The Joy of Shopping at Midnight in your Underwear

This is one need an online purchase may not satisfy. But there is plenty else to choose from after your mad dash to the 24/7 convenience store.

If a short man and a tall woman in dark suits and sunglasses walked up to you, displayed their IDs, and declared your smart phone was about to be repossessed by a secret government agency, you’d be pretty annoyed, right?

How would you survive?
Without your contacts.
Without phone numbers hard wired to your memory.
No apps. No web access. No music.
When was the last time you even used a pay phone?

But you’d get by. Somehow.
It wasn’t so long ago when smart phones didn’t exist and basic cell phones were making history at the magical rate of $1.99/minute.
(No one ever thought that was a good deal.)

The same story goes for your home computer.
Imagine some sort of futuristic “Free Your Home from the Web” initiative.
(It could happen!)
Without your main computing tool, you’d be limited, but not dead in the water. There’s always your mobile device, your work computer, or even the library (in 30 minute increments). You’d find your way back to Facebook. Don’t worry.
But what’s up with online shopping?

Once upon a time, I would get in my car and go shopping for the consumer goods I require to live my life as a red blooded American, happily engaged in our great capitalist economy.

Then online shopping was born, and I remember feeling unimpressed. Surely you still needed to go out there to hunt and gather to make sure you got what you wanted. How would you return an item if there was something wrong? The experience would have to be fraught with limitations and problems. Plus, you had to wait days to receive what you needed right now. And how many books could you possibly buy on Amazon?

Wow. There’s been quite the shopping shift over the past few years.
Today, this new shopping behavior has fused itself onto my brainstem.
It’s become an essential tool I simply cannot do without.
And I’m not alone.

So why has shopping online become so much more than another convenience?

It’s about money, of course.
Online shopping usually costs less.

For an online merchant, it’s the simple economics behind not having to pay for a brick and mortar store and salespeople.

Your local low-priced Walmart down the street isn’t closing any time soon, but your purchasing behaviors are shifting big time.

Hold the Sales Tax
And it doesn’t hurt that you usually don’t get charged state sales tax, unless the online retailer has a store in the state where you live.

You should know your tax free shopping spree may not last forever.
There’s an Internet sales tax bill in Congress that would close this loophole.
It’s called The Marketplace Fairness Act, and it’s picking up steam.

If passed, it surely will help out brick and mortar retail stores.
But it won’t cure their problem that they’ll never be the only game in town again.

Pop quiz- In the past year, how many of you have walked into a retail store, found what you were looking for, and then walked out and bought it online for less?

Exactly. It’s known as showrooming, a term that popped up when bookstores began losing business to Amazon.

Some stores with growing web sales and reduced foot traffic are rolling with the punches and transforming their physical locations into pick-up and return centers for their online cousins. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

Tick Tock
But for me, the X-factor (not the TV show) is time, and not having enough of it.

Who’s got time to waste traveling to the mall, hoping they’ll have what you need and then waiting in a long line? That’s an hour or ninety minute commitment. Easily.

Plus, our jobs are increasingly reaching out to us 24/7 and hijacking our nights and weekends. We’re always a BlackBerry email or cell phone call away. You’re never really off the clock.

So why not just take five minutes at midnight after answering a work email and quickly click on what you need?

Yes, I understand that sometimes you have to get out there and kick the tires (showrooming or not). But for repeat purchases, to keep the staples in the cupboard, I’m happily clicking away after dinner to handle the week’s shopping needs.

That said, every online shopping experience isn’t perfect…

Out of Toilet Paper?
Sometimes you just can’t wait.
And normally, who wants to be lollygagging for days for UPS to arrive? Don’t you want it right away? That’s what used to happen when you bought something.

But waiting for days?!
Yes, this is a counter intuitive shift in our age of uber convenient digital shopping.
But unless you’re out of toilet paper, Advil, or contraceptives, you really don’t have to have it immediately.
Do you?

Shipping Costs
That’s another problem.
I’ve been to the post office. I know how much it costs to mail a package.
It doesn’t cost $17.99 to ship a toothbrush. Nor should it cost $8 to ship a $3 light bulb (or a $14 LED bulb). I think some of these shipping costs are just padding to the profit margin. For me this is the single biggest deterrent to doing a deal online.

But if you’re smart, you can avoid this trap and get your booty shipped for free (mostly).

Many websites have free shipping with minimum purchases.
And of course, there’s Amazon Prime, which gives you free two-day shipping.
(Yes that program costs you $79 year, but it’s well worth it if you’re using Amazon frequently.)

The Shopping List
I know, I know. You can’t buy everything online and have it shipped to your doorstep. That said, here are some of my favorite websites that help me keep the wheels turning in the Lester household:

Technology that’s not an Apple product

  • Amazon

Apple products

  • D’uh

Best coffee I’ve ever had


Supplies and toys for my toddler

  • (Check the pricing. Sometimes it’s too high.)
  • and of course, Amazon

Clothing for the boy


Summer clothes with advanced sun protection for the family


Cool jewelry for my wife


Great prices on photo paper


House cleaning supplies

  • And yes, Amazon

Perishable food is a whole different story, and I know there are several places you can go online such as to order food and have it delivered for an extra delivery charge. I haven’t done a lot of that yet.

The one item I can’t find online, but would immediately pay extra for shipping or delivery is Trader Joe’s Chunky Unsweetened Applesauce.
(Rules are meant to be broken sometimes.)
It’s very yummy.

So where are some of your favorite online shopping hangouts?
Please add to the list!