The TRUE danger of online shopping

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For me, shopping and subterfuge have always been inextricably linked. Not grocery shopping. Not shopping for necessities like tyres or white goods or school shoes or sheets. Not shopping for others, not gifts. But buying things for yourself and being deceitful about it go together like ice cream and Milo. Naturally.

Consider one of the most popular modern sports for women: Shop, Hide and Lie where you buy things, smuggle them into your house to avoid questioning and then lie if asked (by a guy), “Is that new?”

We have regular debates in my house about the definition of ‘new’.  Is it something I bought this week? This year? Or something my husband hasn’t seen me in before?

My own definition is tight. It’s new if I bought it in the previous 72 hours. Once the tag is off? Not new anymore. Conveniently, this allows me to meet almost all enquiries with the truthful response: “No, it’s old”. (Quick aside: why is it that I bristle when my husband asks if something is new and I’ll always deny it but when a girlfriend asks, I beam and say “yes!’ and disclose all details proudly and unprompted?).

Most women are adept at the art of smuggling purchases from store to wardrobe. Some even keep spare dry-cleaner bags in their cars for this very purpose while others stash swing tags in the glove box or in the neighbour’s wheelie bin.

I’ve given much thought as to why we bother with this charade, even if we’re spending our own money. Even if the men we’re deceiving don’t care what we buy. Perhaps it’s instinctive. Like the way my dog will bury a bone even though it’s unnecessary because there will be plenty of dinner and more bones to come and because nobody else is going to steal the disgusting manky thing if he leaves it on the grass. Still, he buries it. It’s in his doggy DNA.

I bury my shopping even though my husband doesn’t care, let alone chastise me for buying things I may not actually need (the definition of ‘need’ is also highly contentious at my house, I find debating technicalities is an effective diversionary tactic. Try It.).

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With less time available to me as the demands of work and kids crank up, I suddenly understand the appeal of online shopping. I’d dabbled a bit in the past. A bit of eBay here. The odd purchase there.  But my usual modus operandi has been this perverse thing where I gaily fill my online shopping cart with all sorts of goodies and then abandon it at the checkout, close the window and move on. This is surprisingly satisfying.

But why? I hate window-shopping in real life.  If I’m going to bother finding the time to go to the shops, park my car, leave a trail of breadcrumbs so I can find it again and then traipse around trying things on, I want to buy something, dammit. Online shopping is different. You haven’t had to invest any physical effort beyond moving your index finger around a bit. And even if you do buy something, it would take time to arrive. So once you remove the instant gratification buzz of leaving a store with a shopping bag on your arm, buying or not buying online aren’t really that different.

I thought I was the only freak who did this but it turns out there are many similar weirdos who fill carts and abandon them. It even has a name, “Gratis Shopping” or “Free Shopping” and I know this because I read an article about it in the aptly named Shop magazine.

Virtual shopping also feels satisfying because so much of the pleasure of retail therapy is in the thought process, imagining how a new purchase will magically pull together your entire wardrobe and indeed your life. You don’t need to actually buy it to go through that thought process, in fact buying it usually kills the fantasy. By simply gathering together your top picks from Net-A-Porter or ShopBop or Asos or Revolver, you can create the most sensation virtual wardrobe, flex a bit of shopping muscle, amuse yourself visually and keep your credit card pristine.

Over Easter, I was sick for four days straight. The kind of sick where you don’t even want to scoff your kids’ Easter eggs after they go to sleep. THAT sick. Stranded in bed, I turned to online shopping. It was a hoot. There was some Gratis Shopping but there was also rather a lot of Actual Shopping. In the days and weeks that followed however, I discovered how online shopping can be dangerous. Not because someone might pilfer your details or because what you bought doesn’t fit when it arrives. No, all that is easily resolved. The biggest danger of online shopping is that you cannot control how or when it gets to your house. The smuggle part is suddenly impossible because your new stuff could come via courier or through the mailbox AT ANY TIME. You may not even be home. And when a package with a big sticker saying “Victoria’s Secret” turns up at the door, it can be a bit tricky to say, “What? This old thing?”

Do you have any weird shopping habits? Are you fond of an online shop? What’s your tactic for hiding your shopping? Or don’t you bother?

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