I think I may have a problem. Of the shopping variety. Specifically, I have an online shopping problem. To be clear, this isn’t the “oops I’ve drank too much and ordered a handbag” concern that one in three people suffer from at night. I may be sleepy, at most, but I’m definitely stone-cold sober when placing orders.
It’s gotten so bad that sometimes I forget what I’ve bought. It was only when I looked at my credit card statement and noticed multiple transactions from Urban Outfitters that I realized I paid for sweaters I never got.
During my last package retrieval from my neighbors — who often pick up my delivered packages so they aren’t nabbed by a thief — they mentioned shoppers anonymous. They were only sort of kidding.
The Power of Retail Therapy
It got me thinking. I shop. A lot. I believe in the power of retail therapy, but I’m coming to realize there are some problems to my approach.
The first issue is money. Today the U.S. apparel industry is a $12 billion business with the average family spending $1,700 on clothes each year. As a family of one, I know I definitely exceed that amount, so shopping clearly is putting a dent in my wallet.
Which leads me to wonder “Why do I have all of this stuff?” In 1930, the average American woman owned nine outfits. Today, it’s 30. My numbers are in the multiples, to a point of embarrassment.
Then there’s the obvious question “How do I keep track of all of this stuff?” Two options: a self-storage unit or purchasing organizing products. We now spend $24 billion annually on off-site storage. Organization consultants and products has become a $1 billion industry.
While I have enough space at home, it’s not organized and I can’t find anything. My only safety net from this rabbit hole is that the idea of the Container Store gives me hives and I break out into cold sweats. I once applied for a job there, online of course, and it was so apparent I wasn’t an organized person the system wouldn’t even accept my application.
And Then There Are the Returns
But so far we’re only talking about the stuff I keep. That, my friend, is a tiny fraction of what I actually order online. Most items are rejected without even trying them on, be it for the material, color or cut. If I can hold it up and see it won’t be flattering, is itchy or just plain ugly, it goes back into the bag to be returned.
If it’s an online retailer, like Zappos, or a store without a local presence, like Uniqlo, it’s easy. I just pop into the UPS store down the street. There is always somewhere to park and rarely a line. The people who work there are nice and they’ll even help you seal the box if you can’t, like me, remember where you put the packaging tape. USPS and FedEx are a different story, each a gong show in its own right to be avoided at all costs.
Most of my purchases, however, end up resulting in an in-store return. Occasionally it’s smooth sailing but that’s becoming increasingly rare.
- “Didn’t you want to look around for something else?” i.e. you’ve already spent the money, so let us keep it and you can leave with something else we don’t have to fold.
- “How about we try and get you a different size?” because clearly you don’t realize you aren’t a small.
- “But it was such a good deal!” which is why I’m often returning stuff to begin with. I’m smitten with sales and a deep discount excites me.
At any given time, I’m riding around with a trunk full of items to return. Target, Gap and Old Navy and constants. Occasionally there will be a sale item from Neiman Marcus or Last Call. Recently I’ve also added American Eagle to my purview, where I’m definitely not a small.
Returning from a trip to the mall makes me think about how much time I spend shopping online for items I’m only going to turn around and return. A survey of 2,000 women found that we spend more than 100 hours on 30 trips to shop for clothes, 15 shoe-shopping excursions taking 40 hours, and a full 50 hours per year window shopping. If that’s the average, I’m pretty much screwed.
All told, it makes me start to wonder. Am I addicted to shopping? I’m told that’s the first step. Admitting to myself I may have a problem.
Rani Monson writes a biweekly humor column for Katy Trail Weekly, where this column originally appeared titled "Confessions of an online shopaholic."