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Is it ethical to shop the sales right now?

Kristin Schwab Mar 30, 2020
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Feeling tempted to shop online during self-quarantine? Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Is it ethical to shop the sales right now?

Kristin Schwab Mar 30, 2020
Feeling tempted to shop online during self-quarantine? Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Twenty five percent off Converse sneakers! Two for one yoga pants! Free shipping!

Like a lot of us, Jo Belinksi in Illinois has been watching the sales pour into her inbox. But she’s not buying much.

“It just doesn’t seem appropriate,” she said. She feels silly buying stuff she doesn’t need, and she doesn’t want to put warehouse and delivery workers at risk.

But she did break down once and bought lipstick from Sephora — it was half off, with free shipping. “Is that a, you know, practical purchase?” she said. “No!”

Retailers are trying to keep customers shopping, and consumer spending is important for the economy. But for some, buying discretionary items — anything that’s not food and supplies — feels kind of weird and maybe even a little wrong.

Sucharita Kodali, a retail analyst at Forrester, said stores are discounting stuff they might not normally put on sale, like a nice shirt for Zoom meetings and sweatpants to pair it with.

“If you’ve had your eye on something and it’s on sale, you’re actually helping a retailer manage its cash flow in the meantime,” she said. “I don’t think that’s at all a bad thing.”

But what about the bad feelings that come with a purchase: surprise, disgust and embarrassment that you’re so excited about a sale?

“People can feel a sense of disorientation where we’re wondering, is what we care about out of line with what’s really important?” said Zoe Johnson King, who teaches ethics at New York University. She said it’s normal to question the tiny things you can control when the world feels chaotic.

Her ultimate advice: Give yourself a break during this stressful time. If a fancy new coffee maker helps you start your day and a scented candle helps you relax when it’s over, consider those joys essential items for your mental health.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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