RETAIL IS A $9 TRILLION BUSINESS around the world, a staggering figure that includes everything from the shopper on New York City's Fifth Avenue who swoops into Cartier and splurges on a Trinity ring to the gemstone buyer in Jaipur, India, who buys a handful of uncut moonstones while sitting in the gutter on a busy market street. Shopping is primordial and social at the same time. If you need a new computer, you go to the Apple store. And, incidentally, the folks at Apple have made it incredibly easy to hang out there for a while, maybe buy some more stuff and then come back, again and again. At a recent meeting with Ikea executives from Sweden, I was surprised to learn that consumers of the brand's small-office products like to hold impromptu meetings in the store displays. Every day seems to bring a new twist on the fundamental habit of consumption: there are pop-up stores, mobile stores, automated stores and, of course, the Internet. In Japan young women buy everything from subway passes to mascara with a swipe of their cell phones.
In this special supplement to TIME, we take an in-depth look at 21st century consumers around the world and their incredibly diverse shopping habits—from veiled fashionistas in the mega-malls of Dubai to eBay addicts who troll for Jimmy Choos. We also conducted an exclusive poll of American men and women about their shopping preferences. The most surprising statistic is not who most likes to shop but who will spend the most on a specific item.