chapter  5
34 Pages

Shopping Lessons: Consuming Social Order

A key part of what consumers do in a consumer culture is go shopping. At first glance, the idea of shopping seems obvious and intuitive. You go to the store, choose what you want, hand over your money, and go home with your stuff. But from a sociological perspective, shopping presents a bit of a puzzle. One the one hand, shopping is a major leisure activity enjoyed by millions of people. As many of our students tell us, shopping is fun; it’s a release from boredom and stress, a way to treat and express oneself, and an easy way to experience or acquire something new. Consumers frequently relish making choices in the store or shopping online, and use shopping as an opportunity to bond with others (e.g. a day at the mall with friends, mother-daughter shopping trips). While consumers have numerous happy associations with shopping, it also has a number of negative associations. When some people think about shopping, they think about drudgery, standing in line, credit card debt, social pressure, financial stress, and the hectic crowds of a Black Friday sale. Consumers sometimes feel as though they can’t control their shopping habits and unwittingly go into debt. Others feel as though they can’t afford to buy the things they want and deserve, and experience a shopping trip as an exercise in frustration. Still others like to shop for new things, but worry about the excess stuff in their lives (e.g. How to store it all? Does most of it end up in landfill?).