The Conflict Surrounding Consumerism
BY SHREE JAYAKRISHNA '25
Whether it’s in the middle of a boring class or during a busy Cyber Monday, we’ve all experienced the endless possibilities of online shopping: the adrenaline rush that accompanies finding a deal, the constant struggle of figuring out your size through a screen, and the panic after spending a bit too much money. Although online consumerism seems easy and enjoyable for shoppers, it ultimately harms the environment and intensifies shopper anxiety.
In the aftermath of quarantine, with lingering concerns about public health, a significant number of individuals perceive online shopping as a more safe and secure option compared to in-person retail. However, as trends in online shopping increase, the environment is detrimentally impacted. For example, online shoppers rely on delivery trucks to commute to their homes; in turn, this increases emissions because trucks deposit packages in multiple locations, like warehouses, before shipping to homes. Earth reveals that “when consumers opt for a fast delivery, the emissions far exceed those generated from in-person shopping.” Therefore, online shopping ultimately promotes instant gratification and fast shipping instead of limiting the spread of global warming.
Additionally, this era of online consumerism increases plastic packaging. Earth confirms that "in 2020, Hong Kong alone generated 780 million pieces of packaging waste from online shopping." Since plastic packaging has virtually no reuse potential and can harm wildlife when discarded, paper packaging or reusable bags are preferable. In-person shopping allows people to use their own bags or request paper ones; however, these options are unavailable for online shoppers. Ultimately, the process of packaging and shipping items causes significant environmental damage, exacerbated by e-commerce.
Furthermore, online consumerism adversely affects shoppers, particularly in terms of spending control. An increasingly prominent concern is the emergence of "Compulsive Buying Disorder," a condition not officially recognized as an illness but one with widespread implications. Discover confirms that “6 percent of Americans (many of them younger people) struggle to control their spending, and that many prefer to buy via the internet.” While in-person shopping might demand more effort on the consumer’s side, it’s advantageous in terms of not draining your bank account. Through strategically placed ads, “exclusive sales," "one-time promo codes," or "free shipping upon reaching a certain spending threshold," online shopping clouds judgment and increases the amount of unnecessary products bought. On the other hand, in-person shopping requires more thoughtfulness: waiting in the checkout line to review items, trying on clothes in the dressing rooms, and scrutinizing price tags, to name a few.
The lure of online consumerism is undeniable, but it is accompanied by detrimental repercussions. From emissions and plastic pollution to uncontrolled expenditures and cyber threats, the risks of consumerism should not be taken lightly. As the world continues to enter an era where the internet shapes how time is spent and how money is used, shoppers need to mitigate their online shopping habits. While not every single future shopping trip needs to be in-person, it’s important to find a balance between the two methods of buying in order to improve the system as a whole. So to all my online shoppers out there, whether you’re spending ten dollars or one hundred, remember to always think before you buy!