Buyer Take Care

Richard Connor

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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R Quinn
R Quinn
3 years ago

I never thought of it that way, but you make good points. I sure have spent more time online buying in the last several weeks, but so far it’s essentials I can’t find in supermarkets … and books. Who ever thought in America you would have to wait tgree weeks to buy paper napkins.

David J. Kupstas
David J. Kupstas
3 years ago

I’ve never understood why so many people need things in a day or two. The free (longer) shipping option is always fine with me.

Bruce Trimble
Bruce Trimble
3 years ago

Not to mention it is much better environmentally
to do a longer shipping option. Rush orders mean
trucks are emptier, so more toxic pollution gets spewed per item shipped.

3 years ago

My wife and I have been tracking every single penny we spend since we were married 23 years ago. No matter how I “think” our money is being spent, I’m always surprised when I run the year-end reports. We are fairly aware of our spending through this process, but I have to wonder about the people who don’t keep track. How can they manage what they don’t have a grasp of? By the way, I knew a Richard Connor is St. Louis who wrote a book titled Warren Buffett on Business. That would look good sitting on your bookshelf…

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