When Shopping Is Just A Click Away
Shopping online is like visiting every store on earth without setting foot outside
If there’s one thing I want you to know from the start, it’s that shopping is just as addicting to men as it is to women. I don’t think there’s a male counterpart to Confessions of a Shopaholic, but the story of Isla Fisher’s character is also the story of many a man who has overspent on tech, shoes, fashion and so on.
When I was looking for a new phone a few years ago, I made the mistake of visiting every store in the mall that had anything to do with electronics. I’d get brochures and spend a minute or two glancing over the options. A staff person would hover behind my back, maybe ask to showcase the phone, show me other options, or some other question he or she has asked hundreds of times to hundreds of other people. I’d rub my chin and squint, my eyes going back and forth over each feature of each phone.
What I realized too late was that all this information was available online. There are websites devoted to comparing the features of each phone and telling me which one to get based on what I want. All the information I gathered during those trips could have been done with a few Google searches.
There’s a whole culture devoted to this gap in purchasing—the culture of unboxing videos. Millions of views, one item per week leading to tens of thousands of products over the course of a few years—there is an audience for opening a box in front of a camera. A voice points out the details over a pair of hands fiddling with the package. The plastic rips, interrupting the smooth mellow jazz playing in the background. You could almost smell the scent of something new. The product is tested, praised and critiqued all in one go. Watching these videos gives a sense of not only reassurance but also cognizance, which are key factors when buying a product. Someone already did the job for me.
Some forms of online shopping don’t have this culture attached. Ebay, Grailed and other websites for thrift finds have items that aren’t brand new, and verification for legitimacy as well as quality is harder to claim. Other websites that have preceded e-commerce sites rely on the strength of its community to police itself. It’s been easier since the growth of buy-and-sell groups on social networking sites like Facebook, but that can be easily thwarted by bogus accounts. Instagram is gearing up to incorporate e-commerce into their brand DNA, but how much effort will it give to protect the small businesses that rely on the app for its business?
But these are all peripherals, afterthoughts, to the joy of online shopping. Window shopping in this case is when you literally open another window on your laptop to check up on the next sale. In fact, you already have a tab open with a shopping cart just waiting for you to click “buy.” It sits there when you work, when you watch cat videos, when you get into that weird part of Youtube that oddly enough has very good, albeit low-quality music. You’ve been cycling over your list again and again, trying to cut out what you don’t need but you fail. You don’t have to go to the nearest ATM, withdraw and hand over the smooth, crispy paper you just put into your wallet.
And so we get to the heart of it: online shopping is addicting because it takes out all of the fluff and hassle, and goes straight to the point: the purchase. Click it and it's yours. There are no long lines when checking out. There are no eyes to glance at your basket. There’s no need to walk into the store wearing anything that would make people feel that you can afford what’s on their shelves. There’s no need to go out. Open your laptop or unlock your phone, and you’re in every store you could ever want to go into. It’s that easy.
I love going to the convenience store, but I hate going to the shopping mall. The main difference is that when I go to the convenience store, most of the time it’s quiet, nobody is there and the person at the cashier doesn’t care enough to look at you in the eyes while you buy a half-gallon of your favorite ice cream in a pair of boxers and a sando. In the mall, I’d think twice about entering a store I’m not sure I’ll buy anything from. I’m not that confident to enter a boutique of Patek Philippes and Rolexes just to ogle at the timepieces, but I can take all the time I want looking at their catalogue online.
There’s a fear of judgment that online shopping solves for some people, including myself. If there’s such a thing as therapy in retail, online shopping must be the cure-all. It doesn’t just cater to the new wave obsession of getting anything in an instant. It also personalizes it, makes it private, ubiquitous and extremely comfortable.
For many, shopping online is a dream. It's for the sneakerhead who can’t afford going to another country for an exclusive release of new kicks. It's for the middle-aged couple who want to have their Christmas gifts shipped directly to their grandchildren. It's for the young professional, stuck in a cubicle and looking forward to enjoying the money she worked for. At its worst, online shopping is a crutch for some deep unhappiness. At its best, it just makes life easier.