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Shopping is more than just the act of purchasing items we want or need; in fact, behind work and sleep, it is the activity that those of us in wealthy nations spend the most time on.  In our commerce-driven society, we often take for granted the ability to easily and conveniently shop, whether for necessary items, or just to partake in it as a form of leisurely recreation.  The act of shopping not only bolsters the economy, but as shopping behavior amounts to more than just spending money, shopping patterns can often be indicators of culture at large.
retail store illustration
Illustration of a Typical Retail Store

Why Do We Shop?

So, why do we do spend so much time engaged in shopping?  Aside from "ordinary" shopping, including groceries, household items, and clothing, and "special" shopping, including purchases for birthdays, holidays, and larger items like vehicles, the act of engaging in shopping lends stability and regularity to our everyday lives on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.  One can quickly see how reliant we are on the activity of shopping when looking through the lens of vacationing behavior.  We go on vacation to escape routines and regularity, but quickly find ourselves drawn to grocery stores and shops, as if recreating everyday structure during our getaways.  Another reason for our collective penchant for shopping is that it serves as a recreational and social outlet.  Some people enjoy walking through shops as a way to relax after work, while many others enjoy shopping as a way to spend time socializing with friends.

How Do We Shop?

Men and women tend to differ in how they look at the activity of shopping.  While both sexes participate, many men think of the word "shopping" as referring to shopping for clothes, and claim they do not do it.  Although many clothing items for men are in fact purchased by wives or girlfriends, most men do grocery shop and spend money in electronics and sporting goods stores.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, men are more likely to have a "goal" in mind, and shop efficiently, while women may be more likely window shop, shop in groups, and compare prices for the best value.  Many men prefer to shop alone and take a task-oriented approach, while many women enjoy shopping in groups, and prefer to take an experience-oriented approach, regardless of outcome.

supermarket shopping cart filled with groceries
A woman pushes a supermarket shopping cart filled with groceries.

Social class as perceived by income, wealth, education, or occupation is also a strong predictor of how a person engages in shopping behavior.  Those with lower income levels will tend to shop at more budget-friendly large retail stores and comparison shop, while the upper class is more likely to spend money in boutique and specialty shops and pay more for personalized service.  Social class also effects the way retailers view their customers, as a well-dressed consumer is much less likely to be suspected of shoplifting, whether this is in fact true or not.  Interestingly, footwear is a more accurate predictor of social class than any other item of apparel, and many otherwise financially conservative consumers will overspend on shoes and handbags.

How Has Shopping Changed Through the Years?

Currently, over half of the world's population lives in cities and is no longer self-sufficient, which has resulted in rapid evolution of available shopping services over the last century and a half.  Consumers originally made most of their purchases at the local general store, which served as a central gathering point.  In the late 1800's catalogs began to be printed, making it possible for those in more rural locations to make purchases by mail.  In the 1950's, shopping malls began to be constructed, and most non-grocery shopping was done at department stores catering to a large segment of the population.  As time went on, smaller and more specialized shops began popping up, catering to different social classes.  The advent of the Internet further changed the way we shop, and it is estimated that by 2017, 60% of U.S. retail sales will take place online, many through mobile smartphones.  No matter how purchases are made, one thing is clear; even in times of economic uncertainty, shopping is here to stay!
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