Tech Life It's the thought of holding it

The Lobotomization of American Retail Therapy

We Americans love to buy shit. In fact, the only thing more important to us than buying shit is buying shit the second we think we need it – we’re impatient.

We’re impatient because we live in a country designed around this rapid acquisition of goods and services. The best example of this is your local mall. Here is a very large building constructed out of a bunch of stores which contain an immense variety of crap. Your mission upon arrival is to first acquire whatever it is you think you need and then to wander aimlessly in search of whatever tickles your fancy because that is the ultimate therapy – finding something that you believe you need and not having to wait to buy it.

This was the intriguing Catch 22 of the Internet. Suddenly, you could sit in your home in your underwear and surf the net for the crap which formerly lived in the mall. This rapid acquisition of information about goods and services gave you the initial impression that you would acquire your crap in the same way you found it… instantly.

Wrong. Depending on your shipping options, your crap was anywhere from 24 hours to a week away. This shipping beast was standing between you and your crap. More importantly, it was standing between the Internet and commercial success. Would impatient Americans transition their retail therapy from the mall to the net? Once the novelty of being able to find crap quickly weared off, would Joe American return to his regular locally based acquisition of crap?

Modulo the stock marketing recently diving 200+ points every day, the answer appears to be yes, Americans buying patterns can be changed. Amazon continues to hover around a five billion market cap and that is serious cabbage. More importantly, I suspect that frequent Amazon customers are getting the same guilty commercial high when they the click on the 1-CLICK TO BUY BUTTON. The development of this addiction is essential to any Internet-based business because it is the cornerstone of repeat business.

How is Amazon doing it? With the only weapon they have in a digital world, personalized information. The front page is a dynamically created page JUST FOR YOU featuring recommendations, a what’s new list, a message center, a wish list, your own store, and the GOLD BOX (the current buzzable feature which gives you GREAT DEALS for JUST SIXTY MINUTES).

And this merely the front page. Select a book and you’re inundated with more dynamic information which is geared to make sure you buy more crap… how very American of them.

Amazon is obvious answer, though. If you were to ask a random person on the street what their definition of a successful Internet biz, they would probably say Amazon. How many of them would say NetFlix?

The NetFlix model is relatively simple. You log onto their site and select DVDS that you want to rent from a rather impressive collection. They’ll send up to three DVDs to you at a time and you can keep them as long as you like. When you do send one back (via a prepaid provided envelop), NetFlix sends you another DVD from your list. This means that, at any given time, you’ve got three DVDs sitting around waiting to be watched with no looming late fees. The service costs $20 a month.

Now, a pre-Internet American bent on instant gratification is going to complain in the following manner, “How do I know what I’m going to be in the mood for come Friday night? I might be in the mood for horror, but all I’ll have is three Adam Sadler movies. I WANT WHAT I WANT WHEN I WANT IT.”

We are no longer in a pre-Internet world. We’re in a retail world of Amazon’s and Etrades where thinking we got something when we click a button THAT SAID WE DID is enough to satiate our fickle retail therapy muscle. On Netflix, clicking RENT THIS DVD gives you the impression you actually did something, when, in reality, nothing occurred at all.

The Internet has done a relatively simple thing to us. It’s reduced our rampant consumerism to its essence: wanting is better than having. No longer is holding the book or DVD in our hand the pleasurable experience, it’s the thought of holding it.

2 Responses

  1. Harry 14 years ago

    Although I really like buying books from Amazon, nothing really beats going into a real bookstore and browsing the near-endless rows of novels, biographies, tomes, etc. And the fact that you can pick up a book and give it a look also helps. Sure, Amazon’s got the “Look Inside!” feature, but not for every single book they sell.

    Another thing that’s better about going shopping for books at a brick and mortar store is the exercise and the lack of shipping costs (unless you drive a car or take public transport, that is 😉 ).

  2. I’ve always wondered if companies like Webvan and Kozmo that bypassed the whole ‘shipping’ thing by driving the shit you’ve bought straight to your door would have worked. That is if they actually priced their product intelligently (minimum order, a reasonable delivery fee, not selling below cost, etc.)

    I remember when Prodigy first launched (1990) that they had a deal with the local grocery stores where you could shop for groceries online and they would deliver to your door in a matter of hours. It didn’t last long, though I don’t remember if it was just because the whole “online” thing was too new for Joe Blow or if costs were too high.