Girls Gone Wild: The Perils of Online Shopping

Carrie Sloan
Posted

Online shopping: Above all, we love it for its ease. After all, it’s far more convenient to steer your mouse to get what you need than to drive around to four stores.

But there are hidden dangers: First, with deals from more sites than ever before landing in our inbox, it’s easy to overspend. Then there are the ever-slicker methods those sites use to get us to spend.

Just in time for back-to-school and fall shopping, LearnVest is here with surefire tips to beat e-retailers at their game. In other words, a guide to scoring exactly what you want online—and less of what you don’t.

Online Shopping

Breeding Shopaholics: How Online Sites Seduce Us

The Magic Click

The very thing that makes online shopping so effortless can lead us to spend more than we meant to. Consider: To buy a sweater at a brick-and-mortar store, you’d browse, pick it out, try it on, head to the register, stand in line, swipe your card, then sign. In other words, you have ample time to think about what you’re purchasing. Online, it’s as simple as three clicks: An impulse buy can happen in the blink of an eye.

Plastic vs. Cash

Studies show that paying for a purchase with a credit card, as opposed to cold, hard cash causes consumers to spend 20-40% more, simply because you’re distanced from what you’re spending. It’s even easier when your go-to cards are saved in a site’s system. A recent study by BIGResearch/Shop.org found that a back-to-school shopper who buys online tends to spend 40% more than if she’d been pushing a cart. 

The Rule of Scarcity

It’s no secret that supply drives demand, and the rule of scarcity tells us that being told we can’t have something—or that someone else wants it—means we covet it more. Think: “We’re sorry, that dress is in another shopper’s cart.” Now flash sales have elevated the idea to a fine art: Everything you’re shopping for is in short supply, and you have a very limited time to buy it. With your finger poised to click, and a deadline looming, the situation actually activates your brain’s fight-or-flight mechanism, which short-circuits your ability to make a rational decision. 

Neuromarketing 101

Do you really like that bathing suit, or do you just like the fact that it costs $75, as opposed to the one next to it for $150? The new field of neuromarketing aims to boil your buying habits down to a science—then use them to help retailers profit. One key finding: When online, beware the mid-range buy. Research reported in the New York Times has shown that if you have two similar items on a page, one selling for $200 and the other for $250, most people will choose the cheaper item. But add a third item, at a higher price point, like $300, and now the same customer will buy the $250 item. Sites often add high-price items they’re unlikely to sell, seducing you into buying up. 

The Rise of the BUI

And then there’s the new trend of buying under the influence. Many women, it seems, find the ease of browsing the internet makes it fun to sip while they click. Drunk shopping, we’re sure you can surmise, often leads to unpleasant surprises. For example, Lucky magazine reported that one woman failed to remember what she had bought until she received a customer service call. And time-limit-driven flash sales have even spawned a new pastime: competitive drinking/shopping. One group of women recently gathered for an “extreme shopping” game. The rules? Friends competed to see who could buy something online the fastest, using any technology—from a mobile device to a laptop—she had. The winner? A woman who completed a transaction in under 30 seconds.

6 Rules to Getting Online Shopping Right

1. Stick to a Budget

In the LearnVest My Money Center, you can link all of your accounts, create a budget and figure out just how much you can afford to spend each month on categories like clothing or travel—for free. Then, before you ever make a purchase, you can consult your bottom line to see if you have enough to justify the buy.

2. Create a Coupon Inbox

We all want discounts, but when a handful land in your inbox every day, it can pave the way to bargain-price impulse buys (i.e, samba lessons at 40% off!). The easy solution is to open a separate email address you use just for deals emails and coupon sites. Additionally, give this email to stores from which you would like to receive special offers. The trick: Check this inbox only when you really need to buy something. That way, email leads you to great deals, instead of to temptation.

3. Make a List

One of the most devious effects of shopping online is the fact that you wind up buying those boots and that wrap dress when all you really needed was new gloves. One way to combat this tendency is to make an old-fashioned shopping list, and stick to clicking on what you need.

4. Set a Time Limit

It’s easy to fall into an online reverie while browsing idly, and wind up buying surplus stuff. Instead, set a timer and give yourself a half hour to track down what you were looking for in the first place.

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5. Enlist a Buddy

One of the best impulse-buy busters is a trusted friend who can weigh in on a potential purchase. Do you really need that new fall purse? Ask her. In the time it takes her to get back to you, the urge to splurge may have already passed. (Learn how to splurge right with these tips.)

6. Give Yourself a Time-Out

Similarly, it can be wise to instate a waiting period before making a purchase. In fact it can even change your brain chemistry: “Take a break from the item for 48 hours, and you’ll be 1/3 less likely to buy it,” says Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. “You’ll have released yourself from dopamine accumulation in your brain.” In other words, that feel-good neurotransmitter that compels us to spend will be gone. Worried you’ll forget what you wanted? Pinterest.com lets you pin any photo on the web to a virtual bulletin board for safekeeping, until you can sleep on whether this item is truly a “need.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Susan-Bewley/100000644207137 Susan Bewley

    Like the idea of the separate inbox for shopping emails. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Susan-Bewley/100000644207137 Susan Bewley

    Like the idea of the separate inbox for shopping emails. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Susan-Bewley/100000644207137 Susan Bewley

    Like the idea of the separate inbox for shopping emails. 

  • Erika Amaya

    I just set up a filter in my Gmail account to receive all of sales alerts from online vendors I frequent the most.  I set it to bypass my Inbox (archive automatically) and set up a label so that I can peruse through sales when I need something. Thanks for the idea Learnvest!  I found directions here: http://productivewise.com/guest-post-ready-shopping-season-collect-deals-gmail-inbox/

  • http://neatfreakwannabe.blogspot.com Jenna

    I don’t have a separate email for shopping deals, but I do use email filters to bypass my inbox and move them directly to a separate folder.  I know they’re there when I do need to make a purchase, but in the meantime it really helps to not have those temptations in my face every time I check my email!

    I also follow the first tip to check your budget first.  I make a mental note of what I have to spend, and I make sure that what I carry out of the dressing room falls within that budget.  It’s not uncommon for me to pull out my cell phone and add up my total while I’m trying things on so that I don’t have any surprises at the register!

  • http://neatfreakwannabe.blogspot.com Jenna

    @Erika, that’s exactly what I do, too!  It’s a huge help.

  • http://www.acecashexpress.com/payday-loan-news R. Mehta

    Email marketing discounts & offers are all pushing through clamoring for our attention. It requires severe self control but holding yourself a prisoner to your budget and keeping a running tab for the month can help keep your fingers off the keyboard or ipad!

  • Anonymous

    Interesting article! I just now got Coupons of my Favorite Brands for free from Printapon you should search for them online

  • Carrie@LearnVest

    Jenna, Thanks for the tip on using filters. That’s genius. 

    Anyone else have bright ideas on how we can not shop?