Watch CBS News

Are you spending more money shopping online? Remote work could be to blame.

Why spending to save may be costing you more
Why spending to save may be costing you more 05:26

It's a lot easier to shop online during the workday when you're sitting in the privacy of home — where your boss can't catch glimpses of your computer screen. Other aspects of remote work, like that fact that you don't pass by the grocery store on your daily commute to an office, also make online shopping convenient. 

That explains why remote work — which became the norm at the height of the pandemic and has stuck around to a degree — helped drive an additional $375 billion in online spending last year, a new report from Mastercard Economics Institute shows. 

"A huge amount of spending came from the increase in people working from home," labor economist and Stanford University professor of economics Nicholas Bloom, one of the report's authors, told CBS MoneyWatch. "We saw about $400 billion in extra spending and it appears to be related to working from home. If I am at home, it's more convenient, because I can easily order without anyone looking over my shoulder, if your laptop screen is facing out and people see you buying clothes."

In U.S. zip codes where a large share of the population works from home, online spending levels were up, the report finds. The reverse was also true of zip codes with few people working remote jobs.  

The same trend has played out internationally, too. In counties with fewer opportunities to work from home, online spending is about the same as it was before the pandemic, while it's up about 4% in countries with a lot of remote work opportunities. 

Other lasting effects of the pandemic, like migration away from cities to suburban areas, also contributed to a boost in spending online versus in stores in 2023, according the report. "We saw massive amounts of migration coming out of pandemic, and part of it was moving out of concentrated, urban areas, which perhaps necessitates online shopping," Michelle Meyer, chief economist at Mastercard Economics Institute, told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Working from home also allows consumers who might have previously been leery of so-called porch pirates stealing pricey deliveries from their doorsteps, to be home to receive such packages. "It's easier to take deliveries for expensive items — you can track them and grab it as soon as it's delivered," Bloom said. 

Scott Baker, associate professor of finance at Kellogg School of Management, who also worked on the report, said he's observed what he called a "learning effect." People who'd previously never shopped online got used to doing so during the pandemic and have continued to make purchases online. 

Retailers are increasingly meeting consumers online, too, throwing promotions their way to try to encourage them to spend more. But that 10% off discount code or free shipping coupon that seems like a good deal is oftentimes just a ploy to separate Americans from their money. Personal finance professionals are warning against spending money to save it, or "spaving" as the habit has come to be called

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.