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Grooming The Customer: Cyber Monday – OpEd

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Are we talking about Pavlov’s dogs? Consider the language being used to describe what has become ‘Cyber Monday’, the greatest of online shopping binges that grips American consumers every year and is fast proving to be an e-commerce contagion. Consumers being ‘conditioned’ to expect discounts on a huge scale; retailers thinking about how best to ‘juice’ it for the weekend to net insatiable customers.

The day comes alive as an online bazaar of purchases. Who are the culprits? Some hazard that it’s anyone at the office who so happens to be surfing with itchy enthusiasm, taking time out between tasks. The click, the raided credit card, the purchase in the bag (or the cyber basket), and the sale is made. Others wonder if it is simply ‘the convenience of shopping from the comfort of home, avoiding long lines, parking hassles, wrapping gifts and trudging to the post office to mail presents’ (Maplewood, Nov 28). This is lounge lizard heaven.

The emergence of e-commerce has entailed extending hours in the hope of nabbing the insatiable purchaser. The language of plunder is used. According to industry analyst Marshal Cohen, ‘We groomed the consumer to wait until now to buy a product.’ They rushed in and stores that stayed open gained 22 percent over those that did not (CNBC, 28 Nov). Now, they don’t so much rush in person as rush on their computers, purchasing as fast as their fingers can take them. Such purchasing might well reflect post-Thanksgiving euphoria, or therapy for having to cope with the extended family for the supposedly special occasion.

Even then, the commercial lingo of comparison is never far away. When will this special day of consumerist excess pit other similar purchasing events to the post of grand decadence? ‘Cyber Monday may not yet have the cache of Black Friday or buzz of Small Business Saturday, but it’s a retail phenomenon nonetheless’ (Maplewood, Nov 28) Data from Comscore shows a growth compound annual growth rate of 16 percent between 2005 and 2010. In 2010, sales passed the magical billion dollar mark (begging the question who finds such contrived figures to be magical at all), peaking at $1.028 billion.

The figures this year show a further spike – this time to $1.25 billion. Even the dry press releases of Comscore sounded like a sharp intake of breath, noting ‘the heaviest online spending day in history and the second day on record to surpass the billion-dollar threshold.’ And we are being told that this trend has gone global. In 2009, 350 million pounds was spent in the UK on the same day alone, and other countries are filling the numbers with feverish enthusiasm. A few propagandists in the Australian market feel that this opportunity should not be missed. All hail the magnificent, mining-boosted Australian dollar.

Cyber Monday, lament some bloggers, is not considered as amusing as other mass purchasing phenomena, being more of middle class hunger. There are no lethal crushes in aisles and shopping lines. The gnashing of teeth is kept at home or in the office. But this is spending that reveals an almost remarkable indifference to the orbit of austerity many societies now find themselves. Before, and even during the drought, the deluge shall be had.

Binoy Kampmark

Binoy Kampmark

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]

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