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When selection phobia makes you recall the good old shopping days

By Kang Bing | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-29 08:15
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Employees sort parcels at a China Post workshop in Yongzhou, Hunan province, on Sunday. Logistics companies have taken several measures this year to ensure timely package delivery during the Double 11 online shopping festival. [Photo/Xinhua]

By the time this year's Double 11 online shopping gala ended, people were divided into two camps, arguing whether or not it had been a success. Those saying it was cited the record sale of goods worth more than 1.13 trillion yuan ($159.84 billion) by the major online platforms — up 2.1 percent year-on-year.

Those against argued that the increase was insignificant, and, in fact, so small that it can be regarded as the beginning of the end of the shopping festival movement. Ever since the festival was inaugurated in 2009, by an influential Chinese online platform, sales volume had been rising at double digits until this Nov 11.

Market observers are trying to find out what changed this year. Some concluded that the economy was slowing down and unemployment was going up, making people hesitate before reaching for their wallets. Others said that with so many online promotions happening, people could not decide which one to take seriously. Yet others say that, with some localities relaxing controls on real estate, people might be saving for housing.

They might all be true, though I must confess that too many options, a phenomenon known as selection phobia, are frustrating my family — possibly many other families too — from buying more.

Shopping used to be a pleasure once upon a time. There used to be a sense of accomplishment when one returned after a day's shopping, carrying bags, big smiles and exhaustion. It was also a simple thing about two decades ago. There were not many choices on the shelves of stores those days. All we had to do was find what we were looking for, pay and take it.

All that changed with China becoming the world's biggest manufacturing factory. Today there are so many varieties of everything at shopping malls that shoppers spend a lot of time looking for something they feel is the best deal for the money they are spending.

I have hated shopping ever since I was young. To me, walking in a shopping mall for 20 minutes is equivalent to hiking outdoors for 10 kilometers. Unfortunately, I married a woman who was crazy about shopping, and liked window shopping when she was short of cash. To keep our relationship strong, we made a pre-marital agreement that while out shopping with her, I could take a seat inside or outside the store, waiting to carry the shopping bags for her once she was done with her shopping.

In recent years, our shopping outings have decreased. I attributed this to the rise of online shopping until one day she told me she suffered from a certain degree of selection phobia at malls. "There are so many choices that very often I am exhausted before I can make up my mind," she confessed. "I think I have had enough of offline shopping."

However, she turned to online shopping to find that things were even worse. Just last month she spent several days online trying to plan our 10-day tour to Gansu province. After all there were dozens of flights, hundreds of hotels and numerous travel agencies to choose from. And there were numerous online suggestions on where to go, where to eat and where to shop.

After going through the entire range of choices she broke down, confessing that it is much better to have fewer choices. She then solemnly passed the family's shopping torch on to me.

We together recalled the good old days when it was so easy to order in a restaurant because it served no more than 10 dishes. Also, whenever out shopping, we took home whatever we could lay our hands on because there weren't too many things to choose from in the market three decades ago.

This walk-down memory lane helped her get back her shopping mood. Choosing from too many things might be painful, but sometimes that is also something to be endured, or even enjoyed.

The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.

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