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Hallelujah, online shopping!

Online shopping – feet up!

Note: Today is the last day to buy from Amazon with free delivery for Christmas!

I hope you’ve all remembered the research from last year about how expensive gifts are a waste of money:

Academics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business recently discovered that:

  • Most gift givers assume an expensive present is better appreciated…
  • …yet gift receivers don’t appreciate expensive presents much more

This backs up what I’ve long noticed – expensive gifts aren’t much better received than cheaper ones, and if anything they make the recipient feel slightly awkward, unless it is an excellent gift in its own right.

By far the best presents – short of unmarked cash neatly packed into a lightweight briefcase – are gifts based on an experience that you shared with whoever is getting the gift, which you spring on them later in the year.

I don’t mean you need to steal the towels from the hotel you enjoyed a naughty weekend away at, or to keep some of your romantic meal in a frozen doggy bag for Christmas.

I mean you listen when she notices something in a shop or he mentions he likes a particular artist at a gallery, and then months later you deliver that very same item or a book about that artist, plus all the good vibes of Having Remembered. It’s unbeatable!

High Street Blues

If you do find yourself trawling for more random presents, I don’t understand why anyone would do it on the High Street these days.

I still remember the pain of taking big bags of gifts home on the train from London to my parents’ far-flung provincial home.

The first time I did it as a student, I felt like I was in one of those Christmassy American movies where the busy yet basically loving father comes back on Christmas Eve with shiny gift bags up to his nose and says “I’m home” – only to find his house has been taken over by kids / gremlins / his wife’s time-travelling childhood sweetheart.

That feeling lasted one Christmas. After that came a decade of pain.

Every year on the train there would be dozens of us young and over-burdened gift-bearers, looking like refugees who’d only had enough time to gather a few essentials from London’s upscale department stores before fleeing. The aisles and luggage racks would be three bags deep, and yet every bag probably contained the same glossy celebrity cookery book, Oasis CD, and three-pack special of M&S socks. People took the wrong luggage home and didn’t even notice.

Yet carrying the presents home was as nothing compared to the grief of actual, physical Christmas shopping.

I won’t repeat all the clichés. Suffice to say, if you truly enjoy the hassle, toil, soul-crushing musical accompaniment  and general waste of money that is Christmas shopping, then you’ve probably come to my blog by accident, looking for Mr Motivator’s Guide to Abdominal Crunches.

Online shopping: Christmas cheer

And then one day – proving that civilisation doesn’t only go backwards – Amazon arrived, and everything changed forever.

I don’t remember exactly what year Amazon began to take away the pain of shopping. Just as they say that if you remember the 1960s then you weren’t doing it right, I expect I was too deliriously happy to commit the joyous moment to memory.

At a stroke, all my shopping problems were solved. Vast choice, great prices, and they deliver – and all done with a cup of tea to your right and Vivaldi on the iPod Touch.

I appreciate this isn’t the most startling revelation you’ll have ever read on Monevator: Online Shopping Rules, okay.

Indeed, £4,000 a second was spent online by UK consumers on December 9th, and in total £8.9bn will be spent by smart shoppers online over this Christmas, according to the Centre for Retail Research.

Yet go for a trip to your local town centre tomorrow, and you’ll find hordes of people fighting over plastic hamsters and Belgian chocolates like it’s the sacking of Baghdad.

These people could shop online, but they don’t. Why?

Do they like queuing? According to The Mirror that takes up represents 25% of the time spent Christmas shopping.

I understand why people wouldn’t shop for clothes online – although the success of UK-listed As Seen on Screen shows plenty of fashionable types do.

But as for shopping at real stores for literally anything else, it can only be down to a biological urge some people have, maybe related to getting the harvest in (at best) or raping and pillaging (more likely).

Online shopping is cheaper – that’s the real kicker!

I’d shop online if it cost 10% more in a heartbeat, for all the time and aggravation it saves. But it’s cheaper! Incredible.

It’s as if marriage came with money off vouchers for your local brothel. It’s an absolute no-brainer.

Perhaps not everyone has the same brains as me (let’s be generous and say I’m speaking qualitatively, not quantitatively). Maybe Amazon already knows this – the rumour is it plans to open physical shops:

Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer and scourge of bookshops everywhere, is planning a surprise invasion of the British high street.

Property landlords say that the American company has launched a secret search for bricks-and-mortar stores to support its rapidly growing website. It is understood to be scouring the country for high-profile sites just as the Borders book chain is shutting up shop.

I know people are irrational. I know they run up huge debts on credit cards, avoid the market when it’s cheap, and have all kind of mental frailties that distort their stock picking. I know I’m not perfect either.

But getting into a car, driving into town and traipsing to an Amazon shop instead of executing a few clicks between watching a baby laughing on YouTube checking your share portfolio? Barking!

Note: You can buy from Amazon for free Christmas delivery until 18th December.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • 1 George December 18, 2009, 5:06 pm

    That’s pretty funny, to compare Christmas shoppers to refugees!

    I think online shopping is the best. It is super convenient and cheap.

    But that’s just me. Many people absolutely love to shop, and they don’t get the same rush from online shopping.

    As for expensive gifts, it really depends on the person. Some people love expensive gifts. Some people love handmade gifts. Most people are happy when they get exactly what they wanted. Some people hate gifts. When giving a gift, it is super important to think about the other person, and what makes them happy.

  • 2 Tony December 18, 2009, 7:27 pm

    And Amazon is so much more than convenience and low prices…

    You get:
    1. Wish lists (OK no more surprises, but at least people get what they want)
    2. Impartial? customer reviews – some people go into much detail about why they love/hate a product. Far better than reading the marketing blurb on the box in a shop.
    3. Lists – fun, but interesting
    4. Perfect partner/other customers also bought… – OK, could encourage overspending, but the recommendations are often helpful.
    etc etc

    “The BBC would like to point out there are other online providers, but come on, they’re nowhere near as good!”

  • 3 Tony December 18, 2009, 7:29 pm

    p.s. If you’re reading this article from outside the UK, I’m sure Monevator wouldn’t want to spoil a British stereotype. It’s true that we spend most of our shopping time in a queue, but this is the best part!

    We are trained from age 5 to form orderly queues at school. Initially we may resist, but soon we learn to take pleasure in forming a line and shuffling slowly along. Therefore, when Christmas comes along, imagine our joy when the queues get longer.

    If you haven’t been to Britain, please visit soon, take advantage of our rich history and hospitality, but never, ever push in front of a queue!

  • 4 The Investor December 18, 2009, 7:37 pm

    Good points Tony! The wish list one in particular is a good way to avoid spending money by tagging a product for later purchase, and then seeing if you still really feel like buying it later. I wrote about the method in my article on 3 new ways to control your spending.

    Queuing – very true, but they won’t listen you know… We’re the only nation in the world that cares!

  • 5 The Investor December 18, 2009, 7:39 pm

    @George – If you had a relationship with someone who only liked expensive gifts, would it make you think twice about your position with that person? I know it would me. As I say, I’ve given expensive presents before and I will again I’m sure, but if someone demanded them, then they’d get from me some gift-wrapped marching orders. 😉

  • 6 Len Penzo December 19, 2009, 1:54 am


    Please, please, PLEASE… It’s not a great idea to be telling the on-line retailers you’d pay 10% more just for the convenience of shopping on-line. You’ll ruin the experience (not to make it more expensive) for all of us on-line shoppers who, like you, HATE to shop with the masses!

    (Although I’d probably pay 10% extra too to avoid the crowds and all the hassles that come with them – oops, looks like I just did it too.) 😉

    Happy Christmas,

    Len Penzo dot Com

  • 7 Financial Samurai December 19, 2009, 1:39 pm

    Dang I’m one day too late and missed the on-line shopping free delivery experience!!

    I’m always a day late, and a dollar short! lol.

    Have a good holiday, and don’t forget to spend that government tax rebate check you’ll be getting given the bonus tax! Yup, i’m sure the gov’t will be giving money back to the citizens!

  • 8 Ron December 19, 2009, 2:45 pm

    Online shopping is still the most convenient, smartest, and cheapest way to go. Consider free shopping, coupons and more so price comparison shopping. For instance, I recently used the service of Onewayshopping to compare prices on canon cameras. Later, l went to a local popular electronics store. Same camera but $48.00 cheaper when you shop online.

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