The Rhetoric of Online Shopping

Lately, I’ve been finding myself online shopping quite a lot. It’s that time of year where the homework load piles up and all you can do is procrastinate in every way possible. What struck me, though, is how easy it is to get addicted to online shopping. Whether it’s Amazon, Anthropologie, or ASOS, there’s something that just makes you want to come back and buy more, even if the last thing you need is another $200 coat. Sure, shopping itself can become a dangerous habit, but there has to be another factor to persuade even the most principled money savers to splurge during Columbus Day deals. To research, I began investigating the websites of my favorite stores, as well as the emails they sent me, and came up with some common themes

  • The “personalized” experience: I put personalized in quotes because, really, how much time has a company spent getting to know you? Most of what they know about you is what you’ve viewed on their website. Regardless, when ModCloth shows you the section with things “you might also like,” it’s hard to turn away from those flats that seem to have been picked just for you, even as you have just placed the order for the last five items.
  • The “you’re missing out” line: During my most recent online shopping marathon, a window popped up asking me if I wanted to sign up save 20% off my purchase. To get rid of the window, I had to click a tab in the corner that read “no, I’d rather pay full price.” This is an interesting bit of rhetoric that I found both annoying and strangely compelling. It all seemed so reasonable; why wouldn’t I sign up for an account that offered me discounts? Of course, once I received the discount I would have definitely used that to rationalize buying something I didn’t need, because how could I pass up a deal that great?
  • The “you’re running out of time!” line: No, you’re really not. Sales will come again; the question is, do you really want what you’re buying? Often, I find that even when there are sales, they aren’t significant enough to rationalize the spending. Does 20% off a $60 shirt make it any more reasonable? No, but it certainly seems like it at the time.


The persuasiveness of online stores sometimes goes under the radar, but they have definitely done their homework, and their influence in our day-to-day lives can be very strong. Perhaps we should take a page from their books to help construct more convincing arguments.

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