Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Off and on line shopping and the individual shopper

People usually have a ready opinion about shopping, and how they feel about doing it, either alone or with others. When asked such a question, most would, I think, assume you were asking about store-based pedestrian shopping, a feature of which is that you can customise your own approach to it.

There are those who go out resolutely to find a particular thing or things and, the task being accomplished, they stop shopping. There's an intermediate category of those who set out with all kinds of good intentions, but are seduced by plenty, and all the stuff they never knew they wanted. They may well get home to find that they never knew they wanted it because they really don't, it just seemd like a good idea at the time. Lastly there is the true stuff junky. They love to buy stuff, individually or in packs, but they also get high on just contemplating stuff, whether they buy it or not.

As we all know, modern consumerist economies rely on our buying more than we need, beyond our ability to pay for it, in order to function. This has required the transformation of debt from a response to emergency into a means of instant wish fulfillment.
"I don't hold with it", says my mother, whose generation saw buying things they couldn't afford as a sign of moral degeneracy.

This transition is highlighted by the on line shopping experience. Naturally, it's set up to exhibit and, hopefully, therefore sell the maximum amount of stuff. So my category1 person, the seeker after particular things, has to negotiate a sea of irrelevance in order to reach their goal. On line shopping is set up for the window shopper. This is an obvious tactic, but it may be a simplistic one, since frustration at wading through the unwanted to reach the wanted may drive away those who just came to get what they knew they were looking for. In fact, it definitely does, in my case at least. I'm frequently bemused and enraged by sites like Amazon, which seem determined to enlighten me about everything my fellow shoppers bought, which apparently means that I might do the same. Now I wish all Amazon customers long and happy lives, but I am not remotely interested in their CD or book collections. With this in mind, I think on line retail sites should seriously think about providing more fast track and targeted links to a particular item for my kind of shopper, sparing me the contents of others' baskets. "This is the range of items within your specific search". Perhaps, "Click here for more choices", but that's all.

I may appear more than averagely (if that's an acceptable adverb) exercised by all this, and that's because I've held off on the blind stuff. Now for the blind stuff.

As a totally blind person, I use screen reading software, which outputs the screen to me as either synthetic speech or Braille. Both speech and Braille offer very welcome access of course, but it probably doesn't strike the sighted reader that both these methods are essentially linear. I can't cast my eye over a page, see what I'm looking for, and stick the mouse on it. I can use on screen "find" commands if I know very precisely the exact words I'm looking for, or there are "place Markers" for previously visited pages if I can be bothered to set them up, ETC. But it's time consuming and, to return to my original point, it's time wasting imposed on me by the retailer to tell me about things I know I don't want. Vast choice feels much less like a cherished human right if you don't want it. Can I choose choice when I want it?