There is an underground culture building around Williams students’ latest obsession. It’s plaguing much of the campus, and few are free from its clutches. But the addiction is not heroin, cigarettes or even Facebook. In fact, it’s a seemingly tame pastime. But when a small town meets 2000 students equipped with credit cards, online shopping can be utterly addicting.
Just a few years ago, online shopping was still regarded as somewhat unreliable. However, in the confines of the Purple Bubble, purchasing items via the Internet became more enticing for students who had to get their regular shopping fix. After all, there are only so many sequined dresses and animal sweaters at Zanna, and the distance from the mall makes non-virtual shopping a rare, if not mythical, indulgence.
“I didn’t really start online shopping until I got here,” Joanna Hoffman ’10 said. “It’s a lot easier than driving an hour to go to Berkshire Mall, especially since they don’t have a big selection of stores there. I think it is more out of necessity because there really aren’t that many places to go in town. Back home I used to go shopping with my friends during the weekends, but here I don’t really get a chance to do that.”
Hoffman is not alone. The lack of shopping locales has forced many students, even those who went out of their way to avoid online shopping, into the electronic realm to purchase their desired merchandise. “Before coming to college, I never shopped online,” said Laura Huang ’11. “In fact I looked down on the people who did. I just assumed that they were too lazy or were losers because they didn’t go to the mall. Now it is a necessity for me.”
Once Huang began shopping through the Internet, there was no going back. The convenience of online shopping has made it Huang’s latest hobby, if not addiction. An otherwise quick glance at a store’s site can turn into an hour-long endeavor.
“I don’t shop online that often, but when I do, it is very intense,” Huang said. “So they are little spurts of activity, I guess you could say. It is kind of hard to say for how long I shop, though. I’ll go on the Web site to look at tops, and then it reminds me of how I need cute shoes to go with it, then I go and find accessories – ”
Although Hoffman frequently visits her favorite stores’ sites for clothes, she hardly considers online shopping an addiction. “For me, it’s very casual. I am on the e-mail list for my favorite stores, so whenever I get an e-mail I will take a break and browse for five minutes. I mostly just go and see if there is anything I need or like, especially if there is a sale or special for shipping.”
Gary Ross Roberson ’11 also views online shopping as a casual affair. Surfing sites is a relaxing activity for when he needs a break from the monotony of studying complex chemistry equations.
“Shopping online once a day is not uncommon for me,” Roberson said. “If I need a study break, I will just go online and look at hoodies and shoes. The time I spend [online shopping] depends on how much work I have. If I have a lot of work, I will try to put it off and shop for longer, so it can range between ten minutes to like an hour.”
It’s a given that students are going to procrastinate, but now online shopping has become a desirable method for avoiding homework and lengthy assignments.
“Online shopping is how I procrastinate,” Lauren Yeiser ’10 said. “You know how you get stuck on a paper and you go to Facebook? Well, I go to a site and look at clothes. Usually I only do it [for] five minutes at a time, but it depends on how much work I have to get done. It ends up probably being around 20 minutes a day.”
Undoubtedly, the great majority of online shoppers on campus are female, but that does not mean that men aren’t just as enthusiastic about shopping on the Internet. Like many students, Jack Rudolph ’11 began surfing the web for footwear and clothing after discovering the lack of stores in town. Now, he even defines online shopping as “therapy for the deprived.”
“I online shop for about an hour a day. I like sites like Bluefly.com because they have designers starting at 40 percent off. I want this blazer,” Rudolph said as he showed a picture of a grey pinstriped jacked on his laptop. “Dude, [shopping online] is absolutely addicting. Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.”
Even though Rudolph recognizes his obsession with online shopping, it hardly deters him from visiting his favorite stores’ sites. Ultimately, the ease of purchasing whatever he needs outweighs the hours spent each day browsing for clothes. Besides, online shopping has become a training ground for his actual shopping excursions back home.
“A lot of times I go online to look at the new collections and the designers,” Rudolph said. “It’s like, you wouldn’t want to go into a football game without knowing the plays and stats. It’s the same for shopping. You’ve got to brief yourself before going into the madhouse of shopping in real life.”
For Huang, on the other hand, her recent addiction has made her much more partial to online shopping than even going to the mall. The convenience of stores’ sites has made shopping on the Internet easier, faster and well, better.
“I like how everything is organized online,” Huang said. “Now, I can be very systematic when I shop because the sites filter everything down. If I am looking for a specific item like a dressy top, I know where to go and I can choose the color I want. Some stores in the malls are really scattered and misplaced, so it is harder to find what I want. I can also save things online and come back to it later when I am sure I still want it.”
While Jenny Schnabl ’10 agrees that browsing for merchandise online has made shopping much easier, she actually believes that it instills in her more restraint. “I am from New York, so I don’t shop online when I am home,” she said. “At Williams, you have no choice. At home, I will usually wander into a store and buy things compulsively, but with online shopping I have to actually think about what I want. Especially since shipping can be so expensive.”
Regardless of students’ views on their compulsion to online shopping, everyone agrees that one of the top perks is that eagerly-awaited e-mail from the mail room announcing the arrival of a package.
“I like ordering things online and getting it in the mail. It definitely makes my day when I get whatever I order in the mail. I just love getting packages,” Roberson said.
For Schnabl, the joy of online shopping is also boiled down to getting her packages in the mail. There is nothing more thrilling than tearing open cardboard boxes to see her newest purchase. “One of the greatest things about online shopping is waiting for your package. It is so rewarding to wait and then finally get what you order. I think half the school has seen me open my packages during lunch. When I go to the mailroom, my friends all know it’s because I am picking up something I bought online,” she said.
Whether they prefer online to real-life shopping, it’s undeniable that students are increasingly becoming hooked to purchasing items on the Internet. After all, the vastness of the World Wide Web offers seemingly infinite choices and quaint, little Williamstown just can’t measure up.