December 28, 2011, 11:50 AM

Is Chardonnay the secret to the success of online retail?

No, it’s the convenience of shopping during quiet hours, with or without refreshment.

You know it’s a slow news week when normally sensible newspapers like the New York Times write silly articles like the one today that suggests online retailers are targeting consumers who are drunk, presumably taking advantage of their inebriation to sell them stuff they wouldn’t buy sober.

From the headline, “Online Merchants Home In on Imbibing Consumers” you might expect several examples of web retailers that have tailored their strategies to consumers who’ve had a few. But, in fact, no retailer admits to such a strategy. The best the writer can offer is quotes from executives at eBay, QVC and Gilt Groupe about the likelihood that consumers who are in a relaxed mood might be more inclined to shop online.

The article also cites a study by a U.K. comparison shopping site, Kelkoo, which found almost half the British consumers it surveyed had shopped online after drinking. That may be true. But how many had, after having a cocktail or a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, gone on to pay bills online, read bedtime stories to their kids or watch a sporting event? The article doesn’t say.

In fact, many surveys have explained why consumers shop online: Convenience, broad selection, and the ability to shop around for the best price. Even a sober person can see those merits. And there must be a lot of sober consumers shopping online, because a third of Americans say they never drink—but 80% of U.S. adults shop online.

A more paranoid person than myself might believe this story was planted by retail chains hoping some governmental agency will step in to stop online retailers from making it possible for consumers to shop whenever they please. If tomorrow’s Times has a story about a congressman calling on e-commerce sites to close at 6 p.m. I might rethink whether that idea is paranoid.



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