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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLACampus Safety

The Quad: What’s in store as you online shop to help your stress levels drop

(Photo Illustration by Nghi Nguyen/Daily Bruin)

By Olivia Fitzmorris

May 18, 2020 3:55 p.m.

Black chunky heeled boots – 50% off!

I jumped when I saw this sale. Those boots had to be mine. Before I knew what I was doing, I selected my size and started to type in my credit card information.

Then I was hit with that little reminder – “Wait a minute, we’re in a pandemic” – and I realized that I might have some more thinking to do before clicking “confirm purchase.”

Online shopping has been a saving grace for many during this pandemic, allowing folks to purchase necessities without leaving the house. Data from the Adobe Digital Economy Index shows us that e-commerce levels from March 13-15 increased by 25% compared to a baseline from the beginning of the month – with grocery sales making up a bulk of this growth.

While the online purchase of groceries and other essential items are certainly on the rise, these are not the only type of goods people have been clicking on. People across the country – including UCLA students – are buying plenty of nonessential items, too. The Quad is exploring this type of nonessential online shopping and looking into how Bruins are spending their time and money on the web during this pandemic.

[Related: UCLA student co-founds online secondhand clothing store with brother]

As you might expect, brick-and-mortar retailers selling nonessentials have been hit hard by mandated closures. But that doesn’t mean their online platforms are suffering.

According to Forbes, many direct-to-consumer brands – brands that cut out traditional retailers from the buying and selling process have seen nonessential item sales soar during the months of March and April as compared to past years. Sales of home goods, loungewear and athletic wear in particular have seen huge spikes.

In the midst of a global health crisis, buying succulents or fairy lights for your room might seem pretty low on the list of priorities, but that hasn’t stopped people from doing so anyway.

Twitter user @talliesinyoung may have gone viral when she tweeted “I will single handedly save our economy through online shopping. don’t worry guys,” but students like first-year Vanessa Gonzalez have put this promise into practice.

For this biology student, online shopping has become a regular part of her shelter-in-place lifestyle.

“Being stuck at home and having nothing else to do and … having that take a toll on me not being able to socialize, I’m just kind of ‘click, click’ and then I buy more,” Gonzalez said.

In the past month, Gonzalez’s purchases have spanned from dresses and shirts to gel pens and color-changing lights that she saw on TikTok. She said her online shopping habit has become a way to cope with recent stress in her life.

“I usually do a lot of retail therapy whenever I’m in a little pit where I don’t know what else to do,” she said. “And this has been an insane amount of online shopping compared to what I usually do.”

At a time when a contagious virus is spreading rapidly on a global scale, it’s safe to say that Gonzalez is not the only one experiencing elevated stress levels. She’s also not alone in her method of dealing with it.

Though retail therapy may be a strain on the wallet, research has proven that shopping does help people deal with distressing situations. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that making shopping choices can help reduce residual sadness and increase a sense of personal control over one’s environment.

Thus, because shopping provides a way to regain a sense of control, it makes sense that we might see increases in online purchases during this otherwise uncontrollable time. After all, individual Americans can’t do much to mitigate the crisis – aside from staying at home – but they may have more control over the items they put in their own kitchens and closets.

Moreover, according to clinical psychologist Scott Bea, this empowerment through purchasing might not be a bad coping mechanism, if handled responsibly.

“If you plan it out and say I’m going to save for this or I’m going to reward myself and accumulate those funds to do a little retail therapy, then that can feel really, really good,” he told the Cleveland Clinic.

As long as you keep track of your finances, purchasing that rock lamp might not be too bad for your wallet and may also be a much-needed mood boost. But before you decide to redecorate your whole room, remember that there is a difference between a little retail therapy and shopping enough to “single handedly save our economy.”

This sentiment may seem like yet another reason to throw in matching rugs and pillows, but it is a justification that is easily debunked.

Jerry Nickelsburg, an adjunct UCLA professor of economics and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, said individual efforts are ineffective in a recession this widespread.

“When you have a national recession in an economy as large as ours, no one person’s spending is going to move the needle,” Nickelsburg said.

While it’s pretty evident that our individual spending can’t resolve the economic crisis at hand, what remains unknown is how other systems can be affected by our online purchases during this pandemic. Specifically, what happens to the delivery systems in place when so many Americans decide to shop online more than ever before?

Amazon announced that as of March 17, they will be prioritizing the delivery of essential goods because of the large influx of online orders. As a result, they said that delivery guarantees would be longer than usual.

Amazon is not the only company that has had to allow for a little wiggle room in delivery time. Many online retailers are adding messages to their sites explaining potential delayed shipping as a result of the pandemic.

Digital marketing expert Tony Verre told Marketing Land, a marketing news platform, that he predicts the massive amount of online ordering will cause delivery windows for most companies to stretch to five-to-seven day windows instead of the one-to-two day windows popularized by Amazon Prime.

Vanessa Van, a third-year sociology student, said she has experienced shipping delays ordering hair care products online and has had trouble finding what she wants.

“It’s kind of hard because I really want to buy something but sometimes it’s out of stock,” Van said. “It’s because everyone’s online shopping. Everyone’s at home doing nothing.”

With so much demand causing a strain on delivery infrastructure, it might seem prudent to skip on the cute new boots for the foreseeable future. After all, they are certainly less important than someone receiving their medication or even their shampoo or body wash in the mail.

On the other hand, though, it’s possible that retailers have already found one way to allow customers to continue purchasing nonessential items without interfering too much with critical deliveries.

On its COVID-19 response blog, Amazon encourages customers to select the “No-Rush Shipping” option when ordering non-essential items, stating that it will help them to prioritize customers with critical needs first and to consolidate orders for fewer neighborhood stops.

Therefore, if you already know that your gel pens are a nonnegotiable purchase, consider selecting a slower shipment option to help delivery services ship when it’s most efficient.

For Bruins who still have reservations about their nonessential purchases, there are several measures that can also be taken to help others while you spend. Options include shopping local businesses or buying brands that have pledged to support pandemic-related causes.

Regardless of the shopping choices you have made since the emergence of COVID-19, it seems that the pandemic is leaving a permanent mark on how we conduct our purchases. In fact, our current situation may be ushering in a new age of shopping.

“The American economy will be more characterized by online shopping than it was before,” Nickelsburg said. “We were headed in that direction anyway, but it’s been accelerated by the pandemic.”

People love shopping, and with the pre-pandemic world already becoming increasingly digital, that love doesn’t have to end, even with the onslaught of a contagious viral disease.

Today’s world holds its fair share of challenges, and online shopping has become something of an unlikely hero for those who have the means to do it. It’s given us a way to safely take care of essential needs as well as the not-so-essential ones – like chunky black boots for 50% off.

If you couldn’t tell by this point, I bought the boots.

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Olivia Fitzmorris
Fitzmorris was the 2019-2020 Blogging assistant editor. She was previously a Blogging contributor and a Copy slot editor in the 2018-2019 school year. She studies Communication and Digital Humanities.
Fitzmorris was the 2019-2020 Blogging assistant editor. She was previously a Blogging contributor and a Copy slot editor in the 2018-2019 school year. She studies Communication and Digital Humanities.
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