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Online Sales May Target Drunk Shoppers

Posted: 12/29/11 02:32 PM ET

Do you remember the last thing you bought online? Do you remember what you had to drink before you bought it? While the design of online flash sale sites like Gilt Groupe already inspire seven-figure net profits from in-the-moment (over?)spending, the New York Times reports on a new strategy that retailers are latching onto to make a sale: get the shoppers while they're drunk.

Andy Page, president of Gilt Groupe, told the New York Times: "Post-bar, inhibitions can be impacted, and that can cause shopping, and hopefully healthy impulse buying." Gilt Groupe is adding more sales at 9 p.m. to respond to the surge in traffic at this time, the Times reports.

When the Times asked Steve Yankovich, vice president for mobile for eBay, if alcohol was a factor in making 6:30 to 10:30 pm in each time zone the most popular time to shop on his company's site, he said, "Absolutely... if you think about what most people do when they get home from work in the evening, it's decompression time. The consumer's in a good mood."

My question is whether the good mood persists when those $5,000 boots and a pair of preowned skiis arrive at your door -- and you don't recall buying either.

Sure, some purchases made under the influence are relatively harmless -- Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan writes that after a night of drunken online shopping, "The following week, I'd always be surprised and delighted by my drunken self's good taste. "Field of Dreams"! "Lola Rennt"! "The Birdcage"! All three Indiana Jones films!" other purchases can be more serious investments, such as Australian accountant Chris Tansey's decision to buy a $10,000 motorcycle tour of New Zealand: "The hang-ups of spending your hard-earned cash are so far removed from your life when you've had a bottle of wine," he told the Times (though the trip, he told that publication, ended up being "terrific").

Whether or not shopping drunk really constitutes "healthy" consumer behavior depends on how you define healthy, but I'm not at all convinced that Gilt's business model is a healthy one. Even if you haven't been drinking, shopping websites are designed to get you filling your digital shopping cart with items you don't need, and most let you save your credit card number the first time you buy so that you never have to input it -- or feel like you're making a real purchase -- again. Kristin A. Kassaw, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Baylor, told the Times: "When you're loading things you can't feel or touch into this fake cart, you don't have a sense of, 'I'm buying all this stuff, I'm buying too much.' It takes you away from the actual spending-money experience."

And as Amanda Fairbanks reported on The Huffington Post last week, when it comes to online flash sites, at least, that distance from the actual buying is only part of the problem. The limited quantities, pre-appointed sale times, and the faux-exclusivity the sites' members-only access creates all contribute to many women spending huge sums of money on these sites, often more than they can afford. In other words, making unhealthy impulse buys.

Gilt's Page essentially admitted to the Times that the company is appealing to its customers' lowest, basest impulses. I understand that this strategy has a strong track record (see reality TV), but what does it say about your product if people have to be sloshed or high on adrenaline before they'll buy it?

We want to know: What's the craziest thing you've bought online after drinking? Leave a comment here or tweet @HuffPostWomen with hashtag #ShoppingUI.

 

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