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How Delayed Gratification Can Increase Your Holiday Purchasing Power

Contemporary e-commerce has all but eradicated the experiences of wanting and waiting, but this type of “impulse buying”  has more costs than you may realize.

Photo courtesy of Christiann Koepke via Unsplash

The first meaningful purchase I ever made was at 11 years old—a custom pair of Nikes. 

The legendary sneaker brand’s online design tool was cutting edge at the time, and I used it to craft the perfect kicks: University of North Carolina grey and blue, with an “MJ 23” engraved for my hero, Michael Jordan. The shoes took six months to ship—time I spent working at my mom’s retail store to cover the $130 price tag.  When they arrived, I strutted around my hometown suffused with unbeatable pride.  

On reflection, what stands out is, the work and waiting for my coveted purchase heightened the gratification of its arrival—a stark contrast to the instant e-commerce process that big box retailers, like Amazon, have normalized today. 

The True Cost of Impulse Buying 

Today, contemporary e-commerce has all but eradicated the experiences of wanting and waiting. Instant gratification may seem like progress, but in many ways, it works against the best interests of individuals and communities. 

Studies show that 80 percent of consumers have become habituated to one-click purchases and same-day delivery options from corporate behemoths like Amazon. We go from seeing to having in a matter of minutes, and this mindless consumption comes at a hefty cost.  It’s the reason Amazon earned $96.15 billion in annual revenue by the end of September 2020—revenue that isn’t returned to our local economies. 

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Most small businesses can’t afford to offer free shipping or navigate the logistical challenges of speedy last-mile delivery, making it harder than ever to compete with the big box retailers who dominate our online search. But when local retailers are seen as inconvenient and fail, the local economy and the character of our communities suffer. 

The good news is: Consumers hold all the power. We can choose to keep our money local, supporting our public infrastructure, schools, hospitals and neighbors in doing so. Small businesses employ 47 percent of U.S. workers and have been one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic. Yet, if every U.S. family spent just $10 a month at one small business, $9.3 billion would reenter our local economies. 

As we head into the peak shopping season of 2021, here are some tips to ensure your dollars are working for, not against, you. 

Buying Less Is Better Than Buying Now, Paying Later 

The greatest gift I received last year was a pillow. It wasn’t the biggest or most expensive (although a good night’s sleep in my opinion is priceless), but it was well thought out. 

I’d complained about my lack of desire to shop for the sleep necessity months before to my mother—who remembered and cared enough to do it for me.  It wasn’t the pillow itself that brought me joy, it was the kind action. 

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This is something I think about when I look at the trend cycles that are moving faster than ever. Our acquisitive habits are responsible for the $240 billion that Americans spent on goods like jewelry, watches and gadgets in 2017, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That’s twice as much as we spent in 2002, back when I was designing my Nikes.

It doesn’t help that retail strategies like “buy now, pay later” are designed to entice our mindless impulses. These point-of-sale lending programs may seem like they support shoppers by allowing us to pay for purchases in manageable installments, but in reality, they create an illusion of giving us something for very little, while encouraging us to buy more. Some even leave us on the hook for late charges and damaged credit scores, which left unchecked could become our generation’s version of the ‘90s credit card crisis. 

The biggest myth of all, however, is that all this stuff is making us happy, when in fact, research from Harvard Business School has found contemporary consumerism leaves us less fulfilled. Most people find that buying luxury items results in uneasy feelings akin to buyer’s remorse or imposter syndrome. On the flipside, when we buy things that align with our values, knowing our money has made a positive impact brings us satisfaction and peace of mind. 

Values-Based Shopping Brings Greater Returns

In my work as an entrepreneur empowering local businesses, I’ve gathered encouraging evidence that modern shoppers are more ethically minded than ever. For instance, 73 percent of Gen Z consumers say they’d be willing to pay more for sustainable products, and a recent study found consumers are four to six times more likely to trust and buy from companies with a strong purpose. Still, the “buy less, buy better” ethos many of us aspire to can be difficult when big boxers distract us with deals, marketing and sophisticated online algorithms. 

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Fortunately, we can outsmart big box forces by slowing down and being conscious that our purchasing power makes a difference via everything we buy.  It’s also getting easier with the advent of values-based marketplaces—online hubs that enable consumers to find products based on what matters to them most: women and BIPOC-owned, ethical, sustainable, organic or made in America. These convenient digital marketplaces help us shop small—from anywhere.

When we buy purposefully, we are also less likely to return unwanted items that contribute to billions of pounds of waste in the U.S. every year. 

Looking back, there’s a lesson to be learned from my 11-year-old self: The objects that are most meaningful to own often require a little extra work and waiting for. In my opinion, however, the payoff is worth the reward. 

Ash Cintas is the founder and CEO of City Shoppe, which empowers anyone to shop local, from wherever they are. 

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