Buying Online With a Brain That’s Offline
STEPHEN KENNY remembers being in high spirits one evening after imbibing “one martini or maybe three ” on his way home from work. He was in such a good mood, in fact, that he decided to get his girlfriend a present.
“I logged on to this luxury jewelry Web site and I bought her a pair of $1,500 earrings — or what I thought were $1,500 earrings,” said Mr. Kenny, who works at an intellectual property law firm in Burlington, Vt. “Maybe my vision was blurred or I just missed a decimal point, but they turned out to be $15,000.”
When he discovered what he’d done the next morning, Mr. Kenny was able to cancel the charge on his credit card, so no real harm was done. “Frankly, I was amazed that I had that much credit available,” he said.
Welcome to one of the latest and strangest financial hazards of our high-tech age: clicking under the influence, or as a friend of mine called it, “sip and click.” In Mr. Kenny’s case, he realized what he had done, and was able to remedy the situation quickly, but not everyone gets off the hook so easily.
It’s not the sort of thing people like to admit. “You don’t want to sound like a boozehound,” said one woman, who didn’t remember ordering several books from Amazon until the packages started arriving.
And while logging on to go shopping after a libation or two is far less dangerous than drinking and driving, there is the potential for reckless spending.
Like the 24-hour availability of cable shopping channels, the growth of at-home Internet access has provided a confluence of factors that are alluring to many would-be shoppers. You can order from your favorite stores whenever you like, you don’t need cash, and above all you have the privacy to indulge your whims without fearing raised eyebrows from friends or store clerks.
Add a glass of good cheer and it’s easy to lose your material inhibitions, says Kate Hanley, creator of MsMindBody.com. Last fall she was captivated by a pair of Cole Haan boots on eBay, but had to abandon the auction to attend a party. After a glass of Champagne at the party, Ms. Hanley said that she noticed her host’s computer nearby. “I logged back onto the auction and bought the boots,” she said. “It took all of two minutes.”
While it’s hard to say how many people might be filling their online shopping carts in a slightly altered state, the rapid spread of high-speed Internet access does make it easier to browse and buy in the privacy of your own home. By March 2006, 42 percent of Americans had broadband access at home, up from 30 percent a year earlier, according to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Does the easy and constant access to the world of commerce afforded by the Internet translate to a greater likelihood of irresponsible retail behavior? Not necessarily, says Kit Yarrow, a professor at Golden State University in San Francisco who studies shopping behavior. People shop “while under the influence of a lot of things, not just alcohol,” Ms. Yarrow said. “They might use it to deal with obsessive issues, loneliness, boredom, friendship issues.”
But while these behaviors are just as likely to happen at the mall, “you can’t go to the mall at 11 o’clock at night with a glass of wine under your belt,” Ms. Yarrow said.
Because clicking while under the influence is relatively new and, to some, very embarrassing, it’s hard to gauge how much people overspend when they shop this way — and what other factors are at play.
Lyndsey Gunn, a government recruiter in Washington, once spontaneously bought a plane ticket to visit a close friend after enjoying a couple of cocktails earlier that evening. “We were on the phone; she said, ‘I wish we could spend New Year’s together,’ so I logged on right there and bought a ticket,” Ms. Gunn said.
Although she hadn’t planned to spend $250 that night, Ms. Gunn says that she probably would have bought the ticket under more sober circumstances as well.
Mr. Kenny, who had one other episode of tipsy electronic shopping involving a rather costly piece of Le Crueset cookware, has decided to leave nothing to chance.
He set up a complicated alpha-numeric password for his computer to prevent further impulse purchases. “If I can’t even turn the computer on if I’ve been drinking,” he said, “I can’t do that much damage.” Autor: M. P. Dunleavey