Amazon, eBay and ASOS – oh my!

19 September 2012

Written by: Dan Toomey

A cat bandana, a metallic crop top and an Amy Winehouse wig: these three items may seem unrelated, but they are an example of some of the purchases I have made online in the last month.

I admit I have a problem. I am an online shopping addict.

However, with National Australia Bank research recently revealing the online retailing industry profits have increased by over 24% in the last year, it’s clear I’m not alone.

Online shopping has exploded, not just in Australia but globally. I should know; I am a loyal devotee. I have been in a committed relationship with eBay and Amazon for as long as I can remember, and have recently welcomed clothing websites ASOS, boohoo and The ICONIC to my trusted group of online companions.

I like to buy things, you see. Lots of things. Some because I need them, most because I want them; the majority just because I have an extra few dollars in my bank account that I didn’t spend on my daily decaf cappuccino.  The appeal of the web is that I have the entire shopping world at the tips of my dangerously active fingers.

While a small portion of my online purchases are a success, many are failures.

From Amazon I bought a witch outfit for Halloween that turned out to be some kind of erotic negligee. I have bought three dresses from ASOS in the last month, with only one of them actually fitting. An eBay seller led me to believe I had purchased women’s vintage shoes from an unclear photograph. They turned out to be men’s hard yakka style workman boots.

So why, despite the often dubious results of my purchases, do I keep logging back in, and what is it about online shopping that is so alluring?

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia research, online shopping is expected to generate sales of $16 billion in 2012 alone and is set to reach up to $26.9 billion by 2016.

One part of this shift from ‘real’ retail stores to those in cyber space can be attributed to smart phones, which the same study revealed are increasing online purchases even further.

‘Over a quarter (26 per cent) of online purchases are now made on mobile devices, compared with 21 per cent last year, and this is expected to drive continued growth in online shopping,’ they claim.

I for one have very much embraced this new technological addition to online shopping. Since my smart phone was first put in my credit card wielding hands, applications such as eBay, Amazon and ASOS have become a permanent fixture on my home screen.

I have come to call ad breaks ‘eBay breaks’, utilising any spare time I have scrolling through pages looking for my next ‘must buy’- which is usually some kind of True Blood paraphernalia or cat shaped mug.

What draws people into shopping online is the accessibility it gives the consumer to such a diverse range of shopping, all in privacy, away from judgement and second guessing. This is where I most often fall victim to impulse purchasing.

A recent User Interface Engineering study on shopping habits, found that 40% of online sales were made on impulse. The research also revealed that:

‘All the impulse purchases were for different items, none of which were special promotions or products on sale. Instead, they were all just items that the shoppers thought of while shopping for other items.’

The nature of the online shopping world lends itself to a wider array of choices, especially if you are searching by category. Many a time I’ve been scrolling through the pages of Amazon for ‘Movies & TV ’ and ended up buying something I never thought of to begin with –entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, anyone?

While nothing feeds my addiction like adding an item to my cart and not knowing exactly what will arrive at my door, I’m starting to think it may not be worth the price of the gamble. The money wasted on the trial and error of online might be better spent in a store, where I know exactly what my money is paying for.

If I continue down this path who knows where I may end up. United States based organisation, the Addiction Help Centre, talks about the risks of online shopping as a dangerous outlet where consumers can shop for never ending periods of time. Shopping online can often be misleading and financially hazardous.

‘Because people don’t cap their online experience by leaving with clothes or CDs or books, they find they need to make a larger number of buys to reach that shopping high,’ they state on their website.

So while I will remain loyal to my old pals Amazon, eBay and ASOS, perhaps next time before hitting the ‘Buy it Now’ button I should judge an item online as I would in a store. But then again, how can I be expected to log out when sparkly rainbow ski boots are only a mouse click away?

Tara Watson is a Graduate Diploma of Journalism student as La Trobe University.