It might be a coincidence, but in moments when I find myself especially bored or most utterly troubled in the confines of my house, my phone chirps with the ever-familiar cheerful tone that notifies me of a certain shopping app's limited promos. I don't recall ever allowing push notifications from these apps, but it seems they have taken control of my phone, and in extension, me. The next thing I know, I'd have spent an hour scrolling through curious finds online. I come across a lot I'd love to have — a maroon-and-white windbreaker, a secondhand book set, a Card Captor Sakura-themed mouse pad — there's too many to count, and if I list all that I'm coveting, I'll probably run out of pages to type on. But before I could add these to cart, a number of questions pop up in my mind. After all, turning to retail therapy in the coronavirus pandemic is no longer just a financial concern. Now it also becomes a concern of safety and ethics.
Sorting through priorities
I'd like to believe that I'm frugal with my expenses but online shopping during this period of time has made me question my purchases even more. The coronavirus pandemic has shaken life as we know it. Various sectors are crumbling — there are the travel and the film industries, among many others. The worldwide economy is going on a downward spiral and with this inevitably comes the fear of financial instability.
I'm lucky enough to have a stable job and privileged enough to live in a household whose members' careers are left secured, so such financial matters should be least of my worries. But being the anxious person that I am, I can't help but think of all the what-ifs and guilt-trip myself into scrimping. "Do I really need this? Is it worth spending thousands over?" These are some of the questions I ask myself before checking my virtual cart out. There are times that my rationality wins and I decide to put off buying this video game I've been eyeing for weeks. But sometimes, I give in.
A moral dilemma
We have an extremely viral disease that's threatening our lives and even months into this fight, the world is finding it hard to flatten the curve and keep it low. This health concern bleeds into many aspects of our lives, complicating habits that we would otherwise pay no mind to. This affects our shopping too. When we buy things like groceries, it's easy to excuse the purchase as a necessity for survival — therefore, unavoidable. But when buying other items, I wonder, is it worth risking the safety of the riders who'll have to deliver these parcels to my house?
I work from home so I could barely imagine how hard it must be to be forced to commute to an office when there are health risks abound. Early on the ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) in Metro Manila, I had thought it a sin to buy luxuries that can wait until this pandemic is over. But as time passed and the longer a number of our population is left with no work, I began questioning whether the closure of businesses is the best decision. Sure, everyone's in less danger when we stay in our homes, but how will others survive through this if their livelihoods are taken away from them? If there's no demand to be met, would these workers have any job to sustain them through these difficult times at all?
2020 really went all out and dumped on us a lot of issues to worry about. From dealing with our own personal issues in isolation to the ever-rising number of COVID-19 cases and the disturbing injustices happening in between not just in the US but here in the Asian region as well — it can really take a toll on your well-being. And when we feel really low, it's harder for us to resist impulsive tendencies like online shopping. After all, this past-time instantly relieves the stress and helps us feel more in control.
To tide me over through these exhausting times, I had given in to purchases I justified as "useful" Last month, this came in the form of this retro game controller I definitely had to have in order to finally complete the adventure game I was playing. Other than that, every Friday, we'd also order in dishes of different cuisines to have "something to look forward to," prompting me to spend way much more than I would've on food pre-pandemic.
"Treat yourself," the devil on my shoulder would whisper and I'd follow suit, justifying why I deserve such purchases in the name of "self-care" or whatever excuse I can muster.
Shopping as therapy
Though I often view shopping as an impulsive coping mechanism that will inevitably lead to my downfall, I can't really deny how effective it is at boosting my mood. Though fleeting, the excitement I feel when I tap "order" really becomes a highlight that gets me through the week. Sounds too much like the Confessions of a Shopaholic? Don't force me to join a support group just yet — science has deemed it perfectly normal and valid for people to experience this joy. A psychology and marketing study has shown that turning to retail therapy when things get tough really injects a bit of positivity to your day. Psychology Today has also reported that, aside from helping you feel more in control, shopping helps you visualise a new life, thereby reducing anxiety.
With that, retail therapy becomes a quick respite as well. This is exactly why I never believed the saying that money can't buy you happiness — aside from fulfilling your need for security, when you spend it on things you love, you more easily transition through hard times as well.
The balancing act
As with all things, I've learned that moderation is key. Letting go and splurging on these purchases once in a while is still acceptable. But of course, it becomes unhealthy when you prioritise such spending over your bills or if you end up shelling out more than what you can afford. So, as long as I save a portion of my funds and leave it untouched for the future, I'd say I'm pretty much on the safe side of things.
But enough with money talks. As for consuming ethically, perhaps being more mindful of the establishments we buy from can help. We all have our fave established brands but when we can, let's check out products from small, local businesses whose workers need support to move forward with us in the age of the new normal. If you have a local shop you want to see survive in the future, go right ahead and order from them.
And whether you're ordering food or clothing, at the very least, read through the brand's hygiene policies. Check if they've been updated to comply with new health and safety standards to protect their workers and their customers. With an easily transmittable virus on the loose, it's imperative we ask these questions now, not only to protect us as we come into contact to the items when we receive them but also for the people that will be handling them along the way.
In line with that, reduce contact when you shop. If they have an online store, opt to place your purchase from there instead of going out to visit their shop. Go cashless as much as possible and give tips when you can — a small help goes a long way. Lastly, protect your delivery personnel by disinfecting your hands, keeping distance, and wearing your masks when you interact with them.
This is undeniably a lot to consider on top of all the other issues we're facing. But out of everything, this is perhaps one of the few things we regular folk have the most control over. So if you can't help but turn to retail therapy in the coronavirus pandemic, then let's at least be conscientious consumers. Make our dime count and save the local businesses from tipping over the edge. We often discount them, but our little choices can make quite a difference in the world.
That said, online shopping won't solve all your problems. Here are other ways to cope during the pandemic.