A woman is seen shopping on a laptop on ASOS, the online fashion store.

Dinendra Haria | SOPA pictures | LightRocket | Getty Images

In normal times, Amanda Ryczek would shop in the window – walking around with no intention of buying but taking the time to see new goods or think about what could be worn where.

When the Covid-19 pandemic closed stationary stores, the 27-year-old put her habits online.

“I’m definitely not going to the stores right now and when you go online you go to the store’s website and in a weird way it’s almost like going to the store,” said Ryczek.

But instead of testing a lotion or feeling the fabric on a shirt, she hits “Add to Cart” – and then leaves the window before checking out.

The internet equivalent of window shopping isn’t new. People have been picking out items and abandoning carts for years. But the pastime appears to have increased due to the coronavirus pandemic as consumers need to do something and are less willing to spend.

It is “definitely a pandemic,” she added.

Ryczek is not alone. While they described their habit in interviews earlier this month, people compared it to therapy, a substitute for browsing a store, or just some other way to pass the time when they are stuck at home.

Brenna Shepherd told CNBC that during the coronavirus pandemic, she spent more time digitally window shopping to spend her days or postpone work at school.

“My roommate, she gets money and spends it. I’m a very big saver, so I think I’m doing this because I don’t want to spend my money,” said the 19-year-old student. “But I like clothes and I look at clothes and even Amazon, look at random things but never really buy them.”

Not wreaking havoc on retailers

The number of abandoned carts appears to have increased when consumers were at home during the pandemic.

Last June, Jordan Elkind, who was vice president of Retail Insights for customer data and Amperity identity platform at the time, told Today that data from the pandemic outbreak showed a 94.4% abandonment rate, compared to 85.1 % in the year the comparable period of the previous year. That would equate to billions of dollars in lost e-commerce revenue, he said.

The trend of mindlessly scrolling online, adding items to a cart and then abandoning them isn’t necessarily the worst thing for retailers as they could keep an eye on the products and these could lead to potential sales, explained Dennis Hegstad. His company, LiveRecover, is helping e-commerce companies re-track customers who have abandoned their shopping cart by sending SMS reminders to customers who go deep enough into the purchase process to provide a phone number.

He suggested that people may just have to fill their time window shopping online, although “it is a confusing symbol when someone puts things in their shopping cart without that intention”.

But some companies could also pay for the advertising these online window shoppers bring in and not make the money back, Hegstad said.

“Customers add items to shopping carts on websites for many reasons, other than the intent to buy now. They use shopping carts as wish lists, as a place to store items during the comparison shop, or as a reminder of themselves for later,” said Forrester senior analyst Emily Pfeiffer told CNBC in an email. “Retailers typically do not reserve these units or remove these items from inventory until orders are placed. Although retailers approach the abandonment of the shopping cart with re-marketing efforts in hopes of closing the sale, it is not a catastrophic event for them Inventory management a frantic customer chase. “

As the pandemic worsens, more and more shoppers are stopping their purchases, suggesting that window shopping is becoming a reality.

“With the ongoing pandemic, e-commerce interactions have changed dramatically,” said Chris Chapo, vice president of advanced analytics at Amperity, in an email. “What we hear from our customers and from conversations with many retail brands is that, despite dramatically increasing website traffic, conversion rates are gradually increasing. This may not be intuitive, but it is a positive indicator of the future of digital business. More than ever B2C (business-to-consumer) companies need to focus on customer-centric engagement to accelerate this tailwind. “

All of this is due to the fact that online retail sales have increased over the past year. Americans spent $ 791.7 billion online last year, up 32.4% from 2019, according to quarterly figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce this month. E-commerce also made up 14% of all US sales, up from 11% in 2019.

“People are looking for ways to make their brain feel better.”

Research suggests that shopping – including hypothetical shopping – has psychological value, hence the term “retail therapy”.

“Every now and then you will cross something that really makes this brain glow and excites you,” said Dr. Scott Bea, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, in an interview.

For people who just add to the cart, the expectation of a possible reward (in this case a package) releases dopamine. The dopamine then makes people keep looking for things that make them feel good, so that they will repeat it.

“Just hunting and shopping, without necessarily reaching out, takes you away from the rest of the life we ‚Äč‚Äčlead and somehow consumes us, so that the worries of our days somehow fade into the background,” said Bea. “Because we have such limitations, people are looking for ways to make their brain feel better.”

For Nancy Duarte, 22 years of online window shopping was a way to fill in post-college time during a pandemic, a difficult climate to find work. Now that she has a job, she said she usually takes care of weekday work as a “reward.”

Others said they see it as a way to get away from social media while just lingering on the internet a bit longer.

“Shopping online without actually tracking a purchase is honestly a way to pass the time – just a different place to be online other than Twitter or reading the news or something else depressing,” said Jennifer Vance, 26, in an email. “And I think maybe just thinking about something new in the mail simulates the same surge of serotonin.”

It is similar with Oreoluwa Temi.

“I would say it was a coping mechanism. After browsing through all of the social media apps, you think, ‘Let me browse the clothing websites and see what I like,” the 26-year-old said in an E -Mail. Adding is a new development. “It’s a bit relaxing. Just scroll through what you could buy if you had the money. “

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