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More online spending = More rational spending?

August 6th, 2008 at 04:04 pm

Recent reports on the rise of online spending are making headlines. This isn't a surprising trend. Online shopping allows you to browse, research, and price-compare without putting a mile on your car.

For me, e-commerce takes the "shopping" out of shopping. Shopping for me means wandering through aisles with my Starbucks green tea lemonade, flipping through racks, asking a sales associate if this Bluetooth headset will make me sound underwater or if this sweater really is machine washable. It's about half-consciously listening to the store's carefully selected soundtrack and planning for lunch with a friend after. I am a sucker for every marketing gimmick a corporation wants to throw my way. In high school I ate up those ripped and shredded jeans like they were god's gift to man.

Like many people out there, this full-bodied experience is just no longer within my budget. Buying is now much more targeted and bargain-based, which is the draw of the internet. But there is something about a Paypal transaction that is just not the same as a stroll through South Coast Plaza. Not only is there a lack of instant gratification ("7-10 business days?! You're located in Riverside!"), but all that excess ambiance and planning is cut out. A transaction becomes exactly that. Show me similar items with a $15 price difference on the second floor of Nordstrom, and I'll take whichever I like best. Show me the same items online- one with a big red slash down the middle of its price- and I'll take the cheaper one.

You also eliminate the social aspect. There's no trendy friend telling you what makes you look skinny. This is probably the thinking behind these social shopping websites, recently featured in TechNewsWorld, which in my opinion is actually an ingenious and vaguely creepy idea.

So back to my question: does more online consumerism mean more rational, and less emotional spending? It seems like this would mean better values and fewer unnecessary purchases. Or, because we glean less satisfaction from our purchases (with the additional delayed gratification) are we just impulse-buy bubbles waiting to burst?

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