Should you stress-shop online right now?


For those practicing social distancing from their homes and apartments, having groceries, prepared foods and other essentials delivered can be an important way to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

But when high-risk and disabled populations rely on overwhelmed delivery services and the people dropping off packages are being put at a greater risk of contracting the disease, is it the right time for those cooped up inside to be stress-buying non-essentials on Amazon and other online retailers? Or should you hold off on the retail therapy for now? 

Those are important questions under normal circumstances, but there's nothing normal about the world right now — and not everything is a moral issue, Daniel Jacobson, professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, tells CNBC Make It. Under these extraordinary circumstances, people should do what makes their lives easier.

"Everything is a tradeoff, and people need to focus on the important things rather than ephemera," Jacobson writes in an email to CNBC Make It. "Health care workers are saving people's lives at the risk of their own. People who are practicing social distancing are promoting the general welfare. Let's celebrate that and try to make it as comfortable as possible." 

For its part, Amazon is temporarily prioritizing shipments on household staples and medical supplies, and encouraging customers buying nonessential items to choose No-Rush Shipping at checkout. Deliveries for those items may be as far out as a month.

"Selecting the No-Rush option enables us to consolidate orders and make fewer stops in neighborhoods throughout the week, and most importantly, serve customers with the most critical needs first," the company's COVID-19 response page says.

And while it's okay to order non-essentials, you might also consider donating money to organizations helping those on the front lines of fighting the virus or to an organization helping people struggling to pay bills. Smaller businesses are also encouraging people to shop their online stores or buy gift cards so that they can keep their doors open and continue to pay their employees. Another alternative is shopping from individual merchants on Etsy.

Ultimately, shopping online for the things you need or to make your life more comfortable is one of the better ways to keep social distancing, which Jacobson deems a "crucial moral issue." Staying home as much as possible can help prevent you from spreading the virus to others.

"Now we need to take care of ourselves and our families and, to the extent possible and legal, our neighbors," he says. "Maybe one day we will once again have the luxury of worrying about whether and when we should buy local rather than online."

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