Not so many years ago, shopping was an all-day or at least a half-day experience, especially if you needed to find something important. You had to know what you wanted, where to find it, the store hours, where to park, whether they accepted cash, checks, or credit cards, and just in case the item wasn't just right the store's return policy.
Unless you actually enjoyed this kind of thing, it was quite the ordeal, and you were limited to the items that the stores at your local mall decided to carry or spend even more time driving to another city that had other stores. All the larger stores were open 7 days a week, but many of the boutique ones were closed on Sundays. Needless to say, you had to think ahead and have a plan.
If you were like me, a procrastinator, with a bad memory and piss-poor time awareness, Christmas shopping came down to a mad dash through the local mall on December 24th, buying whatever you could lay your hands on before the place closed down for the night. Those years led to quite a few regrettable purchases, mainly because when you don't plan ahead, you pretty much have to take what you can find, which at the last possible minute, isn't much.
Obviously, there are still malls and boutique stores and people do still go there to shop, but I am not one of them. It was a gradual thing over time as online shopping became a thing and I learned the advantages of being able to shop from home, at any hour of the day or night in the seemingly unlimited shopping mall called the internet. Being able to shop online has totally changed my life and the lives of countless other people.
I do miss some of the local shops that have had to close up because competing with the internet is impossible unless you offer a truly unique experience, community, or relationship in addition to products or services that simply can't be had elsewhere. But I have to admit, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
The internet mall has everything you ever wanted and a lot of stuff you didn't even know existed. You don't have to look for a parking spot or have a tantrum when someone door dings you after you finally find one. There is no standing in line or hunting down some dum-dum "sales associate" who is less helpful than a bikini in a blizzard. The internet never closes, goes on break, takes a holiday, vacation, or stress leave.
If your favorite online store is temporarily back-ordered on that must-have item you simply can't live without, you just go ahead and find it in another online story and happily order away. And if you can swallow the uber-expensive overnight shipping, you don't even have to deal with your procrastination problem. Huzzah to the internet!
If you're anything like me, you've had more than your fair share of impulse purchases and "what-was-I-thinking" shopping mistakes. It is somewhat easier to address these mini-disasters now with the internet, but the very best way to deal with mistakes is not to make them in the first place.
It may be less time consuming to return something you bought online than it was to take it back to the mall, but you still have to pack it back up, complete the form, print out the return sticker, drive to the local UPS store, and wait for the refund to show up on your credit card, minus the "restocking fee". I pretty much hate doing anything that doesn't stay done, so any amount of hassle sending something back that I wish I hadn't purchased in the first place is something I want to avoid.
Here is my quick and dirty cheat sheet for avoiding spending your hard-earned coin on stuff that isn't worth its spit, won't improve your life, and will just end up making you feel like ass when the credit card statement comes. You're welcome.
I know, I know. You're a spontaneous kinda gal, not a planner. I feel ya. But, I've been that kinda gal a lot longer than you have and I can't even begin to tell you how much better it feels when you don't wait till the night before to start looking for a Mother's Day gift when your mom lives in another state. Lots and lots of things are actually predictable. Christmas, your sister's birthday, tax day to name a few. They may feel like they are sudden and coming at you from nowhere, but that's just because you aren't paying attention.
Decide ahead of time how much you are going to spend and have at least a couple of general ideas for what you are looking for and where to find it. If you show up at the unlimited mall called the internet, with absolutely no clue what you are even searching for or where to locate it, I guarantee you're not going to find it, and you will waste a fuck-ton of time in the process.
Put yourself on a time budget
Decide how much time you are going to spend on shopping for that purchase. Set a timer or alarm. Stick to it. Just knowing you have a time budget will help keep you focused so that you don't go down the internet shopping rabbit hole. It will help you consider and eliminate options more quickly. It is also extremely helpful to have a few questions either written down or in your head before you log on. Some examples are:
Do they offer free shipping? Do they gift wrap or will they include a gift card for an extra charge? What's their return procedure, if the recipient decides to send it back? You should also show up to the shopping session with the sizes, addresses, and other preferences for the person you are shopping for. If you are buying for yourself, have your credit card number and other pertinent info on hand, so you don't have to scramble around and waste time later.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Billions of dollars are being spent to get you and keep you hooked in the online world. Many of the features that are being built into eCommerce sites are designed specifically to keep you on the site as long as possible and get you to spend as much money as possible.
Savvy marketers know far more about your brain than you do and they are using that knowledge to their advantage, not yours. It can be super fun to click around, adding far more to your online shopping cart than you can possibly pay for, at least not without running into significant credit card debt.
The big companies know exactly when to trigger a pop-up button, offering you some kind of purchase incentive, always timed to the exact amount of time you have been hovering over a particular image or your previous visits to the page. The game is rigged and you are not the intended winner. The solution is not to go back to shopping in the local mall unless you want to.
A better solution is to be aware of the fact that the longer you are on any eCommerce site, the greater the likelihood you will overspend. They are trying to outsmart you, so you can outsmart them by setting a timer and getting out before you get hooked.
So, if you decide to implement any of these strategies, I suggest you make it feel like a game, because, well who doesn't like games and because habits can be hard to change, so the more fun they are, the more you will do them. Here's to smarter shopping!