Why does my computer stalk me with pictures of shoes I shouldn't buy?

For the past two days the shoes I thought I'd gotten out of my system have been stalking me relentlessly across the Internet.
Written by Denise Amrich, Contributor

Recently, in an ill-considered fit of self-torture, I spent the evening on Zappos.com drooling over mules, clogs, and sandals that aren't in my budget. Some of them are downright gorgeous. Some are so ugly they're cute. Most of them would probably not look all that great on me (which perversely makes me want them all the more, go figure).

In my ideal shoe fantasy world, they would all complete me perfectly, and they'd all be really comfortable.

I love stylin' shoes, but I really do have more than enough of them. More, in fact, than many would consider normal. And this is after getting rid of half of them in a recent move. I admit it. I have a problem being reasonable where shoes are concerned, so I try to tread carefully when I enter the shoeniverse.

The clickfest started because I was attempting to replace the worn-out pair of athletic shoes I depend on for my exercise program. I was able to order the sneakers I needed, but somehow I ended up among the clogs, and got sucked in for over an hour.

In order to quell the shoe-jones, I added a bunch of stuff to my wish list, which made me feel a whole lot better, and got the shoe lust out of my system. Or so I thought.

Now, my browser has gotten wind of my most-of-the-time well-managed desire, and is hitting me hard with pictures of the kinds of shoes I find hardest to resist.

I go onto a lyrics site to look up an old Merle Hagard song that used to make me laugh when the Grateful Dead covered it, and I am mesmerized by a carousel of scary Mary Jane clogs gracefully circling like sharks.

For the past two days the shoes I thought I'd gotten out of my system have been stalking me relentlessly across the Internet. Oh what a tangled Web we weave.

What's up with this?

Obviously, targeted advertising isn't a new phenomenon. Zappos isn't alone. This is a common occurrence. I've noticed it a lot lately from a host of vendors, including Scott e-Vest, Too Faced Cosmetics, the folks at ZendStudio, and more. It seems to have gotten more intense as the economy stormclouds gather once again, and gas prices skyrocket.

On one hand, people might like being reminded of stuff they're thinking about buying. On the other hand, people who can't really afford it might wind up breaking hard in a moment of weakness and succumbing to a temptation they really don't need.

I'm only half-kidding here. I'm a grownup, and I can take responsibility for managing myself. I have to.

But I do have concerns about this trend, because shopping addiction is a real torment for many people.

About 10-15% of people may have a genetic predisposition to an addictive behavior. Many stumble in weak moments, and times are rough, so it can be hard to recover. It's a tough call, because obviously the economy needs to be stimulated, ads are vital to the Internet economy, and those of us who make some of our living online certainly enjoy being paid for our work.

Still, I resent having to deal with those shoes. I mean, I can stay away from shoe sites moving forward, but I can't stay off the Web entirely. I rely on the Internet for so much. Yes, there is sometimes an opt out option so I won't see the products I crave. But the wording on the opt out piece does not guarantee I won't see other ads from the site, which are almost as bad.

I really feel for the person with alcoholism who clicks on a beer ad in a moment of curiosity and winds up constantly being prodded towards the high life. Or for the person trying to change his eating habits being haunted by ads for snack foods he's trying to stop obsessing about.

I think I'm going to suck it up and just nuke my browser's cookies. Maybe next time I go on an information reconnaissance mission because I need to make a carefully-considered purchase in a product category I have a hard time resisting, I'll sandbox my searching so it won't seize me later.

What brands have you noticed stalking you around the Internet? How do you feel about this business practice? If you're an advertiser doing this, how's it working out for you? Please do tell in the TalkBacks below.

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