When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping for toilet paper, bleach, cleaning products and disinfectant wipes.
The media portrays impulse or “emotional” shoppers one way: bored men and women who run up credit card bills in designer stores and buy shoes online. But a major new study published in the April 2017 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that people get a kick out spending money on the hoof, but they typically end up buying necessities instead of luxury products.
‘Consumers who experience a loss of control are more likely to buy products that are more functional in nature, such as screwdrivers and dish detergent, because these are typically associated with problem solving, which may enhance people’s sense of control.’
“Consumers who experience a loss of control are more likely to buy products that are more functional in nature, such as screwdrivers and dish detergent, because these are typically associated with problem solving, which may enhance people’s sense of control,” the authors write. In one study, participants were asked to recall a situation in which they felt a high sense of control after shopping; in that scenario, they ended up buying more practical products at the supermarket, such as cooking ingredients and household cleaners. In a follow-up study involving sneakers, consumers were far more likely to favor function over form when they felt a loss of control.
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The study, aptly entitled “Control Deprivation Motivates Acquisition of Utilitarian Products,” found that shopping on even the most boring household items is enough to satisfy the cravings of compulsive shoppers. The authors suggest that impulsive shopping doesn’t need to have an adverse impact on a person’s finances, not if they’re buying Clorox wipes. “Given the pervasiveness and ease of using product acquisition as a means to cope with psychological threat, this research has important implications for theory and practice,” they found. Previous studies have identified “impulsivity” among people who want to escape unhappiness, low self-esteem and anxiety.
But credit card debt among consumers is on the rise. “Impulsive buying is mostly designed to increase positive affect — something that, to me, functional things are less likely to cause,” says Heath Demaree, department representative for psychology at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio. Almost half of Americans (49%) have said that their emotions have led them to purchase things that they can’t afford, citing stress, excitement and sadness, according to a recent survey by personal finance site Nerdwallet. And this can be a vicious cycle. A majority of those surveyed (87%) say they would be embarrassed to go into credit card debt.
And, as MarketWatch reported, the best way to avoid overspending is to make impulse buying as difficult as possible. That includes never saving your credit card information on Amazon.com
where it’s easy to buy those shoes you will never wear or gadgets you will never use. Also, don’t create an account with a store when shopping online, and delete apps like Seamless (eat leftovers or cook at home instead) and Uber (leave home earlier and get a train or bus), unsubscribe from retailers’ email lists, and use cash and turn off push notifications on your phone offering deals. Above all, automate your savings rather than your spending.