Outside a BMW dealer, a blue-collar gentleman gazes through the plated glass, admiring the way the spotlights reflect off the windshield and waxed hood. In the mid-morning dawn, a woman in her track suit stares through the bakery window as a tray of bear claws is placed into the display case. While neither admirer intends to step inside and make an impulsive purchase, both understand that a little window shopping can go a long way in satiating your deepest urges.

Traditional Window Shopping

Window shopping is known as the act of perusing items for sale with no intent to purchase. Some may expect to return and buy the item at a later date, others may not. Businesses are always aiming for sales, but window shopping has actually become a main attraction of malls, department stores, and shopping districts. It has become a full-fledged marketing ploy to attract larger crowds, operating as a sort of physical advertisement. However, the intent of a business to advertise without a plan to increase sales can become a double-edged sword for retailers who struggle to evaporate that barrier between them and the spontaneous consumer.

Modern Window Shopping

Every year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, video game developers gather to market new games, platform systems, hardware, and software. It’s the Olympics of video game window shopping. Game and system creators will set up theaters to show teaser trailers of upcoming releases. They’ll station demos where anxious users can get their hands on new products before they even hit the shelves. This builds anticipation, hype, and an emotional investment. Consumers are elated to enjoy these experiences absolutely free-of-charge, while they subconsciously develop brand loyalty.

This happens at mass retailers as well. You can step inside Barnes & Noble and read books right off the shelf. You can stroll into an Apple store and play with all the new gadgets. These sellers understand that sometimes a sale isn’t always about the act of selling products. Even if nothing gets sold today, encouraging repeat window shopping business only increases the opportunity for sales.

Online “Window Shopping”

The internet has both fed and cannibalized the art of window shopping. With twenty-four hour, no-closed-doors markets like Amazon, Overstock, and eBay, you can peruse furniture and clothes on websites, check out reviews and compare-shop across a number of websites. Then you can add them to virtual shopping carts and wish lists, and with just a few clicks of the mouse, you’ve nearly committed yourself to purchasing the item, even if it’s not until a later date.

These sites can also link you to sales, offer companion products, or suggest similar items for cheaper. In the online window shopping experience, there is no “window” or any other obstacles (such as long lines, an absent wallet, or a daunting salesperson) to come between you and the sale.

Other Benefits

Window shopping may seem like a cultural phenomenon, but the motivations aren’t entirely complex. First of all, it’s a free activity that can stifle the urge to spend. The act of dreaming, for some, is enough. Likewise, even if you aren’t a shopaholic looking for a fix to hold you over until payday, window shopping can be a nice, relaxing way to forget your stress, get a little exercise, and just escape the drudgeries of everyday life.

It can also provide a palette and a muse for the creative mind. Some people use window shopping for inspiration, checking out the newest in-season styles or looking for furniture ideas to build in the garage. You might be working on a new Pinterest project or trying to find that one piece that could tie your den together.

Just as the artist finds inspiration in nature, window shopping can be the thing you need to create your own personal lifestyle. Sometimes “just looking” can be “just enough.”