I’ll admit it straight up: I browse online stores almost everyday. I’m on the email lists of all my favorite stores, so that they can email me daily with sales and new products. I love the ease of sorting by size or price. I like that you can read reviews from consumers and compare prices across brands. And I truly enjoy not having to deal with crowds (seriously, you don’t know crowds until you’ve tried to go shopping in New York City on a Saturday).
It’s no secret that online shopping is becoming more and more popular because it’s fast and easy. But all the stuff that we buy doesn’t just appear from a vacuum. As we buy more and more online, online retailers are building more and more warehouses. The very structure in which consumers and products operate is totally changing. It appears to be inevitable, but the transition to buying everything from the internet means a significant loss of human interaction.
Over the next five years, online shopping in Europe is projected to grow so much that retailers online and offline will need an extra 25 million square meters of space to store and handle products — the equivalent of over seven Central Parks. That's not even counting the U.S. Amazon is already leading the way in the US by constructing huge warehouses just outside of major cities. They’re currently planning to build a 1,000,000 square foot warehouse an hour outside of San Francisco.
As the demand for online shopping grows and grows, it’s predicted that more and more of these giant warehouses and distribution centers will pop up, and that these giant mazes of products will be more easily navigated by robots than by people. Some warehouses have already ascertained that robots are more efficient than humans and have started using them for the job of sorting and shipping thousands of orders. Amazon itself plans to go the route of “magic shelves.”
But the thought of seven Central Parks filled with boxes and boxes of stuff, as well as robots frantically sorting our orders and sending us more stuff, seems to me lacking in something vital. While shopping is at the heart of it absolutely materialistic, there’s something to be said for getting a truly impassioned recommendation from a salesperson or fellow shopper. There’s something to be said for a day out shopping for clothes with your mom. Online shopping is certainly easier on the surface (and I do use it!), but I don’t want online shopping to be my only choice.
The internet makes shopping easier, but it also makes it easier to avoid face-to-face human interaction and to miss out on emotional connection. It seems that our culture doesn’t have a problem sacrificing one for the other. The tremendous growth of online retailers and their warehouses makes this clear.