Add to Cart

These are some screenshots of the conversations I had recently.

It seems that more and more people are turning towards online shopping. This comes as no surprise, considering the greater convenience, ease, and plethora of options available online. A few clicks on our mobile phones and parcels get delivered straight to our doorsteps.

Hello friends! Welcome back! 😊 Along with advancements in technology, people have found a new way of shopping – online. And it is a booming industry; between the myriad of online shopping platforms available in Singapore, e-commerce has garnered about SGD$10 billion in 2018.

So, how bad is online shopping on the environment?

Well, online shopping generates significantly more packaging waste than physical shopping. Products are often shipped to consumers covered in layers after layers of plastic or protective wrapping, then finally in a large cardboard box to prevent mechanical damage. The bubble wrap or packing peanuts that could have been spared of the product was picked up in a store adds up, resulting in heaps of largely non-biodegradable packaging waste.

Another way online shopping lead to higher environmental impact is that more people return products bought online. In a physical apparel store, for example, buyers get to try the article of clothing in different sizes and colours before deciding which one to get. Online retailers that are unable to provide this service instead allow consumers to order more clothing for them to try on at home, then send back the ones they do not want, which increases carbon emissions. Additionally, not all the unwanted clothes that are sent back are resold; they are thrown away although they were barely worn.

And tactics by e-commerce platforms are adding fuel to the fire.

Online sellers use many methods to encourage impulse buying among consumers, such as offering discounts and free shipping above a certain amount. Impulse buying may lead to unnecessary consumerism that creates a larger impact on the environment.

One main tactic used that leads to impulse buying is when buyers realise that there is limited stock, prompting them to purchase the product immediately. E-commerce platforms often have an indication of the current demand of their products, either in the form of “XX pieces left” or “XX number of people are looking at this item now”. This often makes the buyer feel that they should quickly purchase the product before it runs out of stock.

Indication of current demand for products. Photo credits (from top down): Etsy, AliExpress, Shopee

But are there only 5 pieces left? Well, maybe, but most probably not.



Upon further inspection of the website, I found that the phrase ‘5 piece available’ is hardcoded into the page, meaning that it was manually typed into the page, and not actual real-time data from the warehouse or inventory that keeps track of how many pieces are left. I found this in other stores too.

Photo credits: Etsy

While it may be entirely possible that a worker manually changes the value each time the item is ordered or each time someone adds the item into their cart, I highly doubt it.

So, next time you’re on an online shopping platform, you can use this trick too!


Alicia 😊

5 thoughts on “Add to Cart

  1. Hi Alicia, this is a really interesting post! I wasn’t aware that sellers can use such tactics to illicit a sense of urgency in buyers. While I think that hardcoding the stock value can help some buyers gauge how many items are remaining and make more informed purchases, I can’t help but feel a little cheated after seeing how easily it can be altered to display false stock numbers. Do you think that setting false stock numbers is ethical and are there any ways to ensure that sellers are displaying the true values of their available stocks? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    1. Hi Sarah-Ann! Thank you for reading my post! I do not think that setting false stock numbers are ethical as it is in a sense ‘deceiving’ customers to having a false perception that the product will soon go out of stock and urge them to purchase the product immediately without considering carefully if they really need it at the present moment. And this is only one of the many methods retailers use to drive up sales, not only online but physical retailers too (e.g. placing cheap/ discounted items at the checkout line, so when consumers are waiting to pay, they might look through the products and decide to buy it). While there are no regulations currently, the best thing consumers can do now is to inspect the website if they want to see if the stock numbers are live data or not. While I am no expert, live data should have a function encoded in the website to display the data instead of a hardcoded phrase, so consumers can look out for that!

  2. Alicia,

    Your blog is an outstanding exemplar for this class. This post totally shocked me because I have fallen for this BS too. And you decided to look at the coding. So clever.

    Something that occurs to me…

    And perhaps you’ve thought of this…

    The ongoing pandemic – I mean, it’s inescapable – it’s already having a very positive effect on online shopping and making people like Jack Ma and Jeff Bezos (and all the Alibaba & Amazon shareholders) even wealthier than they already are.

    So… here we have a public health crisis borne directly out of the environmental crisis exacerbating one aspect of the environmental crisis, I guess.

    Not that I think you can answer this, but what’s the REAL way out of this vortex ?


    1. Hi Dr Coleman! I’m assuming by vortex you are referring to how the effects of one aspect of the environmental crisis can further worsen the other aspects. I think finding the real way out is a problem that has stumped many environmental scientists and politicians worldwide, as there is no one straightforward solution to the environmental crisis that we face today. The different aspects of the environmental crises are tightly intertwined together, eg. how deforestation can worsen climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. And since all these problems affect each other, even trying to solve one might worsen another eg. Rayzels blog about how trying to create sustainable wind energy might lead to loss of biodiversity. Ultimately, I think we can try to alleviate this never-ending pattern of environmental crises exacerbating the effects of each other by starting at one of the root causes of the environmental crises – overuse/ overharvest of natural resources. Maybe with the reduced demand for resources like land and fossil fuels, the effects can be reduced and the environmental crisis will not spiral out of control. However, this has proven difficult as this requires huge changes to the mindsets of people and policies.

      1. Thanks for your reply, Alicia !

        You know, my MSc discipline is, officially, renewable resources.

        Lately, I’ve come to ask myself if the word ‘resources’ is, in and of itself, detrimental to conservation when used as a descriptor of Nature. For that matter, why do we use the term “human resources” ?

        Meaning, does our language need to shift as well ?

        No need to answer… just looking at your reply, noting the use of “natural resources”, which I say all the time to, and thinking…

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