Online Merchants Benefit from SWI (Shopping While Intoxicated)

Discussion
Dec 29, 2011
Rick Moss

Shave his belly with a rusty razor,
Shave his belly with a rusty razor,
Shave his belly with a rusty razor,
Earl-eye in the morning!

There has never been a shortage of ideas for what to do with a drunken sailor. Now retailers are considering how to handle inebriated online shoppers, some of whom are waking up the next morning with the equivalent of a tattoo of "Mom" scrawled across the chest.

The New York Times cites the case of one blotto shopper who, in the wee hours of the morning, indulged in the purchase of a $10,000 motorcycle tour of New Zealand. (Fortunately, he was happy with the trip.)

In a recently conducted study by U.K. shopping site Kelkoo, over half of the Britons surveyed admit to online shopping while under the influence, typically between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. This group says they spend more when tight, and one in seven admitted they wouldn’t have made the purchase at all had they been sober. The most popular categories for boozy purchases: apparel, DVDs, books, video games, technology and lingerie.

Generally speaking, late evening e-shopping has been on the rise in recent years in the U.S., according to ChannelAdvisor, and retailers are not unaware that adult beverages may be involved. Gilt Groupe, says the Times, is responding to spikes in traffic after 9 pm with more promotions for that period and speculates that some of the activity is influenced by drink.

"Post-bar, inhibitions can be impacted, and that can cause shopping, and hopefully healthy impulse buying," Andy Page, the president of Gilt Groupe, told the Times.

Steve Yankovich, vice president for mobile for eBay, also acknowledges heavier traffic to the site in the evening but, as with most retailers, equivocates on the topic of appealing directly to drunken shoppers.

While, on the surface, the lowered inhibitions experienced while intoxicated could seem to present a real selling opportunity for online merchants, irresponsible shopping could come back to haunt retailers. One could easily imagine a higher return rate among this group and more irate or confused calls to customer service.

Discussion Questions: How far should online retailers go in appealing to “post-bar” shopping impulses? Should online retailers put up any safeguards, if possible, or warnings, to curb inebriated purchases?

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12 Comments on "Online Merchants Benefit from SWI (Shopping While Intoxicated)"


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Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I need some help with this one. I am not sure how one tells online if a shopper is under the influence. Could it be by past shopping tendencies? Could it be by the amount spent on a single purchase? Certainly the computer on the other end receiving the order is not going to ask if the buyer has been drinking? Maybe we are just digging low in the bag of topics for conversation before New Years.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Some states have a 24 hour cancellation period when purchasing products, or at least over a certain dollar amount. However, I am not sure whether those laws cover online purchases. Retail stores are not typically open between 11 pm and 1 am, so they have not encountered this problem. It is difficult to tell whether online consumers are inebriated. Where is the line between regulating consumers’ behavior for their own good and limiting their freedom of choice?

Anne Howe
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Retailers should train customer service reps on effective ways of dealing with tipsy shoppers, but aside from that, they should enjoy the upside of late-night shoppers! Personally, I think it would be offensive to find any marketing directed specifically to them.

Miriam Gomberg
Guest
Miriam Gomberg
9 years 4 months ago

This is a difficult one because it is not the retailer’s responsibility to ensure that consumers are not drunk while shopping. However, being on the retail side of things, it is also a pain dealing with returns made from these late night shopping binges.

Who is to say why some choose to overdo it on the computer, then suffer from buyer’s remorse? My guess is that it has more to do with a shopping addiction (a.k.a. retail therapy).

With all of the sophisticated CRM software available, businesses are able to track purchase history and perhaps cut someone off when he/she abuses the system one time too often.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

How often has someone here said, “caveat emptor” (buyer beware)? Does anyone know how to say retailer beware? Or remember that we are almost unanimous believers in personal responsibility? I agree that retailers may have to pay the price with a possibly increased level of returns but here’s a couple of other foreign cliches — c’est la vie/que sera sera.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

The anecdotal evidence of an epidemic in online shopping while intoxicated (SWI) suggests several likely scenarios for innovation:

1. O.com innovates with a “morning after” e-pill to reverse ill-advised and dimly-remembered online purchases (“O, what was I thinking…?”)
2. 17 states pass laws requiring courts to order breathalyzer interlocks on laptops of serial offenders.
3. Google+ opens a chain of neighborhood shopping pubs where – you guessed it – nobody talks to one other either.
4. A rogue hacker group distributes the “e-rufie,” a bit of trojan code that erases all memory of an online purchase until the package arrives nine months later.
5. RetailWire launches a successful 12-step re-hab program for SWI recidivists. Two-thirds of BrainTrust members enroll in the first month.

Now, let’s tackle an even more troubling social scourge: drunk-texting. I’m told it has ruined the lives of more than one high-school student….

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Caveat emptor!

I don’t think they should encourage drunken shopping, but they are under no obligation to protect buyers from themselves.

And, I’m with Ed, how many computers, phones, tablets, etc, come with a breathalyzer?

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Coincidentally, just this morning I was pondering Mr. Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” (those things that are so outlandish there’s zero chance of preparing for them): congrats RW, you scored a bullseye with this one!

As for the main questions, I don’t see how this can be prevented — though it’s only a matter of time before someone wants breathalyzers installed on PCs and smartphones — but retailers cater to it at their peril…returns and complaints being higher (right along with the customers).

And now a Happy New Year to everyone: let’s all raise a toast to 2012 (and then go online shopping !)

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 4 months ago

Merchants shouldn’t try to appeal directly to inebriated e-shoppers. Honestly, I can’t even imagine what type of ad one would create for a drunk e-shopper.

But, if retailers examine their online traffic data and find more shopping in the evening hours, then they should most certainly create ads targeting those consumers shopping during evening and early morning dayparts. That’s just smart retailing. And there’s no way for merchants to differentiate between sober e-shoppers, those shopping while having a single glass of wine and those who are three sheets to the wind.

At the end of the day — or in the wee hours of the morning — it remains the individual consumer’s responsibility to be lucid about their e-purchases. If intoxicated e-shoppers are clicking “buy” and only realizing they bought something the next day when they sober up or when the package arrives at home, then that’s a problem that may need to be addressed by a substance abuse counselor, not a retailer.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

No. Retailers are not online police of any type when it comes to trying to determine the mental or physical state of their customers. This isn’t even a viable option for any online retailer.

John Karolefski
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I was pleased that seven of ten respondents to the poll do not believe online merchants should cater to inebriated shoppers. Thank goodness there is some decency and sanity left in the world. I’d rather not comment on the six percent who believe catering to inebriated shoppers online should be done “vigorously.”

Bridget Gildea
Guest
Bridget Gildea
9 years 4 months ago

A breathalyzer requires extra hardware, new coding etc. By next week there will be an app that scans my iris to measure the alcoholic content in my bloodstream as part of the purchase verification process (against the registered account profile) for shoppers after 11 pm. Those shoppers with a suspiciously ‘glassy or rosy’ outlook will be offered an optional ‘cooling off’ time period (complete with free jumbo coffee voucher) before the transaction is completed. Could the retailer be any kinder…!

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