I hate online shopping. It feels artificial and mechanistic. There isn’t even the tactile experience of swiping a card or tapping it before receiving a bag to heft as I walk out of the store. It’s also overwhelming: there’s always another slightly different option that might be slightly better than the option I have in my virtual cart. At the same time, it’s uninspiring, like walking through the world’s largest dollar store: tons of options but very few things I actually want to own.
I hate in-person shopping even more. It’s inconvenient. When I need notebooks or underwear or shoes, I find myself torn between shuffling work assignments so I can go during the day or hauling my kids to the store after work, when everyone is tired. It’s also irritating: stores carry fewer items than they used to, meaning that after visiting a brick-and-mortar building I often end up ordering online anyway.
I know some people like to shop. I’m not one of them (except for books). For me, the pull to online shopping was already strong, and then the Covid pandemic hit. Now, I find myself tempted to order everything from hand soap to coloring books to a new couch on Amazon and get it delivered right to my door.
But more and more, I find myself wondering what giving in to that temptation is really costing me. What am I giving up when I hand my money over to Amazon in exchange for fast delivery and a wide range of mediocre goods? And why do I feel a stab of guilt when I hit that “buy now” button, even when the purchase is a responsible one, meaning it is built into my budget and is something my family needs?
It’s not just me; I’ve talked with a number of people who admit to feeling anything from sheepish to downright ashamed about their reliance on Amazon. There’s a reason for that: this isn’t the way buying and selling is supposed to be. What have we lost?
Some criticisms of online shopping focus on how it feeds our materialism, the excessive accumulation of unnecessary goods. That’s certainly an element of it. It’s also true that far too many junky things are being traded cheaply while genuine skills such as woodworking, metalworking, and appliance repair are disappearing. But that’s not all. When we acquire so many of our goods through one or two massive suppliers via the internet, we’re losing the experience of a basic human interaction: the tie of trade.
Trade is more than a transaction. Selling is more than supplying. And money is more than a ticket to getting stuff. Scripture spends a seemingly inordinate amount of time on economic issues. Money and trade permeate even the teachings of Christ, who uses basic economics – trade, price, investments, etc. – in eleven of his parables to help his listeners understand the kingdom of heaven.