The Paradox of Crossing Borders in a Border-Less World


Diana Storm (2001) ,"The Paradox of Crossing Borders in a Border-Less World", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 253-259.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 253-259


Diana Storm, SDU Odense University, Denmark


It is a prevalent assumption within the field of consumer research that the conversion of the Internet into a global consumption venue works as a catalyst for profound changes in consumer behavior and experiences (Shih, 1998; Turkle, 1995; Venkatesh, 1998; Negroponte, 1997). Also widespread is an idealized notion of the Internet as a marketspace in which the consumer encounters almost no restrictions in quantity or quality of information and in which she is provided with search tools accompanied by few, if any, search costs (Sampler & Hamel, 1998). In this ideal scenario, consumers can shop for all types of information, products, and experiences at any time of the day, anywhere in the world B ostensibly a truly global, border-less enterprise. This paper investigates consumer experiences of this recent and seemingly revolutionary form of shopping across borders: shopping via the Internet.

Recent years’ interest in cybermarketscapes as places where consumers and electronic markets come together has fostered studies of topics such as decision-making in online settings (HSubl,1999), web-browsing behavior (Raman, 1997), the creation of personal web-sites (Zinkhan, Conchar, Gupta & Geisler, 1999), interaction in Internet newsgroups (Sheldon, 1999), and the influence of personal and situational factors on online behavior (Sherman, Schiffman & McMellon, 1997). Also, important contributions have been made to the study of consumer navigation behavior (Hoffman & Novak, 1996), to the understanding of consumer experiences and perspectives in relation to technological products (Mick & Fournier, 1998), and to the discussion of consumer identity in cyberspace (Venkatesh, 1998; Turkle, 1997).

While these studies are concerned with consumer experiences of technology and different aspects of online consumer behavior in general, few studies have been attentive specifically to the experiential aspects of Internet shopping. Therefore, the empirical study on which this paper is based takes a penomenological approach to the venture of unpacking lived consumer experiences, meanings and perspectives of online shopping. It is interested in consumer perspectives of the Internet as a space for gathering product information as well as for purchasing products, and it is occupied with the experiences of the more overall atmosphere or ambience of the Internet as a servicescape (Sherry, 1998).

From among the findings of this empirical study of online shopping, the present paper focuses on a selected set of analytical ideas that deal with the interplay between the multitude of expected and lived experiences that were brought up in consumer depth interviews. In general, it reports of the existence of a number of paradoxes of Internet shopping from a consumer perspective and looks at ways of coping with these paradoxes (Mick & Fournier, 1998). As an illustrative example, it focuses on consumers’ experiences of being involved in a global cybermarketscape that facilitates shopping anywhere, in principle, yet for a range of products encourages a local purchasing strategy. A critical approach is taken to the prophecies of cyber revolution often publicized, and it is argued that consumers engage in a self-imposed construction of borders concerning appropriate and inappropriate shopping sites, also based on geographic criteria. In other words, we embark on an explorative journey into consumer encounters with paradoxes of technology (Mick & Fournier, 1998), such as constructing and crossing invisible borders in a context where borders are commonly assumed to be non-existent.


As generally acknowledged, shopping experiences can be seen as complex formations that have numerous aspects to them and come into being in a dynamic interplay between a number of influential factors, such as personal taste, interest or experience, cultural tendencies, social circumstances, etc. (Falk, 1997; Miller, 1998). Obviously, this is also the case with regard to shopping in online environments. Nonetheless, some of the elements involved in and contributing to shopping experiences are perhaps even more interesting in an online context, at least as long as Internet shopping is relatively new to consumers. Here, only a few of these relevant aspects of the shopping experience will be emphasized. Figure One roughly maps out these aspects.

Clearly, these aspects are taken out at a composite experiential whole, and the distinctions made between them are entirely analytical. This is not least the case with respect to the two closely interrelated aspects of shopping experiences to which we turn first; expected and lived experience. Expected experience refers to those expectations that consumers hold about the qualities and consequences of Internet shopping, while the term lived experience covers interview participants’ descriptions of their actual encounters and experiences. Both of these are interconnected with the idealized, mythological conception of online shopping prevalent in e.g. the literature on e-commerce. And, both of these experiential aspects are examined from a perspective of action (Wallendorf & Arnould, 1994), that is, the interview data elicits value-laden information about participants’ perspectives and behavior, but does not necessarily mirror naturally occurring behavior.

On the backdrop of the discussion of expected and lived experience, an exploration of paradoxical undercurrents in the experiences and meanings of online shopping ensues, with a special focus on the paradox pair global/local. The paper closes with a brief discussion of two issues of vital importance to future research on the subject: coping strategies and influential factors.

Expected Experience

The development of the Internet into a commercial sphere (Stefik, 1996) has triggered a plethora of writings about the character and significance of e-commerce (Maroney, 1997; Ellsworth & Ellsworth, 1996; Schaffnit, Mehta & Thompson, 1998; Klein & Quelch, 1996; McCune, 1998; Stanners, Huang & Leong, 1998; Sampler & Hamel, 1998; Kandiah & Gossain, 1998; Deighton, 1996; Hoffman & Novak, 1996; Rafaeli & Newhagen, 1996). The literature on e-commerce holds a number of assumptions about online shopping. Often, the basic belief is that the Internet empowers the consumer in the shopping process and seemingly challenges traditional understandings of the power relations of the marketplace. Most commonly, the Internet as a market and medium for commerce is described as:

+ Interactive, engaging

+ Facilitating dialogue (or two-way communication)

+ Providing easy access to information, services and products

+ Reducing search costs

And consequently as:

+ Making possible comparison shopping

+ Allowing the consumer to take unprecedented control of the exchange of information between marketers and consumers

In this perspective, the consumer is typically seen as a "rational" being who wants "convenience, speed, comparability, [low] price, and service" (Sampler & Hamel, 1998, p.54)", and of course "choice, freedom, and control" when interacting with the marketer (Sampler & Hamel, 1998, p.54). The following is a striking example of this mainstream view of consumers as "smart shoppers" (Mano & Elliott, 1997) in the new" world of Internet marketing:

No more holding people hostage through 30-second commercials. No more hype. No more ignorant customers. No more local monopolies. No more search costs. No more Get in your car and come to us. Consumers everywhere, stand up and cheer! (Sampler & Hamel, 1998, p.63)

It is noticeable that an underlying assumption of this type of conventional thinking seems to be that consumers act completely "rationally" in online environments. Hence the consumer is seen as a stereotypical "economic man" exclusively seeking to maximize utility in a traditional sense; as opposed to pursuing emotional, hedonistic, or transcendental experiences in consumption (Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982; Sherry, Wallendorf & Belk, 1989). In this perspective, online shopping is reduced to simple order entry and web pages to catalogues (Douglas, 1998). It is questionable if a (hypothetical) change in shopping setting from the "real" to the virtual justifies such a reductionist view of the consumer. Nevertheless, such assumptions are considered important to the present research endeavor precisely because they are extremely conventional and hence inform consumers’ as well as consumer researchers’ overall ways of thinking about and experiencing the phenomenon.


Examples of how consumers’ expectations, and to a certain degree experiences, of Internet shopping mirror the above assumptions are abundant in the interviews, for instance in regard to convenience, price comparison, or shopping behavior. Convenience, for example, stands out in participants’ description of their expectations (and to some degree experiences) of online shopping, in part because of the sheer number of references to the term, in part because of the many uses to which the term is put. Here are a few examples:

"It’s so easy on the computer. You just push a button and it’s done." (Anne, female, 28 years)

"It’s a matter of saving time, not having to wait in line and that kind of thing." (John, male, 30 years)

"It is so easy B it’s a relief." (Marianne, female, 27 years)

Convenience is used, for example, to refer to easy access to a wide selection of products and product information, to save time by being able to shop at home or at work, and to be able to shop at any time convenient to the individual. In other contexts, the term encompasses the ability to retrieve "objective" information (- objective in the sense that it is often not mediated by someone with an obvious interest in "making a sale") or to search for information and products on "one’s own terms" (e.g. by comparison shopping without having to visit different stores, or even different web sites):

"There are several web sites that allow you to compare prices directly. For instance, as regards hardware, it is basically the same things you buy, only in different stores. So, it’s cool that someone took the trouble and listed it on a single page You can see: "how much is 32 megabyte RAM?" And it’s the same quality, so you might as well get the lowest-priced product." (Kenneth, male, 30 years)

In turn, these characteristics are believed to enable the consumer to make better-informed decisions, act more rationally, and to offer consumer freedom and control:

"I shop more rationally. When I shop at an ordinary store, I always buy candy and unnecessary stuff. But when I’m in front of the screen, I only buy what I had planned. Often I’ll buy at the lowest price; that is, I’ll get the largest packet and things like that. Because I don’t have to think about bringing it home myself. So I probably buy more rationally than I do when I go into an ordinary store." (Thomas, male, 33 years)

Interestingly, participants tend to describe the promises of consumer freedom and new opportunities chiefly as freedom from the hassles of "real life" shopping, such as the tediousness of everyday purchases, the annoyance of waiting in line, having to deal with shop assistants, not being able to find a specific product, or giving way to impulse purchasing:

"Impulse buying is usually something like: seeing, touching, and then bringing the product home. Here [online], you can only see, and then wait. And, I think that you’re more likely to consider your decision once more, when you’re entering your credit card information on a web page. You cannot completely block out the security issue from your decision. Also, this is new to you, it is not something that you do every day, whereas using your Dankort [Danish debit card] elsewhere is no problem. No one worries about that. So, usually if you’ve decided that you’re going to get something, you’ll just pay and then leave. But if you’re online, you’ve got time to think, because you have to go and get you credit card and then you have: "click here", "click to confirm", and "we promise".., "please read these terms and conditions", and so on and so forth. Clearly, that stops you from making impulse purchases that usually go simply from eye to basket." (David, male, 24 years)

In contrast to elementary qualities such as convenience or access to a wider selection of products and services, the literature on the subject often emphasizes perhaps less conspicuous advantages such as the possibility to control the flow of information, for instance, or ordering products configured to individual requirements (Sampler & Hamel, 1998).

As mentioned to begin with, expected and lived experiences are tightly interrelated and difficult to distinguish from each other. This is illustrated by the fact that some of the previous examples are described by participants almost as if they were actual experiences, yet many of them are hypothetical, and hence reflect expectations. This suggests that such expectations will have a great impact on later online shopping experiences, which in turn will affect future expectations and so on. That consumers are knowledgeable of these dynamics and aware that their experiences will not always match their expectations is among the matters examined in the following section in which we B despite the indistinguishable character of the two aspects of experience studied here B address aspects of lived experience.

Lived experience

Trying to capture the essence of how online shopping is experienced demonstrates that the phenomenon is indeed complex and multi-faceted in character. On a basic note, the novelty of shopping in virtual environments feeds into a number of problems and insecurities, associated with feelings of unfamiliarity and insecurity, lack of confidence, disappointment, and sometimes dissociation. Also fundamental is participants’ emphasis on the feeling of a social dimension which is strongly associated with "real life" shopping experiences, but is believed to be "lost" or missing" online:

"You will never have the same I mean, if you shop often in a particular store, it is usually a nice and fun place to be. You can’t have that feeling on the Internet." (Marianne, female, 27 years)

"There’s no personal contact here. It’s not like you feel that you enter a store that somebody created." (Anne, female, 28 years)

"I think that what’s missing is personal service. Of course you don’t get that. That service can be poor as well if you go other ["real"] places But you really miss that B the "human-ness" which somehow disappears." (Christian, male, 26 years)

Mentioned as missing is not merely the visceral experiences of e.g. seeing or touching, but also social aspects such as going shopping with a friend, meeting people from the neighborhood, talking to and being assisted by a shop assistant, or simply meeting different types of people than you do in other spheres of your life. This resonates with Campbell and Falk’s (Falk, 1997) observation that consumers engage in several different types of activities while shopping. In case that some of these activities are believed not to be reproducible in virtual settings, they can contribute to an incipient understanding of why online shopping is far from regarded a perfect substitute for "real life" shopping. Along this line of reasoning, some participants feel that when they shop online, they miss out on the personal service and the immediate satisfaction of buying the product, bringing it home, being able to try it out/on right away, etc. It is thus very much the "feel" of the experience which differentiates "real life" from virtual shopping; a physicality and a sense of being present in the moment, of being "here" rather than "there".

A poitive side to the feeling of a missing social dimension (and the accompanying fear of isolation and alienation) is B as touched upon earlier B that it is simultaneously seen as a freedom from the nuisances of everyday, "real life" shopping. For instance, a few participants suggest that the advantages to be gained from Internet shopping B such as not having to go to a crowded shopping street, not having to waiting in line, or being able to look forward to receiving a particular product B by far outweigh what is missed by not shopping at traditional retail channels. Furthermore, the interviews offer many examples of alternative social, recreational, and fun aspects involved in Internet shopping. For instance, Charlotte, a 27-year-old female, describes how in "real life" she and her friends joke about products found on the Internet and how they order clothes, and then get together in real life to try them on, having a lot of fun with this:

"I think it’s really cool that you receive the clothes at home, and then you can try it on, and just return what you don’t want. I’ve just ordered clothes from the fall selection [at a special store], and I think it’s kind of nice to wait for it to arrive. Usually I order with some friends, and we meet to try on the outfits. It ends up in fun and games, and we can’t remember who ordered what. It’s fun." (Charlotte, female, 27 years)

Yet others remark that the Internet is best used as an easy way to shop for the "boring" everyday things B in turn leaving more time for fun, "real life" shopping. These reactions indicate that there are different types of strategies for dealing with the experience of the online environment as a fundamentally different way of shopping.

Also as a different, and distinctive, characteristic participants stress the engaging capacity of the Internet; its invitation to non-rationality in the form of surfing without a specific goal, or letting oneself be "drawn with the stream". In these cases, the Internet is experienced as possessing an addictive and seductive quality (or power) which threatens to prevent the individual from being a "rational" consumer, and instead seduces her, leaving her a "slave to technology and marketing".

Despite of this potential for facilitating flow experiences (Hoffman & Novak, 1996; Hoffman, Novak & Yung, 1999), participants tend to see online shopping as less entertaining, recreational, leisurely, and fun, and often espouse the view that shopping on the Internet should B and does B differ from other ways of shopping:

"The sort of instant joy you sometimes feel when you go shopping disappears. Unless you sit at home, just waiting for those three CDs which are supposed to arrive on Tuesday. So unless it is something very special You can go shopping, just because you feel like buying something. Or at least that’s how I feel. And that feeling, that joy, cannot really be restored on the Net." (Marianne, female, 27 years)

"It would be trying to construct the Internet as if it was real, as if it was the real world, and it is not. When you use the Internet for something like this [shopping], you have to make things which are special, so you know that this is different from going to a ["real"] store." (Anne, female, 28 years)

Again, we hear echoes of "common knowledge" of e.g. the trade press, espousing the view that shopping on the Internet should differentiate itself by identifying and taking advantage of the unique capabilities and opportunities offered by the technology, instead of imitating real life shopping, from which it is believed to be fundamentally different.

Participants’ experiences of Internet shopping as a little more difficult, bothersome, and less fun seem to instigate a requirement for "digital value", a concept introduced by one of the participants:

"There has to be some benefit in it for you. It does not have to be money. It can be saving time or maybe that it’s a cool search engine, or that you find the best solution. But there has to be some benefit. I’m not the type of person who would use the Internet out of principle or because I think it’s fun. There should be digital value B added value that I get for using the Internet instead of going somewhere else". (John, male, 30 years)

This concept of "digital value" in many ways captures a shared notion that the advantageous aspects of online shopping should at least equal the experienced trouble and risk associated with shopping on the Internet. It should be emphasized that there is much subtlety and complexity to participants’ individual experiences of shopping in online environments and their interpretations of "digital value". Still, it remains a conservative standpoint to see consumers as making comparisons and decisions (although individual, implicit, and not necessarily rational) on the backdrop of perceived risk and difficulty on the one hand, and perceived value or benefit on the other hand. As we have already seen, however, it is also a view that is grounded in participants’ description of their expected and lived experiences of the Internet as allowing them to act more "rationally" and "efficiently". Here is another example:

"Somehow it feels more rational, because you are not distracted by music and things like that what you see and so on. So you are very goal-directed B you have to get that CD. You don’t look for others, and don’t make impulse purchases when you just happen to walk by today’s special offers. It’s very much a question about getting what you surfed for and then getting out of there." (Charlotte, female, 27 years)

Another participant described his use of the Internet as having "moved from surfing to tasking"; an expression that also entails the feeling of being able to behave more rationally and more goal-directed. Very much in line with this, several other participants characterize themselves as "poor surfers", who dislike surfing the Internet (using it in a non-directed, time-passing manner), and prefer to pursue tasks systematically and effectively. Add to this the idea encountered earlier that the Internet provides the individual with the opportunity for making better informed decisions and thus promises to turn her into a more competent and, some say, more critical consumer. And that participants feel more rational and in control, preferring to see the Internet as a tool for problem solving and the pursuit of specific goals. The result is a recurrent theme of rationality and control which in turn may be interrelated with the "missing" social, physical, and spatial dimensions of online shopping, including such factors as the visceral "temptations" inherent in "real life" shopping experiences or the persuasive "power" of a sales person. It is easy to recognize participants’ focus on rationality and control as a reflection of the long-standing western cultural view of humans as rational and logical beings (Howard, 1991). And once again, as mirroring the contemporary (mythological) understanding of the Internet as an interactive and empowering technology that brings the market closer to the ideal, free market pertaining to a capitalistic mindset.

Participants also point out, nevertheless, that being rational and in control is an ideal for them, and that such ideals do not always reflect their lived experiences of at shopping on the Internet is like:

"If they had to send something to me, and I had to pay shipping costs anyway, I might as well buy two more [books], and not buy anything the following month. But that is not the way it works [laughs] So in reality you just tell yourself that it is going to save you money" (Anne, female, 28 years)

So, while participants wish to B and some times do B feel more rational and in control in virtual environments, being in front of a computer screen in itself does not necessarily mean that this is the case (Nass, Moon, Morkes, Kim & Fogg, 1997; Reeves & Nass, 1996). As an instance to the contrary, participants talk about the "temptation" to buy that they encounter in personalized book recommendations and search-related book suggestions such as those employed by In addition, they comment on how "excuses" for impulse buying persist regardless of the retail form, as in the typical case of buying something extra when you get a good deal on the item you planned to buy. Similarly, participants provide rich examples of how the Internet may spur purchases that would alternatively not have been made at all. One such instance is that of a participant who reportedly had not bought music CD’s for several years:

"I buy other things here than I do elsewhere. For example, I discovered Boxman [] which sells CDs. And I had not bought music CDs for years, because you don’t always have time for things like that. But now I have started again, because I can sit at home at night and take a look at the selections and things like that. And often, I will order something." (Thomas, male, 33 years)

Here, the convenience of being able to shop from home and at late hours paved the way for renewed interest in a particular product category.

Although consumers, as we have just seen, are by no means unaware or naive about the possible differences between their expected and lived experiences in regard to Internet shopping, it does not change the fact that they hold particular expectations, or that these expectations play an important role to lived experiences of Internet shopping. It is in the light of these interchanges between different aspects of consumer experience that, for instance, the co-existence of the notion of the rational, controlling, and efficient consumer empowered by the interactive, non-physical, transparent market with the experience of non-rationality in the form of surfing without a goal, or being "drawn with the stream", should be seen. In sum, the paradoxical undercurrents of Internet shopping experiences that were brought up in the beginning of this paper have started to surface during the preceding discussion. The next section will attempt to create a framework for interpreting these paradoxes of Internet shopping.


So far we have found that there is a dynamic linkage between "common knowledge" about the Internet, consumer expectations, and lived experience. Moreover, we have been occupied with the idea that while sometimes these facets can be almost identical counterparts, they can equally well be widely divergent. Such differences and similarities can be identified not only between aspects (e.g. between expected and lived experience), but also within each aspect (e.g. between types of lived experience). The last-mentioned type of cases, where differences, and even oppositions, are found within each experiential aspect, are central to the present analytical context, because they testify to the existence of paradoxical undercurrents in the experiences and meanings of online shopping. Interestingly, the experiential paradoxes found here are very similar to those identified by Mick & Fournier (1998) in their study of consumer relations with a range of different technological products. They propose that "a paradox maintains that something is both X and not-X at the same time" and argue that "when something is paradoxical, the saliences of the antithetical conditions are likely to constantly shift, probably due to situational factors, evoking the sensation of a teeter-totter, bobbing up and down between contrary feelings or opinions" (Mick & Fournier, 1998, p.125, their emphasis). In their specific framework eight central paradoxes are classified: control/chaos, freedom/enslavement, new/obsolete, competence/incompetence, efficiency/inefficiency, fulfills/creates needs, assimilation/isolation, and engaging/disengaging (Mick & Fournier, 1998, p.126).

Although there is of course variance in the degree to which specific situations and types of online shopping will reflect different paradoxes, analysis of the interview data clearly indicates that these underlying paradoxical qualities are relevant to online shopping in general. This paper’s interest in cross-border shopping calls for a more specific focus on consumer expectations and experiences related to the possibility for global shopping that e-commerce seems to promise. Indeed, several examples in the interview data provide vivid illustration of how online shopping bear the stamp of paradoxical undertones with regard to being both global and "not-global"/local at the same time. Since the paradoxical undertones o the co-existing notions of global and local are intertwined with a number of the paradoxes identified by Mick & Fournier, however, we will include a few of these in the discussion as well.

To begin with, the global character of the Internet is seen as enabling the individual to accomplish and experience things otherwise not possible, for instance by providing access to information or products that are rare or inaccessible in certain geographical areas:

"I’ve mostly used it [online shopping] in connection with things that I knew would be hard to find in this country [in Denmark]. So, of course I think that it’s fantastic that suddenly I have bought it on the Internet: "cool, now I’ve got that, I wonder when it’ll be in the stores@@ (Christian, male, 26 years)

Being part of a worldwide shopping network thus evokes two other paradox pairs: competence/incompetence and control/chaos. The Internet is believed to make the market completely transparent to the consumer by making information, and thereby control, freely and globally available to the consumer. The resulting potential for finding and managing information, services, or products otherwise unattainable or ascribed special meanings brings about feelings of competence and control:

"Last year, when we were going on vacation in Italy, we used the Internet for road directions and for finding lodging. I found an inexpensive apartment. I had no idea what kind of place it would be, but I figured that if it was really bad, we could just find something else once we got there. When we did, it turned out that it was a brand new place, it was big and had all the amenities you could ask for. It was the kind of place that would have been really expensive to get if you had rented it through a travel agency. Of course, I was really proud. And when you feel like that, you tell others about it. I brought pictures to show everybody at work and everything. So maybe you feel differently if you have made a good deal on the Internet. I think it makes you feel proud of it and makes you want to tell others about it You could probably get something like this in other ways. But it is different that you search for yourself and find what you want, and can make a deal with them. I like that." (Claus, male, 50 years)

Simultaneously, of course, it upsets and disorders the familiar market mechanisms and ways of informing yourself about the market, by expanding the possibilities and tasks involved in doing so immensely (creates chaos). Consequently, it can also leave the individual with a feeling (or fear) of incompetence and chaos, in case she fails in her pursuit:

" But also like all sorts of different stores, well for us it has been mostly record stores, in the US for example, where you can buy CDs that you can’t get n Denmark, and things like that. I just think: "no, I’ve got no idea who this is, and I’m just sending them all this information" and: "what if they’re never going to send me anything, but just withdraw the money from my account". Then there’s nothing I can do about it." (Anne, female, 28 years)

In turn, this last issue feeds directly into the paradox of efficiency/inefficiency. Here, the ideal associated with the Internet is that of a transparent, efficient, and global market, which enables the consumer to make better informed decisions, but where lived experience at the same time entails an inherent threat to inflate the market to the point of confusion, chaos, and inefficiency.

It was mentioned early on that part of the Internet’s globalizing potential resides in freeing the individual from physical constraints; in offering freedom to shop anywhere, any time, and without quite a few of the hassles usually associated with "real life" shopping. At the same time, however, we have noted that participants feared the addictive or enslaving qualities of the very "freedom" thus granted. On the one hand, they were anxious that they would be addicted to Internet shopping (and surfing), and on the other hand, they were concerned about having to learn, and adapt to, the (in the beginning seemingly uncontrollable, chaotic, and enslaving) workings of a new market system. In other words, these tensions tie into another set of oppositions within consumer experience of Internet shopping: freedom/enslavement. Consumers are not only free to be global shoppers; they might feel obligated or enslaved to be so. At least, they have to develop ways of making sense of and dealing with the expansion of shopping possibilities that has accompanied the commercialization of the Internet.

In total the character of Internet shopping gives rise to a set of experiential opposites that can be captured under the heading "global/local". This paradox pair relates to a series of other paradoxes in consumer experiences of online shopping, among them the eight pairs identified by Mick & Fournier (1998). Next, the existence of related paradoxes such as competence/ incompetence, control/chaos, freedom/enslavement, and efficiency/inefficiency suggests that the freedom and control usually expected to go along with online shopping are far from unequivocal. On the contrary, it would seem that there are limits to the degree of increased ability, scope, and possibility that consumers are interested in or capable of managing B at least in the beginning phases where the new possibilities are highly likely to be equaled by insecurity and anxiety. Thus, the prophecies of consumer revolution in cyberspace often espoused are considered somewhat exaggerated in the present context.

From here, it is time to move along to a discussion of the type of reactions and strategies that consumers make use of in order to make sense of their online experiences. This is where the construction of individual barriers for shopping comes into play.


It is noticeable that the paradoxes encountered by consumers for the most part are not described as problematic in the data material analyzed here. Rather, consumers seem to find it quite simple and natural to interpret and make sense of the co-existence of these oppositions by adopting different strategies for reducing the level of stress, insecurity and risk. Mick & Fournier (1998) term these approaches "coping strategies", and show that a series of different strategies exist and that consumers are capable of shifting between these depending on the situation. The scope of the present paper does not allow any thorough discussion of the wide range of coping strategies that consumers employ. In the context of the global/local discussion, however, it is relevant to consider the particular coping strategy that entails a self-imposed construction of borders concerning appropriate and inappropriate shopping sites:

"Last fall I bought an expensive bicycle. And I tried, just for the fun of it, to check it on the Internet. There’s a lot to save if you buy it abroad. If you buy it in Italy, you get it for half the price. I searched for information on the Net, but didn’t have the courage to buy it. It was not that I was unsure of the bicycle itself, because it was a well-known brand. But you give up your guarantee. It can give you a lot of trouble. I think it depends on how willing you are to take risks. If there’s some sort of problem, I prefer that there’s a person I can communicate with, complain to So I bought it here at full price." (John, male, 30 years)

This incident illustrates that the appreciation of being involved in a global cybermarketscape that facilitates shopping anywhere, in principle, does not automatically translate into actualization of such possibilities. In this case, it actually encourages a local purchasing strategy, based on geographic criteria:

"I’ve got no problem with buying a bicycle from the Netherlands, but I don’t want to pick it up at the post office. I want to get it from a small shop in [the local shopping street]. There should be a person there, someone I can talk to if there’s something wrong If I buy it in Luxembourg or the Netherlands doesn’t matter in itself, but he has to act the contact person and say: "I’m the one you can complain to" or "I’m the one who’ll help you adjust the saddle"." (John, male, 30 years)

Consequently, it appears that crossing B supposedly non-existing B geographical borders when shopping in a virtual environment can require a high degree of psychological border-crossing for some consumers and in some situations. This is clearly a case in which the ideals, expectations, and even the "actual" capacities related to the Internet as a marketspace turn out to be highly inconsistent with what is experienced as being within reach of the individual. In such instances, what we started ou by describing as a "seemingly revolutionary form of shopping across borders" indeed only seems to be so in principle B at least at the moment.


It is important to note that the experiential aspects of online shopping discussed here undoubtedly change over time, from one individual to another, from one situation to another, and so on. Accordingly, there are several crucial influential factors to be taken into consideration with regard to consumer shopping experiences on the web. These factors can be personal, situational, social or cultural, and hence can be extremely diverse.

Whether we look at personal factors that have to do with individual experience, interests, taste, involvement or time spend on the web, at situational factors such as type of product or purchase, or at cultural factors such as traditions or trends, they are all likely to be vital to both individual experiences and more general notions of Internet shopping. Or, as Mick & Fournier points out, "the saliences of the antithetical conditions are likely to constantly shift, probably due to situational factors, evoking the sensation of a teeter-totter, bobbing up and down between contrary feelings or opinions" (Mick & Fournier, 1998, p.125).

Likewise, Hoffman & Novak (1996) hypothesize that factors such as the period of time that the individual has had access to the Internet will influence consumer behavior in virtual settings, for instance the possibility of experiencing flow as an aspect of online shopping. Others have examined the influence of personal and situational characteristics on online behavior (Sherman, Schiffman & McMellon, 1997), and have found these to be crucial to our understanding of the phenomenon. Evidently, this is a research area that require continued attention, perhaps even more so as Internet shopping becomes more commonplace, less shrouded by myth and idealistic expectations, and less associated with risk and insecurity.


This paper set out on an explorative journey into consumer encounters with paradoxes of technology, and further into the particular case of constructing and crossing invisible borders in a context where borders are commonly assumed to be non-existent. As a result of the explorative intent of the paper, a range of findings have been presented, yet the analysis has far from been brought to a close. For instance, we could easily continue to find additional examples of co-existing and antithetical experiences and feelings, and to hypothesize about their internal relations and meanings. For now, however, the intention was merely to point out that paradoxical elements are common to Internet shopping and that the paradoxes found are numerous and tightly interwoven. Based on these considerations, a critical approach to the promises of cyber revolution often announced is advocated, and a continued focus on unpacking lived consumer experiences, meanings and perspectives of online shopping is encouraged.


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Diana Storm, SDU Odense University, Denmark


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001

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