ASOS is a leader in the world of e-commerce as far as young female shoppers go; like the fun little sister to Net-A-Porter, the site is trendy, cheap(ish) and on the pulse, and has a global community of dedicated shoppers buying from its worldwide wardrobe (with free delivery!).
The company reported a 41% rise in profits in the year to March 31, 2011, and is on track to achieve a whopping £1bn of sales by 2015. Seemingly untroubled by global financial conditions, it lives in a fashiony bubble buoyed by consumers – many who are Australians gravitating to its alluring offering – and fashion bloggers who happily sport the site's pretty banners (it's a win/win: a banner gives a site online street-cred as well as small financial kick-backs, while ASOS benefits from the affiliated fashion bloggers' followings).
The site's colourful, celebrity-savvy homepage features a pointer to a ASOS Marketplace fundraiser for British pop-star Cheryl Cole's Foundation, as well as links through to its magazine (its 'Soul Issue' cover girl is Zoe Kravitz), 'Fashion Finder' (where followers post images of self-styled outfits) and catch up on trends, and community of bloggers. It's simple, spacious, and luring retail dollars away from the physical high street, boutique owners and over-stretched bank accounts across the globe.
'Confessions of an ASOS Queue Jumper', run by the site through Facebook (though not officially affiliated with Facebook, the ASOS page has 800,000+ likes) is tied into its exclusive summer sale. The copy reads: "Sometimes, you have to sin to win...These ASOS Addicts 'fesed up exactly what they'd do to get to the front of the ASOS Sale queue, and shared their sin on Facebook or Twitter. By doing so they earned extra points PLUS £250 to spend on ASOS!"
Some of the entries are really clever.
Arguably one of the modern girl's most challenging afflictions, it's a shame shopping need always be associated with sin and addiction (with ASOS acting as the devil's advocate, luring pretty ladies down the rabbit hole) instead of the joy of a material blessing.* While some spendthrifty women will "fantasy shop" away the hours on sites such as ASOS (the sartorial equivalent of Angry Birds), a quite acceptable modern pastime, clearly more still are coughing up cash to be a part of the colourful online web/Facebook/Twitter/magazine/marketplace commercial monster mash.
Today's GWAS question: when is shopping not a "sin"? Is online shopping distracting us from more important things (like the plight of asylum seekers and refugees)? And do sites like ASOS create apathy by making the online shopping experience so darn easy and pleasurable?
*(Long-winded) caveat emptor, younger Christian readers: please don't stumble over this and start chanting, "I can shop to my heart's content! GWAS says it's a blessing!" It has taken me years to shake off my spend-happy ways in favour of an attitude more commensurate with Biblical standards, and I have a more than adequate wardrobe to draw on each day that gets occasional updates (and regular turning over by way of the local bargain centre and Swap Parties). The less I shop, the less I think about shopping, the less I want to: for me, this is both a mark of maturity and necessity.
God is not a party pooper: He knows the longings of your heart. But He also knows what's best for you. My personal rule of thumb goes like this: God provides what I need, not what I want, and sometimes that includes new things, but often it will be a blessing through someone else (remember Pollyanna's Aunt Polly buying her first "store-bought!" clothes? How deep was her satisfaction then; a gratifying shopping experience if ever there was one!). It could be at a Swap Party, or a gift from a friend, or even a freebie attached to a magazine.
God is more concerned with cultivating a good heart than a good wardrobe ("Don't be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes": 1 Peter 3:3) and those who obey Him rather than act on their own whims. If I feel that sickly, stomach-churning, Spirit-wrestling feeling about a purchase, I exert some self-control... and put it on lay-by until I've had time to properly consult God. Oftentimes I will see another girl's outfit and think, "To the shops I go!", but we are told not to covet our neighbours' belongings. Other times I will be in an emotional slump and think, "A shiny new thing would perk me up!", and then I remember Psalm 16 ("In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever") and John 17 ("I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly"). My Lord more than adequately satiates my soul.
If the Spirit leads me into a local boutique, and gives me a nudge and a peace about buying a nice little thing, then so be it (though we should be careful not to make him a scapegoat!). But, above all, Jesus' prayer to the Lord ("Lead me not into temptation"), his command to love God above anything else, and the gentle prayer, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" (Acts 9:6) is a foolproof approach to consumerism. How do I reconcile having fashion advertisers and talking about fashion magazines? By striving to show my love for Christ above these ephemeral things.
"Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:28)
Girl With a Satchel