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An Online Shopping Passion Keeps Them Clicking

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If there's a new frontier in online shopping, Anne Houseman has settled there.

There's almost nothing she won't, or doesn't, buy online. The end tables in her living room came from; the dining set was purchased off Craigslist. Houseman has purchased a bedroom mattress, dressers, baby goods, handbags, wine, mirrors, curtains, posters, electronics of all kinds and even some food items all online, where she prides herself on getting discounts and free shipping.

Come to think of it, Houseman says, she and her husband even bought their Woodbridge, Va., house online, from the Web-based brokerage Redfin, and the two cars in their driveway were both purchased at

In all, Houseman estimates 80 percent of her spending takes place online. By comparison, last year, 7 percent — or $202 billion — of overall U.S. retail sales were logged online, according to the research firm Forrester. That percentage is expected to continue increasing as more and more people shop with tablets and smartphones, and more and more retailers either have to shift their strategies to adapt, or continue closing stores.

"Kids who are growing up today are going to come into a world that's very, very different," says John Burbank, president of strategic initiatives for Nielsen, a market research firm. "There'll be different technology; there'll be different business practices; there'll be all sorts of incentives that don't exist today to move them to shop in different ways."

That's already manifesting in Houseman's life. Her shopping habits have changed around flash sale sites like Gilt and Rue La La. These sites offer sales for a limited time on limited quantities of luxury items. Houseman says she often structures her lunch hours around when these Web boutiques open.

"I think Rue La La opens at 11 and Gilt is at noon. I can't wait for that," she says. "I'm not making impulse purchases, but it is nice to see ... what's new and what might be there that I need anyway that I can find at a deal."

Over the years, Houseman says her love of convenience has trumped any initial misgivings about the security of using a credit card online, as well as those about having to make returns. She says she even gets better customer service online, with some e-tailers responding to tweeted customer complaints.

Her husband, Andrew Houseman, likes the ability to custom-order things on the Web. When their subdivision was looking for a specialized sign, he discovered it was easier to design and have one shipped from a Web shop based in Australia. He also has custom beer steins he designed and ordered off Zazzle.

Andrew says he now finds it difficult to shop anymore without the reviews, ratings and research he finds online.

"When you're standing in the aisle of a store," he says, "it's hard to know what you're looking at."

So even on the rare occasion when he does set foot in a store, he uses bar-scanning applications on his phone to see what other consumers have to say.

There are some downsides to deliveries, though. Some find the cardboard boxes wasteful and space-consuming. In New York City, the burgeoning number of boxes has created demand for more recycling storage space in apartment buildings.

But the Housemans don't see that as much of a problem. They use some of the boxes for mulch in the yard, and, besides, Anne Houseman loves coming home to stacks of boxes.

"It's like getting little presents in the mail," she says. "You get the satisfaction out of it twice. You bought it and you were happy then, and then you're happy when you get to see it."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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