Vinyl records. Solar panel phone charger. Socks. Guitar case. Watercolor pencils. Pillows. Chess set. Memory card. Lightbulbs.Dish soap. Batteries.
Looking through my recent Amazon order history leaves me feeling a bit disgusted with myself. I actually refrained from including some items, partially out of embarrassment, but also because I would bore you to death filling all this space with my purchases. I’ve consistently used Amazon Prime for so long, I rarely step foot in a real store with doors, cash registers and people, aside from an occasional last-minute grocery run.
The Shopping Problem
I’ve always been an impulse buyer. In high school, I watched the surf documentary “Endless Summer” and purchased a wetsuit despite never having surfed a day in my life. When I was in college, a relationship ended and immediately after the conversation, I bought a punching bag.When I clicked “begin free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime” two years ago my bank account went into a spiral of collapse, constantly battling between pay checks and impulse purchases.
Admitting a problem is the first step: I’m shamefully addicted to the instant gratification of shopping. And I’m not alone. In a study featured in The Atlantic, “researchers found that when they showed subjects a desirable object for sale, the pleasure center (or nucleus accumbens) in the subject’s brain lit up. The more the person wanted the item, the more activity the fMRI detected.”
We’re neurologically entwined in the emotional fulfilment of buying something. If we’re wired that way, what happens when we don’t even need to leave our couch for a fix?
Click, Click, Boom
The range of products available on Amazon is truly astounding. Perhaps the most mind-blowing part is the genius and peril of single click. Getting to point B doesn’t require going through point A anymore (let alone any human interaction).
Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook are clawing to be part of the shopping cart by rolling out built-in commerce. Pinterest recently announced a partnership with Apple Pay to make buying on the iOS app even easier. But buy buttons aren’t necessarily a slam dunk. Mashable’s Seth Fiegerman points out: “Each of the social networks walks a fine line between the need to find new ways to make money and the fear of disrupting the experience to the point where users get turned off and move elsewhere.”
Mobile one-click has completely revolutionized the way we shop, and built-in commerce is just the beginning. A shopper no longer has to stop what they’re doing to participate in a purchase, therefore they barely need to think. This is a staggering concept for both brands and consumers.
Will I Ever Shop Again?
There’s a special intimacy involved in feeling the texture of a sweater with your hands, or comparing the scents of bar soap. However, with one-click at my fingertips, I experience these sensations less and less. I wonder if I'll ever visit a brick-and-mortar establishment again, or if someday I’ll be in a rocking chair telling my grandchildren tall tales of how we used to physically go to the grocery store instead of waiting for drones to deliver milk.
The forced reflection on my own shopping habits puts me in a slight state of unrest. Is it a good thing that the ease and convenience of online shopping makes us all a little bit mindless in purchasing? The marketer in me says, “buying things keeps me in business,” but the human in me questions the deeper implications.
A former classmate of mine, Nickolaus Sugai, summarizes it best in The Existentialism of Buying Everything on Amazon: “Why would you ever go the store to buy socks, when you can get them shipped to your front door for free? There is perhaps no more poignant image of capitalistic waste than overnighting a shower curtain to someone who lives within a walking mile of Bed, Bath and Beyond.”
Regardless of how buying changes over time, the act of shopping remains a very personal experience. For consumers like me who can’t thwart their impulses, mobile one-click options will continue to be the first choice because it’s easy, fast and consistent. Others who value quality and spend time thoughtfully comparing products will likely continue buying in-store. For some platforms, in-feed purchases may not be successful. Only time will tell how the future of online shopping will play out. Until then, I suppose I’ll be purchasing my rocking chair with Amazon Prime.