Fool.com: News and Commentary: Shopping Is Boring

Shopping Is Boring

By Dave Marino-Nachison (TMF Braden)
September 15, 1999

The simple act of exchanging money for goods and services has never been enough for American shoppers.

If it were, would there be a need for television shopping networks that consumers call so they can tell the people they've just overpaid for baseball cards how excited they are to be a part of history -- on national television?

Doubtful.

Would there be demand for suspender-bedecked, British-accented penguins shouting excitedly about the latest miracle cleaner and whipping a studio audience into a cheering, shouting, call-and-reponse frenzy reminiscent of a Southern church in which "Amen" has been replaced by "$19.99"?

Almost certainly not.

But there is, amazingly, on both counts and then some.

Enterprising Internet entrepreneurs have been quick to latch on to the American appetite for full-contact consumerism, establishing new, exciting, and sometimes innovative ways to add zip to the spending experience that would make even a soda-shop waitress doing her best Jayne Mansfield feel inadequate.

Perhaps eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY), along with the host of competing auction sites where shoppers actually do battle for products (and, occasionally, body parts), is the best-known example: one such company's radio commercials, in which a housewife, locked in her family's den, can be heard hootin' and hollerin' as she exults in the primal thrill of buying a sofa, come quickly to mind.

Priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN), meanwhile, affords credit-card holders the thrill of a breathless hour during which they wait to find out if they've outwitted the airlines and scored a round-trip airline ticket to Tahiti for $35.

Both of those concepts, admittedly, make a bit of sense -- but that doesn't change the fact that they capitalize just as much on shoppers' desire for a side dish of fun as for their determination to get a good deal on a PalmPilot.

With that in mind, many companies are busily looking for new buttons to push.

Today, business and consumer services company Cendant (NYSE: CD) said its newly created Netmarket Group, which will operate its spate of interactive businesses as part of its ongoing reorganization, will own and operate Hagglezone.com. Shoppers meet in a mano-a-mano duel of solvency with computer-generated characters that exhibit, they say, their own moods and tendencies -- and "if the merchant has gone temporarily insane then she/he will give it away for free!"

Meanwhile, two guys form Uniondale, New York launched TradeandSwap.com -- an online bartering site developed by Paramount Financial (Nasdaq: PARA) -- in early August. Here's where you go if, for instance, you've got a set of left-handed golf clubs you'd like to trade for some car stereo equipment. The aforementioned guys have suggested that an IPO for their baby might be in the offing.

And for those looking to ease a bit of bull-market guilt, there's GreaterGood.com, with the motto "Shop Where It Matters." A portion of your purchase goes to the charity of your choice.

All of the above -- plus the myriad of others not discussed in this story but lingering here, there, and everywhere in the World Wide Web -- share the common goal of augmenting your buying experience with something more, knowing that most of us will try anything at least once.

Will any of these prove to be viable enterprises? Although there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical, it's too early to say -- and how many of us laughed at eBay or QVC the first time we heard about them? Heck, Queen Isabella laughed so hard at Christopher Columbus that she spilled her paella, and now the capital of Ohio is named after the guy.

Millions upon millions of dollars sent into the aether later, these and other shopping sensations yet to be invented may cease to be a laughing matter.

That British penguin, however, will always be ridiculous.

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