Feeling powerless against the Gucci-pushing robots online ...

lfarrell@islandpacket.comSeptember 11, 2013 

20080611 RETAIL online

You can try to walk away from online shopping, but it will find you and wear you down until you buy something.

STRACH — San Jose Mercury News

The joy of online shopping, for me, has always been the extreme lack of person.

No one is forcing me to dig deeply for a smile worthy of the salespeople's corporate-mandated greetings. I don't have to politely reply "No thanks, I'm just looking" 37 times, only to get to the back of the store and wonder what I missed in my dodge from the front. And no middle-aged man is aerosoling my face with his cologne-sweat as he apologizes for not finding my size in the shoes I wanted -- but, oh, may he suggest something uglier and more expensive for my foot, all contained in the many unsolicited boxes he's brought out for me that I now feel obligated to address with reluctant compliance?

I can breeze through an online store to music of my own choosing -- or with reruns of "Gossip Girl" playing in the background for inspiration. I can sit and ponder the untenable arithmetic of purchasing a $1,200 Valentino Rockstud Leather Clutch Bag in color "Nero" (Nero!) without the menacing, hungry eyes of a Commissionapotamus upon me.

I can breathe easier because there are no shopgirls for me to project my rampant insecurities about wealth and fitness onto.

"Hmm. Interesting, she's paused for one second in front of the Alexander McQueen Skull-Print Chiffon Scarf. She can't afford that. She shouldn't be in this store. She's too fat for that scarf. I should tell her that only I, on my part-time retail hourly rate, can afford that scarf. And only I, with a man who loves me and all the happiness in the world, can fit into that scarf."

And this is just the accessories department.

Online shopping is the right fit for me, a person who dreams in fashion and lives for the fantasy. Sure, I can't touch the things I can't afford, but that's fine. I don't need to. I am satisfied with simply looking and imagining, unbothered by other humans.

That is, until the robots found me.

I don't know much about the World Wide Web Consortium's "Do Not Track" draft policy, which has been in limbo for years, or anything about the politics involved with it. Nor do I want to. I don't care. Don't explain it to me. It seems complicated, and I assume everyone's tracking me anyway. I also assume they all have Swedish accents and that they would kill me in a hot second if I told them how much I hated "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." It was gross. The raping, the torturing, the disgusting flesh-colored eyebrows ...

I don't mind being tracked online to a certain extent. I understand the metrics. I get why it's a good tool to have for businesses, why it makes sense to gather data about consumer habits.

What I don't accept, though, is harassment.

Never once in all my shopping years have I ever come home to find a salesman on my couch, there to remind me I briefly made eye contact with a Soia & Kyo black wool Verona coat last week and am I still interested in buying it. "You looked at it. I saw you. Don't act confused."

Not one time has an employee from Neiman Marcus ever poked her head out from under the covers of my bed to say, "If you go without Starbucks for the rest of your life, totally doable, you can get those Gucci Leopard-Print Calf Hair Buckle Flats that I know you want. You want them. You know you do. See? Here's a picture. Do you have both your kidneys still? I'm just saying. Black market. Then you can buy these shoes and maybe other stuff."

In essence, this is what's happening. Weeks after I've online-browsed various items of clothing or accessories, ads will continue to decorate the tops and sides and bottoms of unrelated websites, reminding me and tempting me ... and tempting me and tempting me. With the exact item I looked at.

They are tracking me. They are harassing me.

The Internet knows my weakness for direct sales. It knows I will hop over a homeless person inquiring about the donation of a quarter like he's a rain puddle, but will find it very difficult to say no to a man selling fake Cartier watches on the street next to him under a sign that says "Fake Cartier Watches." The Internet knows that below-average sales pitches work on me because I so badly want the person in front of me to leave my space. I will purchase anything to end a conversation.

I will buy Michael Kors leather guard something or other just to get you to stop talking. I will fake a phone call so that a Girl Scout can't ask me to buy cookies because if she looks at me with her sweet, hopeful face, I will purchase all of her Samoas. If I'm being reminded daily of a Rebecca Minkoff crossbody purse that I sort of want, I will eventually have no strength left and will have to hand the Internet a fan of my credit cards, which it should already have, no?

This is why I must appeal to the forefathers of Internet governance.

Please. Please, call off your robots. Gather your congress. Amend your declarations.

I loved "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

Really. Tell me where I can buy a copy.

Liz Farrell is the editor of Lowcountry Current. Follow her at twitter.com/elizfarrell.

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