Window shopping has taken on a whole new meaning. Instead of trawling through shops picking out what we WISH we could buy (if we could afford it), these days we do our research in the shops.

It’s basically our prep work. Or work-out – depending on how much cardio you get around to.

We decide what we want, then go home and order it all online for something like a tenth of the price.

With the likes of Amazon and Ebay meaning seriously knocked down prices on all of our favourite phone covers, gadgets, DVDs and even (the odd pair) of designer shoes, it seems most of us certainly can’t afford to pass up a bargain by checking prices online before we splurge.

That’s if we even go inside a shop at all.

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Even the legendary Boxing Day sales have taken on a whole new meaning compared to even just a few years ago. Having worked in fashion retail for seven years too long, (despite the fact that carnage was still everywhere you looked), there was a noticeable demise in the number of shoppers the morning after Christmas.

When I was younger, there used to be a real sense of anticipation on Boxing Day (I have an equally shopping obsessed mum). Setting your alarm to get up and into your new winter best to go and look for more prizes with your new shiny Christmas money. You hustled and bustled in the queue, jostling to get into the best position – before suddenly the doors opened to wide-scale pandemonium.

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Well… instead of that constant rush of seemingly crack-addled customers (who appeared in desperate need of another hit – and were prepared to do anything to get an even cheaper price for last season’s polka dot jeggings) – the last couple of years have brought little more than drips and drabs.

Indeed, there were the inevitable little bursts of ‘busy’ – but equally quite dramatic lulls in which not too many customers were coming through the door. (To be fair though, they’d all probably snuck into the changing room to try on 50 times more than the allocated 5 items, determined to leave us a late Christmas present – consisting of spending our entire Boxing Day evening picking up the correct dress to go on each hanger off the changing room floor).

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But where had all the shoppers gone?

They were internet shopping of course.

Anyone determined to get the Boxing Day bargains can now skip the cold, crowds and getting up at ridiculous o’clock.

And yes to be fair, we can’t say we blame anyone who would rather fire up their laptop at the stroke of midnight, safely in the confines of their warm cosy home, one hand on the keypad, the other in the half-empty box of Cadbury’s Roses. Plus, as we all know, buying online whilst ever so slightly inebriated makes for some great surprise presents for yourself a few days later.

In theory, anyway.

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Even grocery shops now appear devoid of customers as online retail continues to reign supreme.

And why shouldn’t it? Avoiding the crowds / having the chance to browse properly in peace (whilst seated), and the opportunity to sign up with about 100 different email addresses to get 10% off each time you shop (or so we hear) – is very hard to resist.

So why would you head all the way into Belfast’s city-centre for that phone-case you need – when you can get one online that will last years for just a few quid?

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Independent shops are the exception to the rule. If you wander through Belfast, you get to discover all of the amazing hidden gems you just might not appreciate to full effect online.

For example, whilst we love that Liberty Blue on Lombard St has a great online site, nothing beats having a perusal at all of the intricate accessories and vintage dresses in-store. In this instance, it truly is a case of favouring the store, but we love the web as well as an alternative option for those instances when we really can’t make it out to the shops.

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But with Black Friday (November 27), predicted to be the UK’s first £1bn online shopping day, is shopping in-store simply continuing to die out?

We sincerely hope not.

Because as much as we love bagging a bargain online, nothing beats that initial rush of excitement of finding something you love. Or trying it on and discovering it not only fits – but looks good. You decide to buy it in a whirlwind of excitement, filled with steely determination that you will wear it all the time, feeling a rush of joy as you leave the shop your hands clasped around your (current) most prized possession…

And we don’t want to let that feeling go.

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Indeed, hopefully, with the great new stores hitting Belfast’s city centre proving an instant hit, we won’t have to.

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