How many Christmas presents did you buy online this year? How did that compare with the number you bought in the shops? Well, I bought all of my presents online except for one. I bought it in a shop – an experience that reminded me of richness of human interaction that gets lost when you’re transacting with a computer.

I stumbled on the said item last weekend while in Gozo, a small island belonging to the Maltese archipelago, whose megalithic temples and rural terrain provided a nice winter break. My friends and I had been sightseeing on the island and were headed towards our Malta-bound ferry when we decided that we wanted ice cream. Our taxi driver, who we had hired to take us around the island, drove us to a shop displaying the reassuring Cornetto posters on the outside.

On entering the shop, we were greeted by a woman, who looked in her late 70s. Although she was bowed-over with a gait which presumably alleviated some prolonged back pain, she welcomed us in, cheering, “Hello and Merry Christmas!” She then hugged and kissed each one of us on the cheek and brought us into the warm surroundings of wool, fabric and other souvenirs. She picked up one of the woolen jerseys and beamed, “Look, I made this myself!” She proudly displayed the intricately-kitted jersey, placing it against one of my friends so that we could observe in the full extent of its beauty and the warmth it could provide. Not only were we taken by the quality and design but also the authenticity and ability of this woman, who in a matter of seconds, had diverted our attention from ice cream to knitwear.

I briefly scanned the shop for a something suitable for myself and within no time I saw an azure blue knitted jersey, which the woman had also knitted. I had to have it. While my friends were in mid-decision about what to buy, a man and a woman entered the store. They were the woman’s daughter and grandson and they had just come back from hospital, they explained, where a family member was being treated for kidney problems. They hugged and kissed us, asked us where we were from and apologized for not being in the store when we arrived. Such a personal connection could not be replicated when buying online or on Oxford Circus, I thought. My friends and I were so impressed with these people and their shop that each of us walked out of the store with something other than an ice cream! They were naturally gifted sales people: down to earth, passionate about what they do and genuinely interested in their customers. The experience was a reminder of what gets lost  – that human connection – when we buy online. Although it’s easier to do so, buying from a shop reminds us that we are buying an experience rather than something we need. Happy shopping!

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