BEZAWADA: Use moderation in online shopping


Opinions Column: Traipse the Fine Line

If you sit toward the back of any lecture hall, you are privy to the private lives of basically everyone in front of you. Facebook, iMessenger, Twitter, BuzzFeed and other less-than-appropriate webpages sit innocently beside the current lecture material, giving the semblance of productivity and focus. A distracting albeit amusing portal into the hypocritical nature of overwhelmed, exhausted college students trying to enjoy their lives.

But the most frequently turned-to non-lecture websites, from my experience, are those intended for online shopping.

Amazon, Macy’s, ModCloth, Etsy — the list is endless. And it is safe to say that a sizeable percentage of the millennial generation is addicted to it, myself included. Right now, I have about 10 tabs open for stationery products, "Lord of the Rings" and K-pop merchandise, geeky apparel, wallets,  accessories and a section dedicated to dresses with pockets. Somehow, I can hold myself back from breaking the bank to buy these mouthwatering goodies.

Unfortunately, many others cannot.

Online shopping is defined as, “the process of researching and purchasing products or services over the internet," according to the New World Encyclopedia. Although e-commerce currently only comprises less than 15 percent of international transaction activity, it is still expected to have jumped 16 percent (in the U.S.) by the end of this year. Nearly 79 percent of American adults have made some kind of purchase online, with Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea and European nations, such as the United Kingdom and Germany exceeding that amount, proportionate to their respective populations.

Why is online shopping so attractive? Most of us already know the reasons. For example, online stores are open 24/7 and are accessible in any place that has an internet connection, making online shopping ridiculously convenient. It is also faster and more efficient. Think a few quick taps versus ambling down store aisles. Furthermore, online shopping offers far cheaper pricing. Sixty-five percent of Americans tend to compare online to in-store prices, then choose whichever is cheapest — which is, more often than not, the online option. Additionally, many applications are available to supplement people’s online shopping needs. The browser extension Honey, for example, scans products in your checkout cart for discount codes and previous price changes to whittle them down to the lowest price possible. There is also more variety for people like me — collectors and hobbyists — with niche interests that are generally not available in retail stores. Although there is a time delay from checkout to delivery in online shopping, plus the increased probability of fraud and being “ripped off," for many people nowadays, the competitive benefits are worth the wait.

Because the internet makes it so easy and convenient to spend money, it is obvious that some people may grow addicted to the process. There are three major characteristics of people who tend to lean toward online shopping addiction, according to Psychology Today

The first characteristic is people who like anonymity — specifically those who like avoiding social interaction. You know that heart-stopping moment when you are digging for change at the checkout lane while the line grows behind you? The building anxiety of talking to a cashier or asking an employee for help? Online shopping eliminates that vertigo altogether. Also, some people may feel embarrassed about what they buy or how often they buy it, and online shopping offers the anonymity they need to detach their identity from their purchases.

The second characteristic is people who enjoy the variety of items available. As a stationery addict myself, I tend to frequent the online store JetPens, which specializes in an incredibly diverse array of stationery products. Whatever anyone could possibly want is out there somewhere — a welcome distraction from a dry, grounded college lecture.

The final characteristic is people who thrive on instant gratification. The little green checkmark that appears when a product is ordered sends a momentary thrill to the buyer’s brain, triggering the release of dopamine and other pleasure-inducing chemicals. This is common among people with depression and other mental illnesses who gravitate to the snippets of pleasure that online shopping provides.

It does not help that online shopping is almost directly linked to social media. Companies like Facebook and Google are under fire for incorporating individual search histories — under intense debate as to whether this is a privacy breach — to tailor advertisements to user preferences. College students are especially vulnerable to such distractions. To give some perspective, almost 78 percent of American 18 to 24-year-olds use Snapchat, a free social networking app that relies on advertisements for revenue.

In the end, while online shopping is a wonderful outlet to treat ourselves and decorate our dorms, it is important to note that everything should be consumed in moderation. What makes class a little less boring can encroach into professional work life and cause productivity to plummet. Winter is coming, and so is Christmas — beware the ides of holiday shopping season.

Sruti Bezawada is a Rutgers Business School and School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program  sophomore double majoring in marketing and communications and minoring in Japanese. Her column, “Traipse the Fine Line," runs every alternate Wednesday.

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