With all the talk lately about how we need to bring more "social" into the shopping experience I've become concerned that people think there is such a thing as shopping that isn't social.
I have been reading a book that explores this conceit to a depth that is both grounded in strong theory and long term multi-site, multi-person ethnography. Daniel Miller's "A Theory of Shopping" looks at shopping for ordinary things and how shoppers develop and imagine the social relationships most important to them through the medium of selecting goods.
E-commerce as currently conceived by E-bay and Amazon does not come close to this central expressive role of shopping. Miller writes "shopping is dominated by your imagination of others, of what they desire of you and their response to you; it is about relationships to those who require something of you."
The best phrase in his book and one of the chapter titles is "Making Love in Supermarkets." I am trying to move ecommerce toward supporting people as they seek to do this online.
Miller writes "shopping is not therefore best understood as an individualistic act ... rather the act of buying goods is mainly directed at ... [firstly] a relationship between the shopper and a particular other individual such as a child or partner, either present in the household, desired or imagined ... [secondly] to a relationship to a more general goal ... of the values to which people wish to dedicate themselves."
A very intense book that is probably not easily accessible for casual reading, I got an awful lot of ideas for how online shopping can be redone to better allow buying goods in such ways as Miller writes about.