Don’t Let Algorithms Make You A Shopaholic

Lauren Koa Technically Speaking lkoa@ucsd.edu
Lauren Koa
Technically Speaking
[email protected]

I’ve come to realize that online shopping isn’t as great as we all originally thought it would be. Shopping online is usually convenient and lets you avoid the lazy sales associate who promises to “check the back” for more inventory but in reality takes a self-declared break. (Trust me — I worked in retail; I know their secrets.) But I’m sad to say that I’ve found its fault. Online shopping is just too overbearing; it has left me weak, feeling like a pathetic shopaholic with a sad, overused credit card.

 

I spent last week debating whether I should order an overpriced Free People dress online. After hours spent surfing the Web and comparing different sites for the best deal, I reluctantly decided against purchasing it. I came to the decision that it was expensive and that I didn’t need it. But algorithm-based advertisements kept virtually attacking me on every website I visited by showing me images of various colors of the dress I had just “rejected.” I honestly couldn’t help but cave and buy the dress in two colors, along with a highly-recommended slip and a “Sunshine Yellow” bralette.

Though online shopping seems like a laid-back experience, targeted ads make online shopping very aggressive. Unlike the traditional, “live” shopping experience — in which you walk into the store, get greeted and sales-stalked by an associate — when you choose to shop online, you never get to escape and respectfully refuse a purchase. Once you show any interest in a product, it’s like the entire Internet has joined forces to make you buy it. Targeted advertisements that use tracking data collected from your web history and IP address are created with the sole purpose of convincing you that you’ve made a huge mistake and that you really need to keep seeing the product over and over again to make a better decision about it.

I’m anxious for the arrival of my order, but I’m also thoroughly annoyed because I know those “personalized“ advertisements really affected my decision to splurge and purchase the dress. Had I not been bombarded with images of the dress in every single color, I would not have been continuously tempted (or more appropriately, harassed) to buy it and would have been able to reject the idea of owning the dress.

While this is very much a Big Brother-esque data collection and privacy problem, the solution does not have to be boycotting online shopping completely and busing to UTC each time to get your Free People fix. As a college student, this really isn’t practical as the quarter goes on. I know I don’t have time to go to the mall if I’m swamped with work, but I also don’t want to outfit repeat any more than I already do.

So, here are some options to avoid becoming even more of a poor college student: practice self control and resist tempting offers of 50 percent off Sperry’s, or download a reliable (and credible) advertisement blocker. All the money you save can go towards your future corgi.