American-Eagle-StoreA few weeks ago some friends and I got together for dinner in a restaurant that had a Target store nearby. Just before dinner one of my friends said “I have to get a couple things at Target” and with some extra time to kill, we all walked towards the Target store. At the very threshold of the store, out came a couple of iPhones, fingers dashed on screens, and some kind of credit was given as we walked into the Target store.

“What is that?” I asked, and the Shopkick application was explained to me. It is pretty simple: when you turn on the Shopkick app, you get credit for walking into some stores and scanning certain items in that store or other stores. The credit, or “kicks,” add up to discount shopping cards, free iTune downloads, whatever you choose. Marketing people have calculated what advertising money has been spent getting a sale of anything, and they figured that it was worth it to just give money to the shopper for walking into a store or scanning some item for sale.

How cool is that? This was a few days before the election, and I actually felt original in talking about the “free stuff,” that was sure to come my way. So I took the bait and installed the Shopkick app. on my iPhone.

It seemed too easy! I walked back out of the Target store, activated the Shopkick app., walked back into the same store, and got some kicks! Then, I found my way to some Eveready batteries for a new AA-size charger, scanned the bar code, and got some more kicks! Way cool.

I figured that if I kept this up, in a month or so I would get a reward item, and in my case I chose the $5 Starbucks gift card. I could already taste the Frappuccino with chocolate chips. The fact that it would be free seemed to make that future Frappuccino taste even better!

I quickly figured the time spent per benefit received, and it was about equal to a minimum wage job. That’s OK. I have worked minimum wage jobs before. But this was not really work, this was free stuff!

Even forgetting about the rewards part it all, there was a certain “scavenger hunt” quality to it. If you find yourself in a store like Macy’s, Lane Bryant, Petco, Foot Zone, or others, the Shopkick app. tells you which items to find and scan to get some more kicks. How fun!

Despite the initial excitement, a few days went by, and I had forgotten the Shopkick app. on my phone. Then one day on my way to do some shopping in another store, I walked by a Wet Seal store. “You idiot!” I chastised myself, “turn on that Shopkick app, walk in and then leave and get some kicks!” Hopefully no one would see me walk into a store that sells clothing for teenage girls.

But why the inactivity with Shopkick? It had been several days since I had used the app., and I had been into several stores that were part of the program. Was I just being shallow and fickle, or was there something else going on?

After some soul-searching, it dawned on me. Far from being a fun thing, this Shopkick app. had become a burden. An obligation. It was officially not fun anymore, and I had only earned 230 kicks!

But there was something else going on. Something that you could only see by looking down from 30,000 feet, as they say. See, I am not a typical shopper. I have a stressful job. I am an attorney, and my workday usually involves getting yelled at by judges or other attorneys, sometimes yelling back, and in general dealing with people who are stressed out. I knew this going in to the job, so I am not complaining.

But when I go shopping, it is not just a trip to a store to buy something. It is a de-stressing event. I walk the aisles of some store and try to absorb the mindlessness of other shoppers. Being around other people whose top concern is finding some item on their buy-list really appeals to me. Walking around, with part of my brain on hold, is a highlight of my day. I know where they get the term “retail therapy,” except for me there is more therapy than retail.

It’s the same thing with lunchtime at Costco. Everyone talks about how there is no need to pay for lunch, just go to a Costco store and eat all the free samples that are handed out at lunchtime. And it is true: if you are totally cheap it is a great way to get a free lunch. Chicken burgers, pot stickers, pita bread smeared with humus, Chinese chicken salad, sausage made with small bits of apple, all of this and more is freely handed out to Costco customers everyday at lunchtime. The only price is a salesperson hovering, telling you how tasty the sample is, how easy it is to fix and clean up afterwards. Stuff like that.

But for me it is just a hassle. I like being left alone when I shop and when I eat. If they were to just hand me food and leave me alone that would be fine. But when someone is talking to me and I feel obligated to answer and sound impressed or even interested, the thrill is gone.

So I am un-installing that Shopkick app from my iPhone. There really is no free lunch, or in my case a free $5 Starbucks card. I look forward to returning to the oasis of mindlessness that is present-day shopping, reward-less. And for the few moments when I am in a Target, Macy’s or Old Navy, I will once again be alone with my thoughts, de-stressing and enjoying myself.

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