TAKE THE TEST: ARE YOU A COMPULSIVE BUYER?
Thanksgiving, with its keynote of gratefulness for what we have, has come and gone, and today we are facing Black Friday here in France.
Not only that, I see my town of Auray and its many shops big and small are readying for Christmas – and Christmas shopping. This time of year it’s easy to go a little too far in impulse buying for a brief emotional fix. The short-term fix can become a long-term problem of debt, regret and inner emptiness just when we are expected to be joyful.
Those with something to sell are also doing their best to overcome their customers’ sense of rationality. From internet algorithms tracking your urges to put repeatedly just what you would love to have right in front of you, and at a discount, to cheerful shop clerks offering treats and compliments, the world of business is there to use marketing to leverage you into spending recklessly and a bit mindlessly.
I should know – I worked in marketing in the luxury industry for many years, and I can still remember my boss telling me: “Deborah, we’re not just selling good food. We’re selling a dream. And people pay our prices to possess that dream.” Indeed, consumer psychologists agree that consumers do actually buy products for their psychological meaning, and not for their innate value or utility.
Impulse buying takes place when the shopper has the perception that the product matches their personal view or view of their self, to affirm and reinforce their own identity. The purchase becomes in this way a kind of trophy that the consumer uses to communicate who they are to others. If you like to consider yourself youthful and kind of cool, you will likely not mind spending more to buy Levis rather than a hypermarket brand of jeans. Further, narcissism, on the rise over the past few decades, drives consumers to spend money cultivating their look and material possessions.
I remember as well from my marketing days too that a really successful brand manages to become like a person, with clear traits of human personality, which buyers lock onto with their purchase to communicate their own personality to the world.
While people shop more compulsively in individualistic cultures, we also do so when we are stressed and feel powerless – hence the peak in impulse after extreme natural disasters. Interestingly, those with a strong sense of personal power or superiority tend to be less vulnerable to compulsive purchases.
When Shopping Becomes Dysfunctional
A 2016 study showed that 3.4% to 6.9% of Europe’s population can be classed as “compulsive buyers”, with rates somewhat higher for students (5.9 to 11.5%); the average European compulsive buyer is 38 years old. When buying becomes dysfunctional, the purchasing behavior is inappropriate and comes with an irrepressible need to buy. The thing purchased is something the buyer doesn’t even really need or desire, although a brief moment of excitement just before and after the purchase occurs.
In reality, the purchase is made for the same reasons behind any addictive behavior: the need to handle emotions.
Am I a Compulsive Buyer?
- You buy things you don’t need or desire
- You buy on impulse, generally when you are in the impact of an emotion, and your behavior is unthinking and irrepressible
- You are tense or excited before buying
- You are often preoccupied by the future act of buying, to the point of even becoming an obsession
- You experience pleasure, gratification and/or relief when buying
- You regret your purchase
- You feel guilty for having given in to the compulsion to buy
- You try to fight against the urge to buy
The consequences of this addictive behavior are just as serious as for addiction to alcohol or drugs, but compulsive buying behaviour is often not taken as seriously.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a proven treatment to help the growing number of people afflicted with this condition.
When Shopping is Not Dysfunctional
- Set spending limits. Set a budget and stick to it.
- Know your spending triggers. A cozy cute shop or a department store with that nice music and lots of pleasant sales clerks gets you going? Shop online.
- Have a game plan. Think through what you want to buy for the holidays and do your research to compare before buying.
- Put yourself on a cash diet. Don’t buy on credit, save up for what you want.
- Track your spending. Know how much you are spending per day.
- Avoid spending to save. Buying two pairs of shoes to get one pair free is not a saving when you can’t afford shoes at all.
Shop in advance. By long before Christmas to space out expenses.