How many times do you track your parcel until it arrives?
A year ago, I bought my first quarantine purchase online. Because we were under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) then, most shops were still finding their way around delivery logistics. My parcel took two weeks to arrive at my doorstep; and, during that waiting time, my eyes finally opened to the roller-coaster ride of tracking deliveries.
After that first package, many others followed. And at the height of my online shopping habit, I found myself constantly waiting for a parcel to arrive. Week after week, I’d either be online shopping, tracking a delivery, or waiting for a rider to call me for directions. Sometimes, these happened all at the same time.
For a while, I was convinced that what I had developed was an unhealthy obsession with shopping. But one day, a friend confessed to me — “I think I’m addicted to tracking my parcels.” Thus, the epiphany — maybe I was, too.
After that conversation, I asked around to see who else was irrationally obsessed with refreshing tracking pages. Many empathised with us. Apparently, most online shoppers tracked their parcels, albeit subconsciously, to cope with pre-parcel anxiety.
What is pre-parcel anxiety?
Urban Dictionary describes “pre-parcel anxiety” as “the nervous impatience experienced when waiting for a parcel or package you’ve ordered to be delivered.” Most shoppers experience the symptom of frequently glancing at the front door whenever they hear “audible or visual queues” of delivery riders (i.e. motorcycle engines roaring, dogs barking, doorbells ringing).
Pre-parcel anxiety highlights that the wait is an experience in itself: I bought an item, and it’s now officially mine, but I don’t physically have it yet. (When will I finally get hold of it?) Yes, I can browse through photo reviews; I can imagine how I would use the product; but, I can’t be sure of how efficient the item would be until the parcel actually arrives. (Will it arrive tomorrow?)
When the parcel comes, the excitement dwindles; I now have a new item, but somehow, I’m already thinking about what to order next.
Evolutionary psychology and the pleasure of anticipation
In 2018, Archit Puri of Mint wrote about the psychology of waiting for a parcel. Drawing theories from evolutionary psychology, he said, “Biologically, pleasure needs to be fleeting and leave us repeatedly underwhelmed after we’ve achieved it. Thus, the pleasure derived from the anticipation of an event (…) is always greater than the pleasure derived from the event itself.”
This explains many sensations we feel throughout our lifetimes: When we’re craving a burger and we finally get it, the first bite is always the most satisfying. Or when we’re following a Netflix series and an episode gives us a glimpse into the next episode, the sneak peek is typically the most exciting.
In other words, it is possible that being addicted to tracking parcels is actually scientifically sound. Following this theory, maybe the anticipation we’re all subjected to go through when online shopping even elevates our experience. Perhaps, this also explains why we’re buying stuff now more regularly than we did before.
Now the question is, is it a problem?
At the end of the day, whenever we develop unhealthy obsessions, we tend to make decisions we’d regret. In the case of tracking parcels, this may come in the form of purposelessly shopping and spending irrational amounts of money on things we don’t need. Then, this obviously becomes a problem for our financial health, for our mental stability, for our environment, et cetera.
So… what now?
As of writing, I believe I’ve successfully withdrawn from my tracking addiction. It’s been months since I last checked on parcel updates. Notably, my urge to online shop has lessened since then, as well!
To get to this point, I had to uninstall my shopping apps. Whenever I had to shop for something online, I’d do so through my laptop. Without the convenience of tracking my packages through the apps, and without the shipping notifications I’d typically get through them, I eventually stopped tracking parcels altogether.
Ultimately, awareness is the first step to overcoming bad habits. As for me, I needed to recognise my parcel tracking obsession before I was able to address it.
I’m thankful that, with the time and resources I’ve saved so far, I can now invest in things that actually matter to me: hobbies that enrich me, activities that allow me to bond with my loved ones, and skills that help me improve my craft.
May this article serve as a reminder for us as we await the next online sale! At a time where many of us are vulnerable and looking for ways to cope, let’s make sure our purchases serve us — and not the other way around.