TIME Government

Americans Actually Love the Post Office

United States Postal Service clerks sort mail at the USPS Lincoln Park carriers annex in Chicago
USPS mail clerks sort packages in Chicago, November 29, 2012. A new Gallup poll shows that most Americans think the post office is doing a good or excellent job despite its financial difficulties. John Gress—Reuters

Poll finds that the beleaguered USPS is the nation's most-liked government agency

Complaining about the post office is an American pastime, like griping about Congress, or whining about the DMV. Who, in their right mind, actually likes dealing with the post office?

A lot of people, it turns out. According to a new Gallup survey, 72% of Americans say the U.S. Postal Service is doing an excellent or good job. That puts the USPS ahead of 12 other government agencies, including the FBI, the CDC, NASA and the CIA. And the younger the respondent, the more likely they were to think highly of our much-maligned courier: 81% of 18-to-29-year-olds rated the post office’s job as excellent or good, while 65% of those over 65 said the same thing.

So what accounts for the post office’s surprising popularity? Age, for one.

(MORE: The Postmaster General Hangs Up His Mail Bag, With a Parting Shot at Congress)

As the volume of letters has declined, the USPS has evolved to become as much a courier of packages as it is a way to send and receive first-class mail. In the last few years, the post office has not only expanded its delivery of parcels (it recently began a partnership with Amazon to deliver on Sundays), but it also often delivers packages for FedEx and UPS in what’s called “last mile” delivery, which are shipments to residents that private carriers don’t service. That means millennials interact less with the USPS at its worst — the interminable lines at understaffed post offices — and more from the comfort of home, where the mailman is the person at the door with their new shoes from Amazon or their iPhone from the Apple store.

The post office is also the one agency that Americans actually see doing its job each day. You see postal employees on their routes. You can see post offices open. When’s the last time you saw an FDA worker inspecting your local restaurant or the Federal Reserve Board in action as it plotted the end of quantitative easing?

Not that the latest survey should make the post office rejoice. The faltering institution has run deficits every year since 2007 and its aggressive efforts to adapt to the digital age have not yet been enough to offset the substantial drop in mail volume and onerous Congressional mandates to fund retirees. But it never hurts to have the public on your side.

TIME Retail

We Won’t Have an Internet Sales Tax Any Time Soon

John Boehner Holds Press Briefing At U.S. Capitol
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) holds his weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitors Center at the U.S. Capitol on April 18, 2012 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

But brick and mortar retailers insist the idea won't go down without a fight

Republican leaders in Congress are renewing their vows to fight a proposal expanding the sales taxes applied to online purchases, dealing a blow to brick and mortar retailers who hoped to get a bill passed during the post-midterm lame duck session.

Currently, states can only apply sales tax to online purchases made by their residents from retailers with a physical presence in the same state. The Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) would reverse that, allowing states to tax online purchases made by their residents regardless of the merchant’s whereabouts. While the idea has sometimes been called the “Amazon Tax,” it’s become less applicable to the giant online retailer because the company is increasingly setting up warehouses in new states to reduce shipping times.

The MFA passed the then-Democrat-controlled Senate last year, but it was never picked up in the Republican-controlled House. With Republicans now firmly in control of both chambers of Congress, the bill looks like it’s headed nowhere fast. House Speaker John Boehner, who’s long been opposed to the MFA, said this week it will be tabled for the remainder of this year’s lame duck congressional session and would face heightened scrutiny in the year ahead, the Hill reports.

“The Speaker has made clear in the past he has significant concerns about the bill,” a Boehner spokesperson said. “And it won’t move forward this year. The Judiciary Committee continues to examine the measure and the broader issue.”

Still, backers of the bill vowed to continue the fight. “Most Americans won’t be taking the next two months off, and neither should Congress,” said Jason Brewer of the Retail Industry Leaders Association in a statement to CNBC News.

Supporters of the Marketplace Fairness Act have attempted to tie it to a similar-sounding but separate bill that extends a longstanding ban on taxing Internet access, a deeply popular moratorium on both sides of the aisle.

[The Hill]

MONEY online shopping

China Can Have Singles Day. We’ve Got Self-Gifting

Gift with tag that reads "To: Me. Love, Me"
Caspar Benson—Getty Images

Why would we need a day devoted to buying stuff for yourself when that's what many American consumers do year-round?

In China, Nov. 11 (a.k.a. 11/11) is celebrated as Singles Day. The event originated as Bachelor’s Day in the 1990s, an anti-Valentine’s Day when those without significant others were encouraged to celebrate their non-attached status by purchasing gifts for themselves. Lately it has evolved into an all-consumers-welcomed price-slashing online shop-a-thon in China—something akin to the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend rolled into one day—and it’s dominated by Alibaba, China’s largest e-retailer.

Alibaba reportedly surpassed $9 billion in sales in 24 hours. For the sake of comparison, online sales in the U.S. reached $1.7 billion on Cyber Monday last year, and Black Friday 2013 e-commerce spending hit around $1.2 billion. (Sales rung up inside physical stores are far, far higher than online sales on Black Friday, of course.)

Leading up to Singles Day, some e-retailers and their public relations pros were trying to push the idea that Americans should embrace the day with Singles Day purchases of their own. Why should China have all the fun, after all? And Alibaba CEO Jack Ma told CNBC today he expects the U.S. and the rest of the world to join in Singles Day celebrations (by buying stuff–a lot of stuff) by 2019 if not sooner. At last check, slightly more than half of those voting in a CNBC poll said they would, in fact, celebrate Singles Day, compared with 37% who said nope, not gonna go there.

A potential U.S. version of Singles Day comes with complications, however, starting with the fact that Nov. 11 is already celebrated as Veterans Day. It’s one thing for retailers and restaurants to bump up store traffic and promote their brands with free food deals and Veterans Day sales on furniture, electronics, and clothes. It’s an entirely different proposition to supplant the day devoted to thanking our nation’s vets and active-duty military for their selfless service with one squarely focused on overtly selfish consumerism.

It’ll be “very, very difficult,” for retailers to get American consumers on board with Singles Day, Randy Allen, a Johnson Graduate School of Management professor, said to Businessweek. “People look at holidays that we’ve got and say, ‘Where would you fit another one in? Do I really want to have to buy gifts for another holiday? Is this really something that’s important to me?’ ”

The calendar is already full of fake holidays, many of them devoted to treating oneself—Splurge Day anyone? What’s more, the fake marketing holidays reach an especially frenzied pace around this time of year, what with “events” such as National Regifting Day and Gift Card Weekend fighting for our attention. It’s also worth reminding folks that “genuine” shopping phenomena like Black Friday and Cyber Monday are totally made-up holidays too, created for the express purpose of getting people to buy stuff.

Above all, let’s not pretend that any of these days are exclusively about gift giving. Sure, the traditional idea of holiday shopping is that you’re shopping for other people. But that’s hardly the only reason people hit the malls on Black Friday and browse online on Cyber Monday, ready to pounce on deals.

The self-gifting trend—buying yourself a “gift” during holiday shopping outings—has been popular for years. A National Retail Federation survey indicates that 6 in 10 consumers will engage in self-gifting during the 2014 winter holidays, the same proportion of self-gifters as in 2012.

Shoppers say they will spend an average of $126.88 on themselves this year, down from an estimated $134.77 during the 2013 winter holidays. Perhaps the decline comes as a result of consumers realizing they should be more focused on others rather than themselves during the holidays. Then again, maybe the shift is due to shoppers being more likely to self-gift year-round and having less reason to splurge on themselves specifically during the peak November-December season. In any event, it hardly seems urgent that a nation with a majority of self-gifters needs an individual day specifically focused on self-gifting.

MONEY groceries

Why Amazon Wants to Deliver Your Groceries

AmazonFresh delivery, San Francisco, CA.
SiliconValleyStock—Alamy

Amazon's next target: The place where you do 20% of your spending.

Selling groceries is a horrible business. Competition is stiff. Margins are tight. And it’s heavily capital intensive.

You’d be excused, in other words, for wondering why a company like Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.3865% is so intent on not only selling groceries, but on delivering them to your doorstep the same day you order them.

I’m referring to AmazonFresh, the e-commerce giant’s grocery-delivery subsidiary. Launched in Seattle in 2007, the service has now expanded to include Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City.

While perplexing, my guess is that the source of Amazon’s interest is actually quite simple. Namely, aside from sales of general merchandise, groceries make up the next largest category of retail sales excluding car sales.

In 2013, total grocery sales in the United States added up to $580 billion. By contrast, sales of general merchandise (Amazon’s bread and butter) totaled $653 billion. Meanwhile, the third-largest category, building materials and garden equipment, came in at $312 billion.

On a percentage basis, this means that nearly 20% of all domestic retail sales are associated with groceries. Thus, for a company that aspires to be the “everything store,” it seems obvious they’re a necessary offering.

amazonfresh_large

It’s worth noting, moreover, that Amazon’s desire to tap into the grocery business fits snugly into its emerging business model, which is in the process of fundamentally altering the retail landscape as we know it.

Over the last five years, the Seattle-based company has accelerated the construction of fulfillment centers across the United States. At present, it now has mammoth facilities perched on the outskirts of nearly every major metropolitan area in the country, including New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Aside from reducing the time it takes to dispatch goods from warehouses to customers, this positions Amazon to wage a direct assault on a host of once-sheltered brick-and-mortar retailers.

Large appliances serve as a perfect example. When Amazon only operated a handful of fulfillment centers in places like Kentucky, Delaware, Indiana, and Washington, it wasn’t feasible to ship a refrigerator to a customer in Dallas. But now that Amazon has a 1-million-square-foot facility in neighboring Fort Worth, that barrier has largely been eliminated.

It stands to reason that any retailer even remotely vulnerable to disruption is now within Amazon’s crosshairs. And first and foremost among these are businesses like grocery stores that shoulder the expense of owning or leasing high-priced real estate in densely populated areas.

Does this mean grocery stores will soon go the way of the dodo bird? No, not completely at least, as Amazon’s ability to generate a reasonable rate of return from AmazonFresh remains to be seen. At the same time, it doesn’t require an extraordinary leap of faith to assume that Amazon will find a way to crack this nut and begin devouring yet another large category of retail sales.

MONEY Tech

Why Amazon is Quietly Investing in a Massive Land Grab

Amazon.com employees work the shelves along the miles of aisles at an Amazon.com Fulfillment Center in Phoenix.
This Amazon.com Fulfillment Center in Phoenix has aisles that go on for miles. Ross D. Franklin—AP

Here's how Amazon is building its competitive advantage.

Correction: Appended, Nov. 6.

On the outskirts of almost every major city in America, Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.3865% is building massive but inconspicuous warehouses designed to dispatch goods in an increasingly real-time fashion.

The strategy is expensive, consuming billions of dollars in capital expenditures every year, but its audacious scale and execution could consolidate Amazon’s still-incipient stranglehold over the biggest retail market in the world.

The transformation of Amazon

It’s important for investors to appreciate that the Amazon of today is nothing like the Amazon of five years ago.

In 2009, it operated 18 fulfillment centers in a smattering of second-tier states such as Washington, Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas, and Delaware. Today, more than 60 of these mammoth facilities are scattered across the country in proximity to the nation’s major population centers.

amzn-fulfillment-network_large

The expansion gives Amazon physical beachheads from which it can capture a growing share of retail sales on a city-by-city basis. Perhaps most importantly, it chips away at one of the principal deterrents to online shopping: immediacy.

Thanks to fulfillment centers built since 2012, Amazon offers same-day delivery to customers in 12 out of the 14 largest metropolitan areas, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. A full 31% of the American population can now order something from Amazon in the morning and get it delivered to their doorstep that evening.

“As we get closer and closer to customers with fulfillment, we have seen growth,” Chief Financial Officer Tom Szkutak said on a conference call last year.

The move also lays the groundwork for Amazon’s long-known desire to tap into the $600 billion-a-year grocery market, which is second only in size to the $650 billion market for general merchandise.

It’s initiated grocery delivery services in its hometown of Seattle as well as in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. And by its own admission, it is “branching out as fast as we can while being careful not to sacrifice the quality and convenience our customers expect.”

Finally, this burgeoning infrastructure will allow Amazon to capture share in the market for bulky, big-ticket items such as televisions, refrigerators, and laundry machines. In 2013, for instance, it opened facilities in Texas and Florida designed specifically to “pick, pack, and ship large items to customers, such as kayaks, televisions, and more.”

A land grab of unprecedented size

Taken together, the speed and scale at which Amazon is expanding its network of fulfillment centers represents a retail land grab unseen since Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT -0.153% exploded onto the scene in the second half of the 20th century. And the stakes this time around are even greater.

Whereas Wal-Mart disrupted mom-and-pop retailers and general merchandisers, Amazon’s ambitions are without limit. It wants to be the “everything store,” and it’s laying waste to large swaths of the existing retail landscape in its pursuit of that objective.

Moreover, whereas the vulnerabilities of Wal-Mart and other big-box retailers were exposed by the emergence of e-commerce, it’s hard to imagine another paradigm shift anytime soon that will further reduce costs while simultaneously increasing convenience.

In short, by laying siege to local marketplaces with fulfillment centers, it isn’t unreasonable to conclude that Amazon is in the process of erecting an impenetrable moat that could last for generations.

MONEY Tech

Why Amazon Is Not A Monopoly

141027_INV_Amazon
Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images

Many of the criticisms directed at Amazon of late are nothing more than hyperbole.

The no-holds-barred fight between Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.3865% and Hachette Book Group over e-book pricing took a turn for the worse recently (for Amazon, that is) after a number of prominent commentators suggested the U.S. Justice Department should sanction the e-commerce giant for alleged violations of antitrust laws.

“The company has achieved a level of dominance that merits the application of a very old label: monopoly,” wrote Franklin Foer of the New Republic earlier this month. And just this past week, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman claimed in The New York Times that the online retailer “has too much power, and uses that power in ways that hurt America.”

But to anyone familiar with antitrust legislation — more specifically, federal appeals courts’ interpretation of the Sherman Antitrust Act — it’s clear that claims like these are nothing more than hyperbole. While Amazon is certainly a large and growing online retailer, even a liberal interpretation of its share of the domestic e-commerce market puts the figure at less than 50%, which is well below the 70% threshold courts typically require as proof of monopoly power.

amazons-share-of-domestic-e-commerce-sales_large

The gap between hyperbole and reality widens when you consider the e-commerce market’s insignificance in the context of overall retail sales. In 2013, for instance, domestic e-commerce sales added up to $263 billion, which is a fraction of the $4.5 trillion in total retail sales processed in the United States over the same period.

And even if a court found Amazon to possess monopoly power — as one could somewhat realistically claim it does in the e-book market — that’s still only half the battle, as it must also be proved that said power is being exercised to the detriment of consumers. According to the Justice Department’s antitrust guidance, “Prohibiting the mere possession of monopoly power is inconsistent with harnessing the competitive process to achieve economic growth.”

To prove Amazon is illegally exercising this hypothetical power, in turn, one would have to demonstrate that it is raising prices or curtailing supply by, among other measures, keeping competitors out of the market through predatory pricing or other prohibited means. Implicit in this is the assumption that Amazon earns monopoly profits — that is, the economic profits that accompany inflated prices. But as many investors know, Amazon has never reported meaningful earnings. In 2013, it generated a mere $274 million in net income from $74.5 billion in sales. That equates to a profit margin of only 0.37%.

ecommerce-sales-as-a-percent-of-total-retail-sales_large

Its willingness to forgo earnings even led former Slate columnist Matthew Yglesias to characterize Amazon as a “charitable institution being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers.” Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos took issue with that point by arguing that his company isn’t a charity, but instead a business whose strategy is to make customers as happy as possible. Suffice it to say, among monopolies, that is unbecoming behavior.

As a final point, it’s important to appreciate that Amazon isn’t just a retailer; it’s also a marketplace for third parties to sell their wares and, in many cases, to compete against Amazon itself. A recent survey of companies that sell products online found that 84% of them use Amazon’s platform to do so. While the company doesn’t release figures about the size of this channel, one estimate pegged its total third-party sales last year at $73.5 billion. If accurate, this would mean Amazon facilities more third-party business than it records on its own behalf.

Thus, as a matter of law and common sense, there’s little evidence to back the claim that Amazon has exercised or is exercising monopoly power in a way that, as Krugman and other commentators would lead you to believe, hurts America. Does this mean the online giant won’t ultimately accumulate enough market share to do so? No. But it does mean that we have years, if not decades, before that’s a legitimate concern for the Internet retailer.

MONEY online shopping

Believe it or Not, Amazon Is Not the King of Cheap Online Prices

Amazon logo
Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images

A new report suggests that Amazon’s edge is not as strong as people think.

As far as conventional wisdom goes, Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.3865% is the king of low-cost goods bought online; the Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT -0.153% of the Internet, so to speak.

And that’s largely true.

In its rise from a humble online peddler of books into the most feared, and dominant, name in online commerce, Amazon has used its willingness to undercut the competition to send more companies than I can fit in this space the way of the dodo (RIP Borders, et al). However, a recently released report suggests that Amazon’s supposed edge when it comes to low prices might not be as strong as some believe.

Inside the battle for e-commerce

Earlier this month, Wells Fargo and online sales tracking firm 360pi unveiled their findings from a full-year analysis of the various online pricing habits of the world’s largest e-commerce companies across over 100 commonly offered stock-keeping units. And as you’ve hopefully gleaned by now, the findings came with their fair share of surprises.

Perhaps the biggest single bombshell was that Amazon.com has lost a sales edge in four important categories to the likes of Wal-Mart and Target TARGET CORP. TGT -0.1526% . According to the report, both big-box retailers generally offered lower prices online than Amazon in the clothing and shoes, electronics, housewares, and health and cosmetics categories. However, the report also notes that Amazon typically offered the lowest prices when it came to “like-to-like” specifics goods.

This comes as a surprise for longtime followers of Amazon and implies that online pricing software used by Wal-Mart and Target, which scans competitors’ prices and adjusts accordingly, has grown sophisticated enough to compete against Amazon’s own pricing bots. Specifically, the reports says Wal-Mart’s pricing in the four categories sat an astounding 10% lower than Amazon’s as of August and that Target enjoyed a 5% pricing advantage as well. The report acknowledges that the pricing survey didn’t account for the cost of shipping and taxes, areas where Amazon enjoys advantages with its Prime shipping service and its notorious state tax policies.

Either way, this new report certainly calls into question the conventional wisdom that it’s simply Amazon and then everyone else in the online retail space these days.

The bigger e-commerce picture

Still, I think this report misses the point to a large extent by painting Amazon in a negative light on pricing without discussing the overall profit opportunity online.

As Amazon.com and its online peers have been around for a generation now, it’s easy to fall into the trap of categorizing e-commerce as a whole as a somewhat mature business. In fact, the opposite is true. When viewed in the broader context of the entire U.S. economy, online retail sales represent a veritable drop in the bucket. See for yourself.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

With online sales in the U.S. consistently setting fresh all-time highs, it’s also important to understand just how paltry a percentage of total retail transactions they really represent: just 6.2% in the first quarter of the year. And this only reflects the new record figure in a technologically advanced market. Viewed globally, this figure is almost assuredly smaller and it represents a large opportunity for all e-commerce retailers.

There’s no question that the stakes are extremely high in online retail. As I’ve mentioned before, the only free lunch you get in broad-based retail sales are economies of scale. As the global e-commerce boom progresses over the next generation, the companies that control the greatest share of the proverbial pie will have the strongest hand. And both Amazon and Wal-Mart excel in online retail.

Foolish thoughts

Historically, Amazon has always outflanked other online retail outlets. However, owing to the stakes and its well-documented tenacity, it was probably never realistic for the media or investing community to expect a company like Wal-Mart to go quietly into that good night. So while this storyline gives Amazon’s dominance in the growing battle for online sales supremacy, it’s by no means the end of the story, and that is certainly worth noting.

Andrew Tonner has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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TIME Culture

5 Ways to Stop Shopping Right Now

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

We know all the moves to the happy-shopping dance. They’re not the same for everyone, but the essential choreography is the uncontrollable shake, twist, and jump that lets everyone know that we just scored something good. But, while we’re big fans of the HSD around R29, it’s just as important to recognize when a bit of “retail therapy” isn’t feel-good or dance-inducing, but rather a lame attempt to face down boredom, anxiety, or the blues.

Emotional shopping may not always be our downfall — sometimes we’re truly looking for a specific find — but understanding our actions can help us nip this bad behavior in the bud before it becomes habit.

In an effort to understand the cause of our retail compulsions, and tackle the best reasons to back away from the cash register, we turned to a few informed experts. With their help, we can change our reactions to the first signs of impulsive shopping, so we’re not left with an empty bank account or a too-full closet. Ahead, learn when to say no, and how put the power back into your glee-filled, post-sale shimmy. Now that’s therapeutic.

2

The Bored Buy

It’s a slow Sunday night (okay, fine, Friday night), you’re suffering Netflix indecision, and your usual going-out group is nowhere to be found. So, you fall into a friendly little Internet black hole of e-commerce sites, constantly pressing “add to cart,” and before you know it, you’ve placed so many orders you’ve basically waved goodbye to this week’s paycheck.

As psychotherapist Peggy Wynne points out, the advent of online shopping — though not necessarily recent — is a huge part of why we shop when we’re bored. With the accessibility at our fingertips, “we get too much sensory overload and are triggered instantly,” she explains. “It’s sort of like online gambling or porn.” You don’t need to go anywhere and barely need to do anything to make a purchase — the satisfaction is instant, though not necessarily a cure.

3

The Solution: Dig Deeper
The best trick for conquering bored-buyer burnout is to slow down your reactions. Take a walk or look away from the screen before pressing the hovering Place Order button, Wynne advises. Practice mindfulness, don’t just pull the trigger.

In addition, we recommend you flip the script. Turn bored shopping into bored looking. We, too, have found ourselves totally submerged in a sea of e-tail tabs. And, we say, use your wandering eye to your advantage. This is your chance to perfect your eBay search terms, keep tabs on an auction item you’ve placed a bid on, track down those hard-to-come-by products, or, ya know, read up on the top trends and pieces that are actually worth your hard-earned dinero. Take a moment to make yourself a more informed customer, rather than just the most frequent one.

(MORE: Depression: A Real Life Guide)

4

The Bummed-Out Buy
You just got dumped. Your friend screwed you over. Your boss gave you the HR boot. All you want are Kleenex, a bottle of wine, and all the shoes you can find. You’ve been jilted and you deserve it!

Those shoes may not be for naught. Professor Scott Rick of the University of Michigan found in a 2013 study that retail therapy actually can lift the spirits. “Sadness, more than any other negative emotion, is associated with a sense that external forces (e.g., disease, weather) control the important outcomes in one’s life,” Rick tells us. “Shopping is all about choice, and we find that making shopping choices helps to restore a sense of personal control over one’s environment, and thus helps to alleviate sadness.” Now, shop away with your sad self, right? Not so much.

While sadness may be treated temporarily with a purchase, it also has shown that it can “increase one’s willingness to pay,” cites Rick of his research findings. Your decision-making skills may not be the sharpest when you’re blue, which can lead you down a dangerous and habit-forming path of spending beyond your means.

5

The Solution: Set Your Sights On Something New
Call us suckers for a silver lining, but we’re all about Rick’s suggestion that purchasing can give you back a little power in your life. Use it for good. And, should you find yourself in these kind of emotionally distraught shopping sprees, set your sights on good things on the horizon: that job interview you just landed, a night out with your very best buddy, a vacation that you totally deserve. Celebrate the good and screw the rest — at least in this moment — and should you make a purchase, make it one that will help steer your future in a brighter direction. You got this.

6

The Far-Flung Buy
You’re on vacation and you’ve stumbled upon a local boutique. Okay, make that severalboutiques. Problem is: You’re traveling on a budget and you don’t even really needanything, nor do you particularly have tons of space in you suitcase. But, you can only see two ways out of this situation: buy now, or face shopping FOMO when you get home.

“Restlessness, fatigue, fear and irritability can often be associated with what creates anxious shopping,” Wynne tells us. After all, if you’ve just traveled halfway around the globe, the last thing you want to do is return home with a big, ole carry-on of regret. But, all those scary what-ifs should never overpower your ability to make decisions based on your true desires.

(MORE: Why Knitting Is the New Therapy)

7

The Solution: Do Your Research
We’ll admit, this quandary is a difficult one for us. And, yes, we’ve come home from trips with suitcases stuffed before. But, the best solution is to do your research ahead of your potential fear-of-missing-out situation. For starters, stay away from labels that can be bought for less in your home town. Look for those brands that either aren’t available back home, or can only be purchased after major markups. Shopping in Paris? Stock on up drugstore labels that cost three times as much in the States. Hitting up Tokyo? Keep your eyes peeled for Comme des Garçons, Sacai, and other Japanese brands that may be less expensive overseas. Know your market, know your conversion rates, and know when to say no.

8

The Offer-You-Can’t-Refuse Buy
Three words: two for one. Why pass up a good deal when a store is basically giving stuff away? Well, because you don’t actually need a fourth pair of strappy, block-heeled sandals (even if they are marked down 70%). We’re with you on this one, but we’ve also learned the hard way that this kind of impulse-buying leads to taking home stuff we’ll hardly — maybe never — wear.

Much like bored shopping, this feeling of overexcitement also falls “under the umbrella of sensation-seeking,” Rick says. Scoring a deal can give us a huge sense of accomplishment. (Who hasn’t done a victory lap around the mall after a particularly good bargain was found?) “This [tendency to shop] also comes from wanting that inflated sense of self-esteem,” Wynne adds, “when perhaps other things aren’t going so well.”

9

The Solution: Be Picky
It’s neither easy nor fun to say no to every sale you come across, but start getting picky about when you indulge. We suggest rummaging through all those store e-mails you once signed up for, and services that alert you when an item is getting marked down. Stop buying becausean item in on sale, and start making decisions to shop when the pieces you truly want have finally hit the 50-off mark. We assure you: This kind of calculated score will be even sweeter.

10

The “Someday” Buy
Not your size, not a problem! You can — and will — lose those five pounds, so your latest skirt purchase will fit like a dream, you’ll have an important meeting to wear it to, and all will be right in the world. Or, so you hope.

While a bit of self-improvement is a wonderful thing, as Wynne suggests, living with this kind of hopefulness can make it tough to differentiate between what is realistic and what is fantasy. Rick makes a different point: “[This] reminds me of ‘commitment contracts’ where people basically make it costly for themselves to fail to meet a goal.” While expensive, too-small jeans might inspire action in some, we have a sinking suspicion that — during whatever time they remain unworn — they’ll make you feel more mopey than motivated. Investing in a way to work on feeling good now could have better emotional returns.

11

The Solution: Aspire To More (Not Less)
We agree that aspirational shopping is not a bad thing — but, we say forget size matters. Focus on buying items that challenge you to step outside your comfort zone a bit, reach for a goal, or make an effort to get out more. Set exciting goals that allow you to participate right away and shop with a new sense of self in mind. And, should your new self also happen to changes sizes, well, be sure to treat her to something that fits when the time is right.

(MORE: TV Therapy: 10 Shows That Boost Our Mental Health)

 

TIME Retail

Twitter’s Newest Feature: Shopping

A step into e-commerce for social networking giant

Twitter is diving into the world of e-commerce with a new “Buy” button embedded directly into tweets, the company said Monday.

When clicked, the button will prompt users to enter their payment and shipping information to purchase a product. Twitter will then store that information to make future purchases more seamless. The company promised that Twitter-exclusive items would be available to purchase through the tweets.

The feature is currently available for a limited number of U.S. users on Twitter’s iOS and Android apps. Home Depot, Burberry and Pharrell are among the 20-plus brands and artists that will be offering products for sale during the feature’s early rollout.

“This is an early step in our building functionality into Twitter to make shopping from mobile devices convenient and easy, hopefully even fun,” Twitter said in a blog post.

Twitter has long been signaling that it has big ambitions in the world of mobile commerce. The company hired the former president of Ticketmaster as its first head of commerce last year and recently introduced a partnership with Amazon to let users place products in their Amazon shopping cart via a Twitter hashtag.

The opportunity is lucrative. Research firm eMarketer projects that mobile commerce revenue will climb above $50 billion in the U.S. in 2014. And Twitter’s not the only social network going for a piece of that pie: Facebook began testing a very similar “Buy” button back in July.

 

 

MONEY online shopping

8 Amazing Things People Said When Online Shopping Was Born 20 Years Ago

Vintage 1960s advertisement from the Electric Light and Power Companies of America of what future online shopping could be like
Advertising Archive—Courtesy Everett Collection

My, how things have changed, and yet remained the same. Two decades ago, when the era of e-commerce was born, people fretted about online fraud and security—and that the Internet had too much porn.

Toward the end of 1994, MONEY magazine published a story about the sharp rise in consumers shopping from home. That year, some 98 million consumers made $60 billion worth of purchases from home, nearly all of it through phone orders prompted by mail catalogues and TV shopping channels. Another home-shopping option had suddenly arrived on the scene that year, too–an “on-line shopping service [that] requires a PC or Macintosh that’s equipped with a modem.” The article explained how such curious services worked:

For ordering, many of the “computer stores” offer shoppers an 800 telephone number to call. Others are set up so a shopper can click on a box next to the desired gift, type in payment information and the shipping address and then hit a “Submit Order” button. Some companies even let shoppers pick out the wrapping paper via computer.

That’s pretty much how people talked about e-commerce in 1994, when it was brand-spanking-new, not to mention weird, sorta scary, and totally unfamiliar to most consumers. American Public Media’s Marketplace noted that this week marks the 20th anniversary of online shopping, as chronicled in an August 1994 New York Times story describing how one shopper made history by purchasing a “compact audio disk” (a.k.a. a CD, which is how we used to listen to music before iPods, kids) by Sting—a transaction “celebrated as the first retail transaction on the Internet using a readily available version of powerful data encryption software designed to guarantee privacy.”

In honor of the big anniversary, we thought it would be fun to look back at how the birth of online shopping was viewed in 1994, a year before Amazon.com arrived. There was some skepticism, lots of confusion, and plenty of futuristic gee-whiz bluster about all of this “on-line” business. For instance, a headline in The Financial Post (Canada) described e-commerce as a “tele-shopping magical experience,” and the story that followed was a bit dismissive of “the latest fad.” An October ’94 Computerworld story pointed to the group of skeptics who categorized online shopping as just another component of the “infohypeway” that was the Internet.

Mostly, though, what’s amazing is that, in retrospect, so much of what was said and written in 1994 about online shopping was pretty much right on the money. From the get-go, many people realized that e-commerce would revolutionize shopping, by making it cheaper, more convenient, and more customizable than traditional shopping in physical stores. There were also tons of concerns about security, fraud, hackers, and porn, as well as predictions that as online shopping grew, advertising would absolutely ruin the Internet.

Without further ado, here are some of the funny, odd, and/or eerily prophetic ways people viewed online shopping 20 years ago, back when it was just a baby.

Online shopping was as hip as the Marlboro Man. An end-of-the-year article from USA Today featured a side-by-side list of trends that were In and Out for 1994. The Out side included no-longer cool stuff like faxes, Bud Light, Joe Camel, theme parks, and TV shopping, while the corresponding IN side listed the Internet, microbrews, Marlboro Man, casinos, and “on-line shopping.”

Everything had to be explained in (now) excruciatingly painful detail. A modem, a New York Times magazine story explained, was “a small device that sends and receives computer language over the telephone and does with computer files what a fax machine does with paper.” You need one of these to use the Internet and possibly buy stuff, you see.

People had no clue where or how to buy stuff. “One dirty little secret on the Internet is that nobody’s selling anything yet,” an executive at QVC told a publication called Network World. At the time, home-shopping networks like QVC were viewed as potentially huge players in online shopping. Few retailers had their own websites or Internet “pages,” as they were more often described, so they used services like the Internet Shopping Network—something of an “electronic home shopping mall,” as Reuters put it—to post items for sale. At the time, the Internet Shopping Network merely listed product descriptions, but the plan was to eventually feature product photos and “eventually, moving pictures of the items.”

Roland Bust, a marketing professor at Vanderbilt University, explained to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution that most consumers “don’t know where to go” when they attempted to shop online in 1994. “Like a real mall, a cyberspace mall has lots of stores, and finding a particular product can be hard unless a user knows which stores carry what,” the story summed up. Interestingly, the article also pointed to CD-ROMs as another online shopping option at the time. They sold for $8 and up, and when inserted into a computer, the consumer could access the contents of a couple dozen catalogues, from merchants like Spiegel and L.L. Bean.

There was plenty to be scared about—privacy, fraud, porn, and more. If you think your private information is easy for scammers and marketers to gather now, just think about the Internet circa 1994. The NYT magazine story regarded email as a “reasonably private written message.” The Mail on Sunday (London) warned consumers that purchase orders must be placed on the phone because “credit card numbers given down a computer are not yet safe from fraud.” Five of the 10 most popular “newsgroups” then on the Internet were “sexually oriented,” the Atlanta Journal and Constitution cautioned, and because free porn was easy to come by and the “Internet has more dirty jokes than the walls of a public bathroom,” there was cause for concern that unsuspecting web surfers and shoppers would be horrified with what they (or their children) found. ‘Just the title of some of the discussion groups is something you don’t want your kids to see,” the head of IBM’s Internet services said to the (London) Times.

It was assumed advertising would ruin everything. This now seems pretty laughable, but in the early ’90s, Internet culture was “decidedly uncommercial,” in the words of Computerworld. What was then a niche group of users wanted the Internet to be a place where ideas and information could be shared quickly and openly. But as such it was open to the possibility of “being hijacked by companies, which will flood the system with advertising,” according to the Times.

“Advertisers are looking for ways to exploit cyberspace,” the Atlanta Journal and Constitution stated. And many Internet users weren’t happy about it. So-called “commercial zones” were “created on the Internet for exclusive use by advertisers, but companies haven’t figured out how to get netsurfers to look at them. Efforts to plant ads in the network’s 2,500 newsgroups have caused an uproar.”

Another prophetic assumption: Online shopping would make stuff cheaper. “Selling goods electronically can be 40% to 50% cheaper than by conventional means,” Computerworld explained. Without the need for salespeople or even a physical sales space, it seemed inevitable that online shopping offered sellers a means to lower overhead costs—and therefore lower the prices charged to customers. “Nobody’s going to want to do electronic shopping if there’s no advantage to the customer—and that advantage is cost. You’ve got to save money,” Randy Adams, a serial entrepreneur who went on to co-found Funny or Die, told the San Jose Mercury News in 1994, when he was involved in an e-commerce startup. “I think conventional retailers are not going to like what we’re doing because we’re forcing margins down.”

Sure enough, they didn’t—and they still don’t like how e-retail giants like Amazon are pushing around the competition and product makers alike, usually with the idea of getting prices lower for the customer.

People saw the upsides of customization and convenience, too. Not only would online shopping make it possible to buy stuff 24/7, regardless of “store hours,” and without dealing with traffic or even leaving the house, but e-commerce also brought with it the opportunity to order far more than what one found on a store’s shelves. A 1994 USA Today story focused on the new concept of “made-to-order merchandising,” in which customers could order shoes, jeans, greeting cards, and more in the personalized style and size of their choosing. “The trend is the first step toward on-line shopping—when customers will use computers to order exactly what they want rather than going to a mall,” the article stated.

Overall, they knew online shopping would be a huge deal. “At some point it will be a really big business,” a UBS analyst said to Reuters in 1994. How big? Analysts told Computerworld that “on-line shopping could explode into a $5 billion sales channel in a few years.” In fact, when the Census bureau began tracking e-commerce sales in 2000, it reported that sales had hit $5.3 billion—in the fourth quarter of 1999 alone. Forecasts call for e-commerce sales to hit $304 billion in the U.S. for all of 2014.

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