Online Shopping Is Wicked

"What's wrong with online shopping?" You mean, besides the fact that it's way too easy, things don't fit, and you can do it in the middle of the night? Apparently, a lot:

We've all been on eBay binges and online sale sprees that we regretted. PayPal makes frittering the work of a moment, and there's something addictive about getting those brown paper packages in the mail. And then they keep coming. And coming. And things you didn't want that much arrive. And you have to explain that the china kewpie looked better in the picture. And that you didn't really think you'd win that acorn pin-cushion. And with clothes, even for the sites with good return policies, re-packaging and getting to the post-office is a huge hassle, and...anyway, you have to cut yourself off.

When I hear "what's wrong with online shopping," that's what I think of - petty sitcom-style chagrin and the three driftwood lamps I bought two years ago in a sherry-fueled bidding spree. Time Magazine's concerns are graver and, arguably, more worth considering. The issues they list deal with privacy, theft and security.

As their piece points out, online shopping is frequently bedeviled by hidden costs: not just shipping fees and confusing signage, but basic discrepancies within companies.

Many of the problems seem to arise because the retail and online divisions of major stores are run by entirely different groups, or at least they were until recently-and these groups sometimes seem more like competitors rather than players working on the same team. The consumer sees the same store brand name, and understandably assumes the entities are identical, but they're not-and the results are heaps of confusion and frustration.

Ill-informed personnel and actual differences in inventory are just further pitfalls.

More worrisome still are the hazards to one's privacy. We all know the dangers of identity theft, viruses and "Phishing", but the thick Big Brother-style files kept on our behavior and shopping habits by even some of the most secure companies are, as the New York Times recently pointed out, straight-up creepy.

And it's true: Online Shopping Addiction is a real disorder that can require treatment and have seriously negative effects on the addict's life. It's not just that it's so easy and relies almost completely on credit; what the shopper loses in instant gratification is perhaps matched, for some, by the fact that one need not be accountable to a sales person - surely a relief in those situations where there's a "problem with credit cards."

And yet, we'll all still do it: of course we will. It's too easy and too many companies make it too necessary. And that's to say nothing of Etsy. (It's an unavoidable irony that much of what's small-batch, handmade or otherwise back-to-the-land is available only through the mail and absent of human interaction. And the more remote your own existence, the more you need it.) While it's a practice as old as Wells-Fargo and Sears-Roebuck, you could certainly argue that today's proxy-commerce serves to isolate us from what's nearby more often than it connects us to what's far away.

Whatever the geography, no one wants to get ripped off, even if being an assiduously educated consumer takes half the fun out of online shopping's mindlessness. Which, really, is good. Because dealing with banks will mean far more phone-calls and holds and impassible online forms and in the end, you'll just wish you'd gone to the store. Or not bought the damn driftwood lamps.

What's Wrong With Online Shopping [Time]

Shoppers Who Can't Have Secrets [New York Times]
Managing The Risk Of Online Shopping [Credit_Land]