What is retail therapy?
It’s also known as compensatory consumption (if you want to get technical…) because it takes place when “an individual feels a need, lack, or desire which they cannot satisfy with a primary fulfillment so they seek and use an alternative means of fulfillment in its place”.
7 Facts (And Tips) About Retail Therapy
- It’s more common than you think: Retail therapy, as research has found, is more common than you might realise. According to the Penn State University research, about 62% of purchases made are made to feel better.
- Impulsivity plays a big role: Here’s where retail therapy can become a problem – when it is done impulsively, and regularly. As a research published in the journal Psychology and Marketing found, people generally tend to be more impulsive when they’re upset, and that impulsivity is often the cause of retail therapy. This can cause more money being spent as the impromptu action can get out of hand. This impulsivity is one of the biggest reasons why retail therapy can become a problem.
- Coping mechanism: Retail therapy is often used as a coping mechanism by people when they feel out of control, as a research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found. The researchers of the study found that often when people are sad, or stressed, or scared, they feel like they don’t have much control over their lives. Then the ability to buy the things they want can help them feel some sense of control and autonomy. So often people indulge in retail therapy when they feel a bit out of control, and use it as a coping mechanism.
- Vicious cycle: Retail therapy can (and unfortunately, a lot of times, it does) create a vicious cycle. When someone regularly used retail therapy to lift their mood and feel happy, it can lead to an addiction with buying things. The compulsive buying can then lead to a whole host of problems, and here’s how the cycle generally works: the person regularly buys things to feel good, then gets into debt; this causes guilt, and anxiety, and even conflict with others, which causes more unhappiness; then they buy more things to feel good, which gets them into more debt, and on and on the cycle goes. Left unchecked, this can have severe consequences. Buying something to treat yourself now and again is perfectly fine, as long as it doesn’t become an addiction, and you are responsible about your spending.
- Can help, when done responsibly: Retail therapy isn’t always bad though. It is only bad when it gets out of hand. But if used in moderation, and done responsibly, treating yourself can actually help. Research has found that the positive mood boosts caused by retail therapy can be long lasting. So if it is something that you’ve been really looking forward to getting, something you know you can afford without causing any financial problems or getting into debt, there’s no reason not to go for it. Self-treats can be great mood boosters, especially when it is something that you use or see often, as then every time you use or see it, it will help lift your moods.
- Small treats: As mentioned earlier, retail therapy is often a coping mechanism. And it’s the act of being able to choose what you buy and from where, is the end goal. The other big reason for buying something to treat yourself is the boost it can cause, and that can come from just the act of buying something. A great way, then, to take advantage of the positives of retail therapy without suffering the negatives is to buy small things – that way you still get to practice autonomy (as you’re in control), as well as experience the mood boost that comes from buying something. Opting for small treats instead of expensive ones is a great way to take advantage of the benefits of retail therapy without the drawbacks (as long as done responsibly, can’t stress that enough, because even small treats can be cause problems when they become an addiction).
- Window shopping: Yet another way to take advantage of the mood boosting impact of retail therapy is window shopping. This is what a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found. The process can be as simple as just going around your favourite shops and checking things out in their window displays and inside the shops, or adding things to your online wishlist (nearly every online shop has one) rather than the cart. It can even be as involved as physically trying things on, like trying on clothes you like, and then putting them back. If you’re worried that you might not be able to control yourself from buying things, leave your money at home before you go to the shop(s). If you’re feeling a bit low, some window shopping just might be what you need (rather than actually buying something).
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