Understanding Our Impact

Recently, consumer spending in areas such as retail has been migrating to online stores. While this may not be too shocking in of itself, the move to online shopping affects their shopping experiences, the stores/brands they choose, and when shoppers decide to make purchases. 

In the fourth quarter of 2018, consumer spending reached an all-time high of $13032.30 billion (Trading Economics). However, department stores experienced a 3.3% loss in sales, while online retailers saw a 3.7% increase in 2018 (Amadeo). With the rise of e-commerce stores like Amazon, this is not too surprising. Malls have started closing because it’s more convenient to have everything you need delivered to your doorstep. 

One way online shopping changes how Americans purchase items is through the ability to find products quickly online. This marks a rise in multi-channel shopping, which means that even if someone finds a product on Amazon or in a store, they’re more likely to shop around (Genchur). With products being made readily available on the internet, it is easier to shop around, to compare similar products, and to find deals or price match.

Increasingly, consumers’ purchases are influenced by “personalized” shopping experiences. Physical stores are often unable to tailor experiences to an individual customer, but online, it’s easy to set product recommendations based on recently viewed items or to send emails reminding a consumer that they have left items in their cart (“Here’s 5% off!”).  With online deals happening at different times of the year, holiday sales are falling (Amadeo), and big sales like Black Friday may see a decline in popularity over the next few years as they are replaced by Cyber Monday and other online sales that last for longer durations and don’t require shoppers to stand in line for hours or fight over merchandise in stores. 

Online shopping also makes it easier to buy products from other countries. For example, sometimes I buy my clothes from a company’s UK store rather than their US store to take advantage of currency fluctuations and variations in price between different locations. Over the past few years, stores have expanded their shipping options and most now offer free or discounted shipping if your purchase is above a certain threshold. Additionally, with shipping services becoming more prevalent worldwide, the time it takes to get an item from another country has decreased. When I buy items from the UK, I often receive them in under a week (without expedited shipping). This suggests that consumers may increasingly look elsewhere in the world for goods.

The transition from shopping in-person to online often makes finding and purchasing products more convenient, so it’s no surprise that virtual sales will continue to increase while department stores will become increasingly unpopular. However, with the rise of online shopping, consumers should pay more attention to the way they shop and the potential impacts their habits may have: multi-channel shopping might mean spending more time searching for items rather than focusing on other parts of life; personalized shopping experiences may lead to more personal data being collected by companies, which could lead to better and more manipulative ads; and worldwide availability of goods may influence the American economy or lead to issues such as increased spending on products of questionable quality (i.e., AliExpress). While the rise of online shopping may be convenient and exciting, consumers should be informed about how their shopping habits affect their lives, and more broadly, the world. 



Amadeo, Kimberly. “Consumer Spending Up 2.5%.” The Balance, www.thebalance.com/consumer-spending-trends-and-current-statistics-3305916.

Genchur, Nicole. “5 Consumer Trends to Watch in 2019.” GroundTruth, 13 Feb. 2019, www.groundtruth.com/insight/consumer-trends-to-watch/.
“United States Consumer Spending.” TradingEconomics. United States Consumer Spending | 2019 | Data | Chart | Calendar | Forecast, tradingeconomics.com/united-states/consumer-spending.