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Pandemic Retail Therapy: Shopping My Feelings One Click at a Time


Filling a shopping cart online is fun, but it’s not as fun as filling up a cart in real life, at least for me. I am sure it has something to do with instant gratification. Online shopping gives that sweet dopamine release, but the payoff is delayed while the items ship. Some of the discount stores have such slow shipping by design (Zulily, I’m looking at you) that by the time the item arrives it’s like a surprise gift for myself!

Delayed gratification hasn’t kept me from doing plenty of online shopping while our family (and the world) has been staying closer to home. For the past six-plus months, I have limited my in-person shopping to a weekly grocery run and an occasional Target drive-up. Pre-corona, I would shop at a number of stores during the week–avoiding crowds and filling my child-free time efficiently by hitting up stores while most people were at work. I love clearance shopping, and I had a pretty nice gift closet stocked with discounted buys. (I’ve worn it down to nearly nothing by entertaining my girls during the stay-at-home orders, so I still got good use from the buys even though we didn’t give them away.) 

All of that to say that shopping was one of my hobbies and a way I could feel productive while also relaxing, something I haven’t been able to replicate during the pandemic so far, no matter how many times I click “add to cart.” And it’s been plenty.

The silliest thing I bought online in 2020 is a giant jar of cheese balls. So delicious, but we couldn’t eat all of them before they went stale. They were such a good deal though! I also bought a jumpsuit, something I have always thought NO, but it was cheap and stripey (I enjoy a good hamburglar aesthetique personally). But what’s been the constant in my online carts these last six months has been shoes. It makes no sense!

It started innocently enough. I needed a new pair of sneakers because mine were all squashed from walking and go-go-going. And although I wasn’t actually going anywhere, we were walking and biking in the neighborhood and trying to keep our bodies moving. A worthy purchase for sure. 

Of course, instead of one pair, I bought two, some black Nikes for regular wear and some white Adidas that seemed too precious but have ended up so comfortable and my favorites. It kind of spiraled from there, and every time I’d see a “good deal” on shoes, learned about an amazing pair of rainbow Converse, or decided I wanted new flip flops (also striped!) I’d hit “add to cart” and eventually “complete purchase.” Every time I decide this is it, the last pair of shoes for 2020, something seems to change my mind, the latest being a pair of ankle rain boots when I was buying my girls the next size up soccer cleats.

My in-person shopping hasn’t expanded too far beyond an occasional extra run into a store. I really don’t mind wearing a mask, but being around other people who don’t wear them (and there were plenty in the few stores I have been in) makes me nervous and the whole experience much less enjoyable. And for something that was so pleasurable to suddenly feel so risky–browsing or even efficiently bopping in and out of a shop to get what we need for the week–has made me avoid it, finding replacement items to buy online or at our regular grocery store.

I’m really trying not to shop my feelings, but the truth is that’s definitely part of my current shopping lifestyle. How have your shopping habits changed since March? Are you feeling like your going-to-the-store routine is back on track, or are you like me and still timid about being in public? How many pairs of shoes are too many pairs of shoes? Let me know in the comments.

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29 Sep 2020


By Mari Walker

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