"IT'S THE VODKA NIGHTS that really get me into trouble," says Kelly Krause, with a sigh. "I once woke up and I had spent $700."
Not on martinis. Krause, an independent film publicist with L.A.-based firm mPRm, doesn't need a bar stool for her idea of a bender. On Mondays, she sips Pinot Grigio, watches "The Hills" and then visits SeenOn.com to buy accessories from actress Lauren Conrad's wardrobe. Friday nights involve vodka tonics and a hot date with NeimanMarcus.com.
About those Tory Burch flats? "I own several pairs, and I don't recall buying one of them sober," she says.
BUIs -- those who buy under the influence -- may be the Internet's dirty little secret. (Then again, how dirty can you feel when you wake up spooning your keyboard?) And with retail e-commerce up 19% to $136.4 billion in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, it's not shocking to realize that some people are boozing and browsing.
Over at the online boutique Shopbop.com, traffic doesn't spike after happy hour. In fact, according to the Reston, Va., online research firm comScore, e-purchases made by women in the evening hours total only about 22.6% of all online retail sales. But Internet sellers know all about consumers who click on a Marc Jacobs dress and slur, "Hey there, frock. I want to take you home tonight."
"People definitely do it all the time," says Shopbop spokeswoman, Alle Fister. "It's click, click, click after a few cocktails."
Across the pond, Brits are much more upfront about the phenomenon. There's a book called "Shopping While Drunk: Confessions From Modern Life" and a U.K. research firm named Conchango deemed the syndrome BLOTO (Buying Loads of Tat Online) in 2005. The firm also found that 7% of people polled knew someone who shopped while intoxicated.
The appeal of the BUI is as clear as a shot of Stoli. With every glass, inhibitions and judgment soften. Much like drunk-dialing an ex, the impulse to buy becomes an urge that quickly blurs into a must. Suddenly, that $850 David Yurman amethyst and 18K gold ring doesn't seem like a silly splurge. It's a reward.
"I looked at that ring and thought, 'I work hard and I deserve it,' " says Denise Weaver, co-founder of Spin Shoppe Canvas, a PR firm.
Weaver usually hits the e-racks at 9:30 on weeknights while sipping Pinot Noir or a Petite Syrah. "I never would have treated myself to that ring if I wasn't buzzed, and I love it."
A glass of courage
Others are emboldened by a few drinks to flirt with outfits and accessories they would typically avoid. "When I drink and shop, I always think I am a size smaller, and I go for much funkier clothes than my usual black dresses," says Krause. "I buy plaid or polka dots. I once bought a canary-yellow dress."
Fittingly enough, it's "Last Call" -- NeimanMarcus .com's perpetual blowout sale that offers merchandise up to 70% off -- that hooks many BUI offenders. Weaver dabbles in American Apparel online and EBay, too. She sometimes can't recall where she made her last purchase.
"These boxes show up, and I am, like, 'Oh, my God. I did it again,' " she says.
That would never happen to Alana Zinn. She doesn't e-stumble from one retailer to another and click on strange sites. Like someone who frequents a neighborhood bar, she has a favorite stool.
"I have a wish list at eluxury.com, and after a few cocktails with my friends, I go home and I search it," says the advertising director of Revolver magazine, who admits that she has been sipping and shopping for about a year. "It's still an impulse buy, but at least I chose it when I wasn't intoxicated."
Then again, what's to stop you from getting utterly soused and splurging on Lanvin shoes anyway? Any retail remorse can be easily erased with a click, as nearly every online retailer accepts returns -- no questions asked. It's that option that keeps most BUI offenders from unplugging their keyboards before they uncork a bottle.
"It's fun, and it's the only thing you can do after a few drinks and not have any regrets," says Krause. "You don't wake up in the morning and panic and think, 'What did I buy last night?' "