Series Intro: eCommerce’s Five Tricks of Transformation

3 min read

So much of our life has been and continues to be, shaped through online commerce. Half the time, it is miraculous; the other half, it is fleeting and overwhelming. In this essay, I compare our enigmatic relationship with eCommerce to the spectacle of a magic show, one that is staged together by the many "premiums" and online purchases we string on ourselves.

Our infatuation with and reliance on the magic of eCommerce is the premise of my research. To assess our relationship with online transactions and their magical effect, I conversed with consumers, creators, internet hustlers, business owners, and tech entrepreneurs. The outcomes of these conversations were then complemented with secondary research to give you eCommerce's Five Tricks of Transformation.

This article is the introduction to this five-part series, discussing the five magic tricks that eCommerce uses to capture our attention and participation:

Trick 1 – The Mysterious Hat of Algorithm
Along the way of mirroring and giving us "For You" content, algorithmic commerce tends towards a flattening of culture, conflating followings with fandom, casting prediction as precision, and, to a growing extent, removing human agency.

Trick 2 – The Telepathic Trick of TeleCommerce
TeleCommerce enables consumers to enter someone else's space and purchase their way into altering their reality. While gaining status and control through shopping isn't new, the way we financially reward the broadcast of everything is worthy of further scrutiny and investigation.

Trick 3: The Magician’s Assistant
eCommerce and its assistants (influencers and creators) create an ecosystem where buyers can be entertained while buying into the promises of goods and the influencing career. This system can sometimes reduce creativity and community to the logic of virality and monetization.

Trick 4: The Next-Day Manifestation
In pairing the spiritual allure of manifesting ideology with labor-masking technology like next-day delivery, modern commerce dissociates the middle class from the working class and deepens our reliance on "Amazon-fulfilled" goods for self-fulfillment.

Trick 5: The Vanishing Waste of eCommerce
While seemingly a magical proposition, products and services that put our overconsumption waste out of sight can overlook an important truth: waste is waste, regardless of smell or visibility. If we do not learn to confront our waste, we will not learn to stop magically wasting.


If you asked me—and presumably, my fellow TikTok power users—what the soundtrack of growth and progress in 2022 was, I would point you to the bridge of AJR’s World's Smallest Violin. Often played as a soundtrack to Shorts, Reels, and TikTok videos about a creator’s growth or a business’ success journey, World’s Smallest Violin’s optimistic tempo and friendly hook make the perfect anthem to transforming through modern commerce.

Source: IMISTUDIOS, @imistudios

My first exposure to this song and its modern take on the rags-to-riches trope was through Imogen’s viral TikTok (above). Imogen is a fashion graduate turned business owner, designer, and TikTok creator. She started her made-to-order fashion brand, IMISTUDIOS, while staying at her parent’s during the pandemic. Her business gained traction through social media and landed significant brand collaborations, press mentions, pop-up events, and even caught the eyes of Doja Cat and Christine Quinn.

I chatted with Imogen about her experience buying, selling, and promoting her brand online. We discussed the physical and mental toll of simultaneously pleasing the audience and the algorithm. We then pondered over the fleeting nature of online communities and Imogen's reluctant reliance on social media to grow her business.

I asked,

"What three words would you use to describe your experience with online commerce?”

Imogen replied,

"Frustrating, rewarding, and transformative.”

It's frustrating because "you can spend so much time creating something you are proud of, and it can flop." It's rewarding because "when your content performs well, it does so in ways you can not even imagine." For the most part, it's transformative because "I'd not have my business today without TikTok and Instagram," said Imogen. It was through my conversation with her that the first trick of eCommerce began to take shape. Introducing Trick 1: The Mysterious Hat of Algorithm