The news that Amazon.com posted a profit last week didn't surprise me at all. I expected it. In fact, I could claim some credit for Amazon's $4.89 billion in sales for the first quarter of 2009. Well, that might be going too far. But I am a frequent customer. A confession: I sometimes click and charge while at work.
I don’t think I’m alone. I would guess that many other working moms are online aficionados. And if my husband is typical, dads are too. Amazon (which now sells everything from ATV gear to Za'atar spices) and other websites offer any time-challenged parent the chance to browse, compare, evaluate, and shop for just about anything, anytime. No rushing to the store during a lunch break. No cutting into weekend family time. And no dragging the kids along! (Shopping for large items with small children in tow could be the subject of a whole other frightening and hilarious post. Just ask any parent whose child has hidden in the floor sample of a major appliance.)
If you are what you consume, then I’m not sure what the log of our Amazon purchases over the past six months says about me. Perhaps the stainless steel slow cooker reveals that I'm fantasy-prone. (Yes, I believe that a hot, healthy, and complete meal that my family will actually eat can be ready when I walk in the door at 6:00 p.m.) And maybe the car-emblazoned soft potty training seat, intended to convince my three-year-old son that toilet use should not be limited to the preschool potty, exposes the controlling aspect of my personality. (No luck, so far.) Then there’s the portable GPS system, which may suggest that I need direction in my life. (No luck here, either. I can't seem to follow the voice commands.) There's a lot of other stuff, and, of course, books. And more books.(We love books!) I’ll leave it to someone else to psychoanalyze the complete list of our online household consumption.
I'm not an exclusive Amazonian. (That moniker makes me sound fierce and huge!) I shop for my family and myself at other websites too. There’s the thrill of "winning" an item of discounted kids’ clothing auctioned on eBay. The pleasure of finding an inexpensive but charming handcrafted gift on Etsy. And the relief,during particularly hectic weeks, of logging in for groceries at Peapod. I also shop offline for certain items. I’ve learned the hard way that a dress is best purchased at a bricks-and-mortar store. Something that looks stylish on the monitor can, in fact, make you look like a decaying grape with brownish spots. Still, when it comes to convenience, value, and choice, I often find myself ordering onscreen.
I have to admit, though, that I don’t feel the same delight shopping online that I used to get when I spent the day recreational shopping in my pre-parental life. Partly, it may be that clicking and dragging are less tactile and immediate than leisurely in-person browsing with lunch and friends. But mostly, now that I’m a parent with a mortgage, two college funds, and orthodonture bills on the horizon, it's that shopping isn’t about fun. I’m always weighing my purchases against my family’s other needs and the limits of our budget. Especially in these tough economic times when we, like other families, are reassessing our spending habits.
But I’m not turning off the computer yet. In the run up to Mother’s Day (yes, it is a real holiday!), Amazon is offering what "Mom Really Wants . . . " in a variety of cleverly-named categories. Note to husband: check out Breakfast in Bed, To Perk Up Her Day, and Chocolate (only the dark stuff, please). You can skip A Clean Castle.The best part - you can purchase it all from your office with just one click!