Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Intimacy of Shopping

I was chatting with some friends some time ago, one of whom a fireman. He was describing how he and his colleagues filled their time while not fighting fires. One of the things they do is go shopping together. They always have to stay together so they may go en masse to Home Depot – while one stays in the vehicle. Another guy who was there said he thought the idea of firemen shopping together (even for manly home improvement items) was incongruous with the macho image of the profession. It seemed so effeminate.

I have thought a lot about that. Shopping is intimate. Many men feel awkward browsing with their friends in a shop. Much more so than women do. A man and a woman who are not romantically involved shopping for clothes together is somehow seen as slightly inappropriate. I remember when I lived in Taiwan I used to see young couples in IKEA and it was clear that there was romance in their browsing for affordable yet stylish furniture.
Clothing in particular generates these feelings. That is because evaluation of the items requires assessment of how it looks. Of course “does my butt look big in this?” is an intimate question. Underwear of course is an extreme example. But it not only the intimacy of the usage occasion alone that generates these feelings. Shopping even for innocuous groceries or home improvement items has an intimacy.

I think the reason is that the act of shopping – including the enjoyment of it – involves anticipation from projection of using the products. That is often a personal and private consideration of the role the products will play in our lives – even groceries. Sharing that is sharing more than the act of selecting the products. It is sharing private and personal aspects of our lives. That is why looking for a specific product for a specific and defined use is a less intimate act. You are sharing less. I need or want this for this reason and this is what I will be doing with it. As soon as you start browsing and exploring – even for relatively innocuous items - you start to open up personal and private, opinions, considerations and aspects of your life that are intimate.

1 comment:

Brian Baumal said...

Another word besides intimacy, with which I agree, that sums up shopping is vulnerability. The two are the opposite sides of the same coin.

When someone we are with accepts and validates our inner desires (as expressed by the act of shopping in this case) an intimate bond is formed. When those inner desires are judged or rejected, those showing the desire feel vulnerable and slightly hurt.

It's an interesting lesson for marketers, who in theory and metaphor should always be our shopping companions, much like your pack of firefighters. Do they foster intimacy of feelings of vulnerability in the experiences they create in-store?