We are frequently told that we have a problem with consumerism in this country. We are told we need to stop shopping. We need to simplify, minimize, and trade stuff for experiences. That is easier said than done. Even those of us who consider ourselves minimalists, can’t resist all of the time. (Sometimes I surprise myself by how quickly I toss some wonderful bargain of an item I wasn’t shopping for, or even thought about, into my cart at Costco. $16.99 for a set of cute king size sheets? Are you kidding me Costco?)
Why is it so hard to resist shopping, to NOT buy??
Those Genius Marketers
For one thing, our economy relies on consumer spending. Companies employ genius marketers to convince us of what we want and need. We live in a sea of marketing messages. In the 1950’s there were catchy jingles. In the 1980’s some ads were so popular they became a part of pop-culture. Today, targeted ads follow us around from page to page as we surf the web. We can’t help becoming a bit like Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the sight of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale Catalogue. Advertisers know the psychology of marketing and they know exactly what to do to make us buy. And we do.
Connecting with Other People
Secondly, according to research, shopping helps us relate to other people. Dr. Yarrow, a consumer psychologist says, “buying usually involves relationships in one way or another. The motivation for almost everything we buy has something to do with connecting with other human beings. Even when it comes to practical purchases, the particular brand or product we choose relates to our connections with other human beings.” This makes sense. I live in the suburbs of Seattle and like my friends, I do a lot of my shopping in bulk, at Costco. If I lived in New York city, I would probably have my groceries delivered, because that is what people do in NYC.
Calms our Anxiety
Moreover, Dr. Yarrow’s research found, “people using shopping as a way of calming their anxiety. For example, if you’re going through any life-stage transition, from getting married to having a baby, I think shopping is used as a way to mentally prepare and calm anxiety. As people go through the process of selecting products, they are mentally visualizing their new future.” So, if we visualize our future home should look like the Restoration Hardware catalogue, we will subconsciously strive to buy everything in sight to make it so. Sounds about right.
Boost of Happiness
Another reason we like to shop, even when we don’t “need” anything, is because, well, it’s fun and it makes us happy. Shopping can give us a boost of the neurotransmitter serotonin. When we find a great bargain, or something really pretty, our brain rewards us with a little happy boost. We also get a serotonin boost when we buy gifts for others. Even just the newness of an item we buy gives us a feeling of excitement.
It’s so Accessible
Finally, we shop because it is easy. My entire generation grew up hanging out and shopping at the mall. We shop like it’s a sport. Today, we meet friends, go to the movies, get dinner, and shop at the mall. Free shipping and returns for online purchases? Shopping online is so easy, even those who don’t like to go to the mall, can use their phones, tablets and computers to shop “until they drop.” And they do with abandon! Recently, on Amazon Prime Day, a client purchased 65 orders from Amazon. That would be a lot of shopping bags my friends.