Impulsive Shopping, Temptation, and self-control

 And I am a weapon And it’s not my fault that I was programmed to make it work

                          Lily Allen, Fear, 2009

The financial crisis that hit us in 2008 has been analyzed in-depth by economists and journalists. Most of the comments, myself included, focused on the behavior of bankers and traders. However, it was also a crisis fueled by the debt consumption bubble. Maybe we need to pay more attention to the psychology of consumer shopping.

I want to dive into the emotional underpinnings of visible consumption. Much of what is written below is described more poetically in the Lily Allen song “Fear”. At first, she seemed to be singing the explicit consumption song and pursuing the famous way of life endlessly, but when the chorus came in: “I was overcome with fear”; It is clear that this is a story about the fear and emptiness behind this impulsive consumption. This is also the story our research tells us.

Retailers, marketing agencies, and even academic researchers in the field of retail marketing tend to view impulsive shopping behavior as harmless entertainment or a positive social good. certainly, as something retailers use and must use financially.

As an example:

“Marketers need to understand consumer behavior like that to formulate an appropriate marketing strategy, allocate marketing budgets below, and develop effective marketing tactics. In such cases, actions can be normatively positive and make buyers feel good.”

Bailey and Nankarou 1998: 99

“… A very impulsive profile can be identified so promotions and events are targeted at these people.”

Beatty and Ferrell 1998: 188

Adrian Furnham and I worked with the BBC to launch a big-money test that was launched on the BBC’s main television consumer surveillance program. About 110,000 people took part in the survey, which looked at their emotional and psychological connection with money.

We found that people who are particularly prone to impulsive buying behavior tend to be people who have poor strategies for dealing with their emotions and are more sensitive to the ups and downs of positive and negative emotions. In other words, for many people, impulsive shopping appears to be a substitute for a more effective way of managing their emotions.

If impulsive shopping helps people feel good, does it mean trouble? As many retailers claim, the “well-being” we get while shopping is certainly a positive part of the “retail experience.”

The story is not very positive. We also look at the relationship between impulsive spending and financial performance. 

People with impulsive buying behavior are much more likely to have difficulty achieving goals and more likely to experience adverse financial events. The problem with targeting retailers to impulsive consumers is that they are often more successful than those who are more likely to be financially risky.

Is it you or someone you know impulsively?

Think there is too much pressure on people to spend, spend, spend; or is shopping just a fun part of the modern lifestyle?

You can read more about our study in this BBC Big Money Test results report. In this report, we prepare the Friends Provident Foundation, which is funding some of this analysis. There is also an article in the BBC magazine. Anyone wanting more academic discourse can find research books online.

Impulsive Shopping, Temptation, and self-control

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