Shopping online: An exposé

Online shopping is, in many aspects, awesome.  You can find just about anything online without leaving your couch, saving you both time and energy (and frostbite, lately).  But is it really a smarter way to spend your money?

It’s true that shopping online saves you from driving around town, conforming to business hours, waiting in line with cranky customers, and dragging your even crankier kids to stores. Granted, those are all pretty strong arguments in favor of online shopping, but you should also be aware of the costs:

  • Easy credit – Shopping online usually means shopping with your credit card, which can be lethal at times.  One of the big problems with credit cards is the ease of overspending.  Because no money is physically exchanged during the purchasing process, people tend to forget how much they’re actually spending.  Online shops make it even easier for people to overspend with stored credit card information and the increasingly popular “one-click shopping.”
  • No big deal – Once you do purchase something online, you’re subjected to an onslaught of new online discounts and promotions.  Yes, sometimes there are deals to be had, but not when you think about it as an item on sale that you neither needed nor intended to buy in the first place.
  • Blind shopping A few sites offer free shipping, but when they don’t, online shopping can end up costing a lot more than in-store.  With your pre-purchase assessment limited to an image and flowery text description (excluding sites which have customer reviews, which can be quite helpful), exchanges and returns are not uncommon.  This adds an additional shipping fee and forces you to wait even longer for the right product to arrive.  I recently ordered rain boots online and had to wait two months before getting the right size and color!

In closing, I’d advise you to be strategic with online shopping.  You can get great deals on things that don’t require a great amount of aesthetic judgment, like electronics, and college students I hope you’re buying used books from Amazon!  But when it comes to clothes, home décor and the like, consider spending an afternoon shopping with friends instead of spending money with your computer at home.  In any case, think carefully before clicking, and beware the shower of electronic coupons that follow your order.  But now that I’ve ranted—what do you think?