As a child, I always looked forward to the arrival of Sears' Christmas Wish Book catalogue in the mail. I'd flip through the pages, eagerly circling an unreasonably large number of suggestions for my mother. It meant one thing: soon enough, she'd be on the phone placing orders for hordes of books, toys, and clothing items. Or so I liked to think.
With Cyber Monday and Black Friday just around the corner and Christmas not far off, it sure is a trip to try and remember the days when consumers spent their time flipping through catalogues and shopping over the phone instead of scouring the internet and waiting outside big-box stores the night before a sale.
Looking back at the Straight's October 25, 1990 issue, I was surprised to find a story about Christmas shopping a whole two months before the actual holiday. (Remember when it was taboo to even mention the 'C' word until midway through November?) In Have a Couch-Potato Christmas, Angela Murrills describes shopping over the phone as an option that, at the time, must have sounded too good to be true:
"Trust me, this year Christmas shopping is going to be a breeze. Panic won’t strike as the 25th approaches. You won’t whirl through the stores flashing cards faster than a blackjack dealer, and your tender, newborn festive spirit won’t be savagely axed as you battle crowded buses, jammed parking lots, and stores packed tighter than sardines in a can.
"That was then. This is now. A little soft music please...Picture yourself at home, feet up on the sofa, by your side the telephone, your credit card, your Christmas list...and a stack of catalogues. All you do is choose, dial, and order. Finito. Then, within a week or so, your order, your Christmas shopping, arrives in the mail."
Assuming you weren't using a rotary phone, it all sounded pretty simple, didn't it? Sit, read, shop, wait. No crazy lineups, no special discount codes, and no hillbilly brawls at Walmart.
Even the gifts Murrills suggested take me back to a simpler time, like these options from mail order shopping giant The Added Touch's 1990 catalogue: a bonsai kit, musical spoons, and a File-a-Photo were all in the under-$20 range. The Vancouver Aquarium also sent out a catalogue, offering gifts like potted plants and glow-in-the-dark t-shirts.
We can be thankful the days of catalogue shopping and tacky '90s-era gifts are behind us. Here's one you might remember: the Chia Pet. How it became one of the decade's most popular gifts will forever boggle the mind.