they had diversified their product line with more low cost items and taken a page from Amazon and focused on internet orders they might have survived. 40 per cent of their business was online when they went under but their product line didn’t appeal to Walmart shoppers.

    It is strange that Mr Wang would say that about 5:20. Maybe he speaks a strange dialect. I know when I worked in a call centre I had trouble understanding English speakers from the Maritimes and New England especially the New York Bronx accent. One lady from New Brunswick told me that she need a “helmet for me oven.” I said ” you mean a heating element” and she said “that is what I said by.”

    Just curious, I am a member of the weather channel religion and follow it every day. Why does Ottawa have separate weather for Richmond and Kanata. The weather can’t be that different unless they are on top of a mountain. Moose Jaw is forty miles from Regina and its weather doesn’t vary that much but it is a separate city.

    • Ah, yo may have a point, maybe M. Wang speaks Cantonese! His last name is definitely Mandarin Chinese but… I’m confused now. I’ll ask Feng and report back.

      I’d say Kanata is in Ottawa (i.e. it’s a suburb, a twenty-minute drive from where we live). On the other hand, Richmond is outside Ottawa, it’s a different municipality. Doesn’t make much sense to have separate weather reports, I agree. That said, sometimes, one area has freezing rain and the other one is fine.

      I went to Sears tonight. Still expensive, the store was a mess. I feel sorry for the employees.

  7. But WHO ARE YOU????
    Why did you do that to yourself?
    The Bay website is terrible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Like the first year here I ordered at The Bay and Sears and that was the last time. What a headache!
    And I had a taste of The Bay customer service too… Lame.

    This year I only took care of the 2 gifts for the kids (one each via amazon) and A. had to take care of everything else, and

    • I wasn’t thinking, clearly 😆

      I don’t usually shop at The Bay and I didn’t think such a major retailer could have such crappy website (and bad customer service). Didn’t see it coming!

  8. Ugh, ugh, ugh ugh shopping in stores was a total SHIT show in Poitiers this year. I’m talking entire shopping centre parking lots FULL, centre ville parking lots FULL—sorry but no, I am not waiting in line to pay for 40 minutes per store after spending time just trying to park to get to it. I like to support our centre ville but I think it was doing just fine when all the lots were full on a Thursday afternoon.

    Fortunately since I knew we were going to the US for Christmas this year, I shopped a little on and off at different markets and book sales (someone always comes selling books in the salle des profs before Christmas) and managed to buy things before December even happened. Usually I go the online route so that things are delivered directly to my family in the States—Etsy or independent bookstores or Amazon if needed.

    • Is this a new policy, i.e. no parking downtown Poitiers? I’m lucky in Nantes, we’ve always lived downtown, so we never had to deal with parking and all. My parents don’t even have a car anymore. French cities are great if you live in the city centre, otherwise I totally understand people who skip it and shop at the mall.

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