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What is Window Shopping?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Window shopping refers to the process of going from store to store — or even website to website — just to look at what is for sale. Available to anyone, it is a leisurely process with no time constraints, but, depending on a person’s personality, it can effect the shopper's finances. Some people use it just to pass the time and dream, while others use it to get inspired or gather information about current trends.


The general concept behind window shopping is that a person walks from store to store, looking at what is in the sellers’ windows. People often do it when they are in more urban areas, as these locations have streets lined with different shops. Another option where the term is used, however, is the flea market, where many vendors are close to each other and a person can travel from booth to booth as she likes. These take place in both rural and urban communities.

Expansion to the Internet

While traditional window shopping takes place at a brick and mortar location, the concept can be expanded to the Internet, as well. Websites, unless down for maintenance, are never “closed,” so this form of participation can be more accessible. Shoppers also can more easily make comparisons, using tabs in their browser to see what different companies offer, even if those companies are hundreds of miles apart. They also can bookmark the web pages of sellers they like or post links in emails, blogs or chat conversations. Going through the browsing process online is particularly appealing to those who have limited mobility or who are housebound.

Retailers know that people sometimes prefer this mode of browsing merchandise, so they often make it a point to invest heavily in their websites and develop as e-commerce businesses. Many even develop separate “mobile” versions of their websites that people navigate more easily on devices like smartphones. Some companies exist only online, so sometimes a person has no other option but to browse digital displays.


True window shopping is never hurried, with a person always browsing at leisure. The number of displays she sees or how much time gets spent on each one isn’t the focus. She cares instead about what each display contains and the way each store presents its items.

With no real time constraints put on this pastime, many people are able to work it in during an average day. A person can enjoy this type of shopping during a lunch hour, while waiting for relatives or friends to arrive or as a way to kill time before the start of a movie at the local multiplex, for example. On the other end of the spectrum, some people can spend an entire day going from window to window, appreciating the merchandise and the appealing way everything is set up.


One of the greatest attractions of browsing window displays is that the activity is free. Anyone can do it, regardless of their current financial status. In fact, some people do it specifically because they know they can’t afford to buy anything. They simply want the pleasure of seeing what’s for sale and dreaming about what it would be like to have those things.


People often choose to window shop because it is an activity with no real obligations. The lack of a timeframe, combined with not having to spend money, lets some individuals forget their worries and relax. They come back happy, rejuvenated and ready to face their next task.


Along with being a way to fill time without spending money, window shopping can also serve as inspiration. A display containing a dining room table and chairs, for instance, might give someone ideas for table settings, centerpieces or other items used to dress up a dining area. In this sense, this form of shopping is a way to generate creativity.

In some cases, this process can become cyclic. As an example, a fashion designer might look at garments on mannequins in a retailer’s window. She might get thinking about what she’d do differently and then go back to her studio to create a unique design. That design eventually could become part of a new formal collection, which might get fully manufactured and end up in the very store that provided the inspiration.

Market Information

Most retailers put the items they truly want buyers to notice in their displays. They depend on these products to lure people into the store, so the items sellers pick to showcase usually are very trendy. Some individuals use this pastime as a way to get a basic idea of what is currently in demand or available in a particular market, with the goal being to stay fashionable or elite. This lets the average consumer make some decisions about what to buy later on, and it can help business leaders informally assess their own industries.

Effect on Spending

Looking at displays sometimes compels people to make more purchases overall than they normally would. They might not intend to make a purchase when they first go out, but once they see something they like, they get drawn into the store and buy, or they find the items they saw online and purchase them that way. Other people are able to resist the temptation to go inside or log on to retailer websites, so they are able to use the pastime as a way to shop without throwing off their budget.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including SmartCapitalMind, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon107279 — On Aug 29, 2010

I have done online window shopping. It gets confusing because you put stuff in your shopping cart, don't buy it but expect it in the mail a few days later! Has gotten me over PMS shopping which was getting expensive.

By GrumpyGuppy — On Jul 27, 2010

@momothree: I do a lot of online “window shopping”. It is especially helpful around Christmas time. Most retailers showcase their best products on their websites. There are no sales people trying to reel you in and you can do it from the comfort of your own home. (You can even do it in your PJ’s!)

You can type in what you are looking for and several merchant websites will pop up. Just click on the one that you want. I keep a notebook handy to jot down the names of the retailers and their prices. This is a great way to compare prices.

By momothree — On Jul 27, 2010

Has anyone ever heard of online window shopping?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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