According to Urban dictionary instant gratification is defined as “the quick attainability of happiness or of contentedness”. We humans are programmed to want to satisfy our needs, wants and urges immediately, but we are taught that delayed gratification is a virtue.

Our digital devices have greatly exacerbated our desire for instant gratification – they are with us all the time and they give us constant connectedness so we are able to get stuff as soon as we want it.

Our digital devices have shortened our patience threshold – we want everything now!

In our recent survey about online shopping we asked respondents to what extent they agree with the idea that one of the downfalls of shopping for tangible items online is that you don’t get your hands on purchased items immediately. Nearly half (46%) agreed with this proposition, around a quarter (28%) felt neutral about the idea and the rest (25%) disagreed.

The results highlight an interesting paradox. Shopping online for tangible items promises instant gratification in the sense that you can buy the item immediately, at any time and from any place. But when it comes to fulfilment, gratification is delayed. Half of our sample agree that this is a problem with shopping online for tangible items.

It’s worth noting that this problem doesn’t exist when an online shopper is shopping for intangible items – for example, cell phone airtime, software, airline tickets or electricity. Intangible items are delivered instantly and the promise of instant gratification is complete in all respects.

It would seem to make sense that any online retailer should be offering both tangible and intangible products on their online shopping websites so that their customers can achieve the instant gratification that so many of them desire.