City University of New York, USA
In a simple, material sense, shopping occupies a “downstream” position in the commodity chain where products, after being grown or manufactured, are “distributed” to consumers. But nothing about distribution is simple. The scale of global sourcing and overseas production gives rise to a complex logistics of long-distance freight transportation that brings goods to distribution hubs, warehouses, and stores, and sometimes directly to homes. Moreover, the geographical dispersal of housing in suburbs, exurbs, and rural locales, has led to dependence on a huge infrastructure of goods and services centered on individual ownership of automobiles, so shoppers can transport themselves to brick-and-mortar stores to select and pick up their purchases. Internet shopping does not reduce dependence on energy-intensive means of distribution, for goods are still transported by airplanes and trucks, and the selection of goods – as well as the coordination of their manufacture – requires a vast electronic infrastructure of mobile devices, computers, and data centers.
At the same time, the middle stages of the commodity chain involve producers' efforts, usually through cultural intermediaries, to influence shoppers' choices. Shopping may begin with either a concrete need or a vague desire, but it passes through reading of advertisements, magazine articles, product reviews, consumers' guides, and retailers' ...