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Buyer Take Care

Richard Connor  |  April 22, 2020

BEING STUCK at home lends itself to some less-than-healthy habits, including binge watching TV, snacking at all hours and ignoring daily hygiene. One of the most tempting activities: online shopping.

I’m not normally a shopper, but even I can be lured by the thought of that daily delivery. Amazon, FedEx and UPS trucks go up and down my street all day long. With my older grandsons quarantined in California, buying and shipping a small treat to them—and then seeing their expressions of excitement via Zoom—is priceless.

Online shopping also seems like a way to help the economy. Big players like Amazon are hiring. You can also help small businesses that have online presences. I’ve read and heard statements from small and medium-size businesses that online shopping is keeping them alive. It also keeps the large delivery services busy and their workers employed. I was comfortable with this view until a family member forwarded an article that challenged my simplistic view.

The title of the article: “Why You Shouldn’t Order Nonessential Packages During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” The author argued that—with so many of us shifting to online shopping—the number of orders was overwhelming companies like Amazon, making it impossible to follow sanitizing and social distancing guidelines. That, in turn, put their employees at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus. The article recognized that we all need essentials but urged readers to think hard before splurging on nonessentials.

Spending has always been an important topic in personal finance. It’s also been a subject that’s fascinated academics, with research indicating that—after a certain point—money doesn’t buy happiness. But amid today’s pandemic, spending has become a moral question as well, with strong arguments on both sides.

The various articles I’ve read acknowledge that our purchasing decisions involve complex tradeoffs. I hate to think that my choices are putting someone in harm’s way, but I also hate the idea that folks are losing their job or seeing their business fail. I know how much our economy relies on retail shopping.

I’m also a fan of buying local. There are many restaurants, bakeries, wineries and shops that I frequent in normal times, and which I’d like to support right now. They’re owned and staffed by friendly, hard-working people and they help make our community a great place to live. I’ve also been impressed by how quickly some businesses have adapted to the current situation and built a new business model that uses online ordering coupled with safe pickup or delivery.

I don’t claim to be an expert on ethics. But after thinking about this for a few weeks, here are some guidelines I plan to follow—and which might make sense for your family:

  • Buy from companies that are trying to do the right thing by balancing customer needs with their employee’s health. Many businesses have been publicizing their approach to coping with COVID-19. For example, Amazon has an extensive page on its website detailing the precautions it’s taken.
  • Consider who you’re supporting with your spending. Is it a business you routinely use and which you’ll continue to use after the pandemic is over?
  • Think about what you’re buying. Is it a purchase that you could easily justify to friends and family—or are you shopping simply to give your spirits a quick boost?
  • If purchasing from Amazon, can you use the “no rush” shipping choice? Amazon says this helps it prioritize critical deliveries and execute its logistics in as safe a way as possible.
  • Think about the local businesses you’re supporting. Have they adapted their practices to provide their products in a safe manner? Have they built an online ordering tool with front door delivery or perhaps curbside no-contact pickup?

Keep in mind that the situation is dynamic, as companies evolve and adapt. The upshot: My spending guidelines may need to change—and yours might, too.

Richard Connor is a semi-retired aerospace engineer with a keen interest in finance. Rick enjoys a wide variety of other interests, including chasing grandkids, space, sports, travel, winemaking and reading. His previous articles include Numbers Game, Should You Sell and This Too Shall Pass. Follow Rick on Twitter @RConnor609.

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