Shopping Online
October 8, 2014

My shopping habits have changed since coming to the United States. I shop online now - a lot. I never used to shop online that much - what was the point when I could go up the street and get it now? Now if I want to buy a book, look for a birthday present, go shopping for new clothes, or buy an appliance, I do it from the comfort of my desk during my lunch break. I am all too familiar with sites like Amazon and Half.com, and the feeling of excitment when I check my mailbox every evening to see if something I recently ordered has arrived yet. I am not alone either, I catch my coworkers ordering stuff on their computers during lunch and after hours. They say it is more convenient than going to the store.

The last thing I feel like doing after a long day at work is driving to a big box store on my way home;

It is not that I am lazy. I love taking a walk at work when I am feeling restless and just need a break. There is really not much to walk to when you work at a suburban office campus, but there is a nice outdoor trail that I walk around. When I get home, I try to talk my wife into taking a walk with me to enjoy the sun after a long day at work before it sets. We can walk downtown, and have purposely done so - there are a few nice restaurants and boutique stores downtown - but not really anything we are interested in, so we rarely shop downtown. We often walk to a college nearby and sit around. Their campus is really beautiful;

We are not lazy, we want to do stuff after work. But the thought of getting in our car and driving to a shop seems so inconvenient. If we want something, I can open the Amazon app on my smartphone - even if we are on a 30 minute walk - and with 1-Click Ordering have it waiting at my house the next day.

I never used to shop online that much before I moved to Arkansas. I did a little - but it made up a very small fraction of what I actually purchased.

I always lived in cities where I walked everywhere. I did not have a need for a driver's license, because I was always around buses and trains. Because I did not drive, whenever I was out of the house it was to take a bus or train into the city centre - where I would walk everywhere. This was a self-reinforcing cycle - I went into the city centre because I could not drive to the suburbs, and I did not drive because everywhere I wanted to go was in the city centre. I have met suburbanites that thought this was strange, but when I started university I met a lot of city folks just like me. And it worked well, so I never gave much thought to it.

Here is a map if Brisbane I used during my Strong Towns National Gathering presentation, which shows a half mile radius around the city;

I used to commute into the Brisbane city centre daily. Once I was in, I would walk everywhere. If I wanted to buy lunch, I would walk. If I wanted to spend some time in the botanical gardens, I would walk. If we wanted to see a movie with friends, we would walk. Since I did not drive, that circle was pretty much my world.

In contrast to this map, which is half a mile radius around where I currently work;

..so now I drive.

The thing with walking around a city is that there are shops everywhere;

Infact, the underground Queen Street Bus Station, where I and many of my friends would commute in and out of, was actually in the basement of the Myer Centre - a nine floor shopping mall;

The interesting thing about combining a transit station with a shopping mall is that I used to walk through this everyday to take an escalator down to the basement to get to the buses;

When I passed shop after shop everytime I went outside, online shopping had less appeal. I would still use the Internet - I would research, review, and compare brands and models before I bought something. But whether it was the temptation of having it right then and there, or the sights, sounds, and the contagious, impulsive energy of the city pulling me in to the stores - it always seemed worth buying something in person, even if I had to pay a bit more.

Working in a suburban office campus is a world away from that. The contrast between the lifestyles is what got me interested in urbanism, and a big difference, I feel, is that driving down a highway on the way home isolates me from the commercial temptations of the stores that I pass. I feel very dettached from the energy on the street and the places I am passing. It is easy to zone it out as I focus on the traffic lights ahead. By separating the places where I work, shop, and live - I can bypass one as I commute between the other two. Because I have to purposely go out of my way to shift between my working, shopping, and living realms - it is just too convenient to order something online while I am at my computer or on my phone.

Does this apply to everyone? Probably not. Stores in urban cores are complaining about hurting from online retail just as much as suburban stores are. So I guess everyone has their own reasons for shopping online, and for me, going out of my way to shop in the suburbs just seems like too much effort - so the Internet is my go-to place when I want something.

What does this mean for the city I live in that is dependent on sales tax? They are loosing a lot of potential tax revenue from my coworkers and me, because it is more convenient for us to shop online than to visit a physical store. The only real way to change this is to merge together where we shop, work, and/or live. How do we do this? Encourage people to invest downtown and fill it with anchors. There is no reason we have to build everything on the outskirts, separated by single use zoning.


Comments

Name

Optional link

Comment

What is 7 * 6 ?

Post
Douglas • 10.10.2014 • 11:26 AM (MDT)
Excellent essay. I feel the same way. One solution to the sales tax problem is to replace it with an income tax. Some cities already do this. They just tack on a percentage to the State income tax as their cut.
Matthew M. Robare • 10.09.2014 • 08:34 AM (MDT)
My experience has been almost the opposite. I grew up in a small town in Vermont and went to college in a much larger small town in Massachusetts and I usually found that if there were specific things I wanted, I'd order them from Amazon because the prices and selections were so much better and the transit in my home and where I went to school was so poor. However, since moving to Boston I almost never shop online because so many stores are in walking distance or the transit to and from there is more convenient.
Cody Martin • 10.08.2014 • 15:05 PM (MDT)
Yes! I alternate between biking and driving to work and for errands. When I'm driving, I'm going from A to B. When I bike, I'm much more willing to go in a store, swing by a restaurant, or stop at a lemonade stand and buy this or that or grab a beer. These aren't conscious decisions, just something I've noticed over the last couple years. And because of it, I like biking more, and I actually check things off my to-do or to-buy list faster, even though biking takes more time.