Terror Scrolling

I don’t know about you, but the boredom has creeped into my pandemic Work From Home (WFH) lifestyle. I’m certainly plenty busy… there’s plenty of work to go around between the clients, routine parenting, new quasi-homeschooling, and the home move I happen to find myself in…amongst all the other life chores like nightly cooking, cleaning, and laundry. (I long for the days of being able to have the cleaning crew help out or offload the nightly cooking to the pizza place)

No, I mean the boredom that is more insidious. In normal times, I can take a break during the day – even if it’s just once during the week – to grab lunch with a friend, or work from a coffee shop for a change of scenery. Anything to break up the monotony of a routine day. But stuck at home I find myself stuck behind the Zoom camera much of the day many days, trying to wedge in a lunch break or a fresh air break. In the random blocks of free time I find here or there, I end up “terror scrolling”… flipping through my Facebook stream or my news channel feed of choice. But even that’s become increasingly hard to do with the data and the body counts and the projections and the options being so damn frightening, confusing, or just plain overwhelming.

So I turn to Amazon or other retailers and before you know it, the real terror scrolling kicks in! I’ve nearly melted my credit card (virtually) from the purchases I’ve made of stuff that I probably don’t need. It was momentarily distracting, and honestly kinda fun. I get to look forward to those purchases to arriving at the house. Maybe they’re something to make the house cooler. Or a new planter for the living room. Or that cool keyboard with the light up keys I didn’t need at all, but now I can justify because… ya know… I’m working from home 24/7 now.

I have to wonder how many retailers are adjusting to this new reality. Are they thinking about how customers are modifying their shopping habits to shop in short bursts of “feel better” terror scrolls? This is different than traditional impulse buying. Impulse buys are purchases we don’t really think much about before/during/after the purchase. Terror scrolling are purchases I go into really considering (even though I probably don’t know what I want), feeling really connected to while I’m shopping, and having high expectations for satisfaction beyond the product purchase itself.

And the crazy thing about these purchases is that I’m probably not that upset about the spend. After all, where else am I putting my money? I’m not eating out, I’m not going out, I’m not driving anywhere… why not terror scroll? It makes me feel better, and I’m not blowing $100 on a dinner out.

Does this apply just to retailers? Nope.

This applies to anyone who has a product or project, virtual or physical and is looking to engage an audience. Consider:

  • How can you break your experience down into smaller, more rapid engagement chunks? As people take these smaller breaks, how can you engage them more quickly and for shorter periods? 5 minute registration process? Screw that noise. Make it faster for me to get that dopamine hit.
  • How can you give the customer a sense of comfort and satisfaction through their engagement? What’s that hit of dopamine to the brain that comes from engaging with you?
  • What are you doing to help them pass this good feeling onto others? Right now we all way to do good and give back. How are you helping to make that happen?

This strip was inspired by how easily I find myself slipping into “retail therapy mode” when I get bored. It doesn’t help that I’ve been doing a small/mid-sized renovation to my new house I’m moving into this week… but even still. When my daughter said she wanted to start riding bikes in the evenings, I was totally in! And before I realized it, I had a new bike rack, new helmet, new water bottles, and new tire tubes en route to the house. (Well the last one was necessary since my tire was irreparably flat, but the others… )

It was so easy to do. It was a lot more fun to scroll Amazon’s bike search results than CNN’s new stories. The only terror was to my wallet.