As much as we sometimes long to deny it, what we buy helps explain who we are. Whether you’re a minimalist or a shopaholic, your purchases tell part of your story. I’m convinced that the way you shop and what you buy leaves a sort of trail, like bread crumbs, that help others reconstruct who you are. Purchases, belongings and behaviors can provide surprising levels of insight. Peek into someone’s home and you’ll learn about who they are, what they care about, what they prioritize.
I’ve thought about buyer behavior a lot over the years, from many different angles. In college I wrote my thesis on the emergence of department stores and how they reshaped the way people consumed material goods. Using French literature as context, I delved into the sociocultural changes as Parisians shifted towards more conspicuous consumption. Now that I work in brand strategy, I look at consumer patterns from a mix of cultural, demographic and business perspectives.
But how often do you really look back at your own belongings and consider your own “purchase trail?” I’m in the middle of moving- so I’m doing this a lot right now. Every drawer that I empty, every box I pack, surfaces memories of bygone times and past beliefs. I recently read a great self-reflective Gawker article about using our consumption to explore our personal histories. Writer Lacey Donohue chronicled her 20s via her Amazon purchases, studying her purchase choices to reflect on different stages of her life. I loved the way Lacey reflected on the personal context of each purchase. She situated each purchase in her past, looking at where she was physically, mentally and emotionally. Her evolution over time shines through in what she was buying, and how she thought about those purchases.
I took inspiration from Lacey and took a gander through my own Amazon history to see what I could learn about myself. I actually think my life is better explained through my offline purchases: the impulse pastries, the cheap jewelry, the trip souvenirs. Still, I like that using an online purchase history neatly chronicles phases and needs. Looking back on 8 years of purchase histories, I learned that I mostly turn to Amazon for media- a rather old-school use of the book-retailer turned everything-retailer. A few of my favorite purchases are listed below- I got a good chuckle out of some of these!
Take a peek at your own buying history too- see what you can learn about yourself by looking at the ghosts of purchases past.
The college-era books: In 2007 I was still in college and taking a ton of literature-focused courses. In January I ordered books for a course where we read about a book a week. It was a global studies class that examined books from around the globe on a variety of heavy-hitting topics. Then, that summer, I pre-ordered the newest Harry Potter novel. I’m actually surprised college-Felicia did that because I never pre-order anything these days. Does that mean I’ve gotten more patient, or just less into hype?
The tech accessories: I noticed I turn to Amazon for tech-related accessories and it’s definitely because of the reviews, which you just don’t get in-store. In 2013 I won an iPad Mini through a company talent show, and turned to Amazon for accessories. I rarely use that iPad though- in fact, I mostly used it last year when I needed an iOS-based device for dating apps that weren’t Android-friendly. In that same purchase I also bought therapy balls which is a funny combination, and also made me realize I have no idea where that ball is.
The practical things: 2013 was a year of in-home self-care, apparently, because I also bought a foam roller from Amazon. I also got an Amazon gift card and used it to buy a giant drying rack for laundry. This is typical: I usually feel guilty spending gift cards or cash on anything fun vs. practical, which is pretty much the opposite of what you’re supposed to do with gift cards. I stupidly had the rack shipped to my office and had to carry it all the way home on the bus. It was not a good plan. The woman next to me kept eyeing the box and I like to think she was admiring it, but perhaps she was simply silently judging me. This rack was a serious upgrade from the cheap wooden peg version I had before. A+ purchase.
The food studies book: I love this book from author David Sax. I’ve recommended it to tons of people, I blogged about it twice, and in 2014 I bought this copy for a friend recovering from a broken leg. I think it nicely reflects my interest in the intersection of cultural studies, consumer behavior and food. Go buy it, friends!
The project research: I bought 3 copies of this parenting book so colleagues and I could learn every detail about feeding toddlers for a project on Toddler nutrition. I later gave all 3 copies away to colleagues who actually have kids. But in the meantime I learned a lot of fun facts about how to transition your child from formula, to solid foods. Fascinating, really.
The metallic leggings: This may be the best Amazon purchase I’ve ever made. Earlier this year I wanted metallic rainbow clothing to wear to Pride, and to Amazon I turned. I spent a lot of time combing through their wares, seeking things that were free to ship AND free to return if they didn’t fit- not a simple feat. And then I found these beautiful rainbow shiny leggings, just waiting to be danced in. Mission complete.