The Prison of Online Shopping

The Devil wears aluminium…

Just to get things straight, in the process of writing this review there were multiple lapses in concentration due to the fabulousness of the most influential fashion website out there – Net-a-Porter. I wasn’t sure if I should focus on a fashion website; the amount of time that could go wasted just by robotically scrolling through the hundreds of products they trot out like chattel inspires such fear. Then again, I’ve already spent so much time doing just that. Statistically, this surely makes me an expert. Oh! How many times I have filled my basket with so many goodies, only to realize that I am not even close financially to buying them. Such a fashion victim!

So, from her flat in Chelsea to the signature luxury black boxes, soft ribbons, into houses in over a hundred countries… Natalie Massenet is the founder of one of the most successful fashion markets out there – N. A. P. Better known as Net-A-Porter. The website’s philosophy is to offer an enormous selection of the latest trends. Simple enough. Its prices truly range from the cheapest to the most expensive, from a humble £20 silver ring to astounding £32000 emerald earrings. What happened to just taking a walk with a friend to the store? Online websites have changed the way women process shopping – we have been hypnotized into shopping without physically seeing, touching or trying on a good. We have replaced the feeling of trying out that perfect shoe with passive scrolling. Net-a-Porter is a fashion fusion, a store and a magazine, amassing over 2.5 million visitors each month, from over a hundred countries, since its launch in June 2000. Rest in peace to all my free time, or, rather, wasted time spent on their website since then.

Unrelated to whether your bank account offers spending without limit, or whether your piggy bank is just full enough to afford that designer handbag you’ve had your eye on, Net-a-Porter
will treat you the same. Customer satisfaction is obviously key to these types of businesses. You surf either to shop or just to look. It’s become akin to reading a newspaper in the morning. Their franchise consists of The Edit, a digital magazine, The Porter, a physical magazine and, of course, a social shopping application. What is interesting is that women are following the site passionately; the creation of a male Net-a-Porter website was their key addition to more spending. The thinking behind it? Where does this woman shop from for the man in her life? A simple brainwash, yet we don’t seem to feel irritated. The whole experience feels like an evil witch dragging you into her own world – not just for shopping, but entertainment too.

They have perfected the art of generating the creation of need. You want everything even though you don’t need it. A rather characteristic disease of our time. The photography, multiple views, everything you need to know about the product: style, size, material and fit. It’s all so concentric. The further you delve into the website, the less you’re reminded that everything you see is virtual. If you make the decision to purchase something instead of just adding it to your wish list, you are asked to enter your personal details. They now know you, and you are just another addition to their filing system. They know who you are, where you live, your credit card details. Most importantly, they know what taste you have in fashion. Not even your best friends know this much about you. And why wouldn’t you do it? So many other hundreds of millions of people do it. You would feel left out. Not up with currents trends. Out of the loop. Irrelevant.

A perfect 21st century brainwash, similar to what happened with that 1984 Apple Super Bowl commercial introducing the Macintosh computer. Aside from being voted the best Super Bowl ad of all time, its real success was effortlessly supplanting itself right into our homes and offices. It managed to capture the audience’s attention through a targeted language. It created a fanaticism surrounding the need of the product by its people, mirroring the target strategies and creation-of-need displayed by the oh-so-innocent websites that mastermind the world of consumerism.

This illusory relationship between you and the website is created to capture you, like giving candy to children, but this is a standard, generated process. It offers optimal customer service to everyone, and yet they make you feel special, unlike visiting the store, looking for the sales person to give you the right size, painted in comparison to be a very solitary experience. They have made it easier and more comforting for us to raise an opinion without having anyone around us make us feel unsociable, incapable of positing our thoughts and ideas verbally. Internet shopping has changed the way we think. Not only has it given us endless options for clothing, accessories, combinations of the latest trends, but it has made us unsociable. We prefer the screen to the physical appearance and voice of another person just for the sake of efficiency and practicality.

You think you are given a choice, but at the end of they day you’re just choosing from what they’ve already selected for you. It makes sense that this is what makes them successful. Who doesn’t want the guarantee of looking good? Not everyone is born with good taste, right? Their excellent curatorial skills lead to the alienation of sameness. For this, or any website, to be so successful, everyone must be buying stuff. We will all end up owning more or less the same things. We are all agreeing to the choices of the website first, to their head buyer, and we place our own preferences as, inevitably, always inferior. It is easily handled in our daily busy schedule. So, given this loss of agency, how will our personal choices reflect us as individuals? How will they help us shape our personality if we all dress the same?

From the moment you’ve ‘checked out’, your bank statement has been traumatized, there is an anticipation created. An illusion appears of something to look forward to. Instantly, your boring day at the office not only becomes interesting, but the idea that you are expecting a gift that you have actually paid for yourself makes you feel hopeful. Special. Through this process, they have targeted today’s average busy woman. A woman who wants to be up to date with her fashion but doesn’t have the time to do so because of a tight schedule. Window shopping has been literally compressed into your screen. It doesn’t even matter what screen you use. It could be your personal laptop, the computer you use at the office, your smartphone… it’s ubiquitous. Their buying-or-scrolling sport is accessible anywhere, from any tech accessory we keep constantly on our person. Who hasn’t shopped whilst walking, just because of an alert of further price drops? Just because they have statistically calculated that this is their best time to alert you and disrupt you from what you have been doing?

In a post-digital world, there is no difference between reality and the hyperreal. We are continuously enslaved and brainwashed by the media spectacle that surrounds us. The fact that every morning successful women feel the urge to scroll down, under the category of ‘What’s New’, just to feel that they are not left behind, it all rings the bells of passivity. We have agreed to substitute our experiences of true life, planning a visit to the high street, just to inactively look at a screen. If our shopping experience has managed to change so much in such a short period of time, how will future generations experience shopping? What else will the retail shops need to do to compete with the online experience?

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