The Shopping Addiction

The industry is forced to achieve performance. That’s why merchandising techniques are very sought after by those who want to streamline their shelf sales.

Consumer behavior studies conducted in the US at the end of the past century estimated that 10% of the population was addicted to shopping. From a conceptual point of view, this shopping addiction translates into the compulsion to purchase certain unplanned items that don’t have a stringent utility for the consumer and are the result of promotional strategies. A joint subject of study, for example, in merchandising and economic psychology, the two subject matters have different perspectives on the same phenomenon. Before the Bologna reform was initiated in Romania, I had the opportunity to study them both at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration in Iasi, and at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences in Iasi, respectively. I don’t know to which extent they are still to be found in the current programs, but I think they are vital for both economists and psychologists.
Economic psychology rather studies the impact of shopping addiction on the psyche, analyzing the psychological mechanisms which make the individual feel the need to buy in a seemingly unjustified manner. Merchandising studies those shelf layout techniques that determine the consumer to behave in such a way as to buy as much as possible, even of what he doesn’t need.
However, I haven’t found anywhere a serious study that focuses exclusively on shopping addiction in Romania, although I find this topic to be very interesting and very practical nowadays, especially since there is a so-called “crisis”.

There are 4 types of impulsive shopping:

  1. pure, which are very rare and cannot be the object of ample research and are rather closer to a theoretical model which is to notice in reality;
  2. alarm, in which the individual remembers that he needs a product when he sees it, which doesn’t fall into the defined limits of shopping addiction;
  3. suggestive, that implies finding a particular item for the first time and purchasing it on the spot – these would be the main topic of domestic research;
  4. planned, in which case the individual is waiting for a favorable opportunity for the purchase.

Usually, the indicators of a shopping addiction, from a psychological point of view, are when the consumer meets as many of the following as possible:

    1. he is alone when doing the shopping;
    2. he enters the store to buy one product and leaves with ten;
    3. he doesn’t take into account the limits of the existing budget and has financial problems;
    4. he meets another psychological need of a pathological trend (such as a defence mechanism or a coping strategy) that has nothing to do with the intrinsic utility of the purchased products;
    5. he has an avoidant behavior when it comes to justifying his purchases;
    6. he maintains this behavior for at least 2-3 months.

Whoever has the curiosity to study, I would be interested in helping him/her with research in such a field. Let me suggest some ideas to those who find this topic interesting:

A first step could be the observation of the consumer behavior in hypermarkets over a whole day, as well as discussions with employees of the hypermarket who are in charge of consumer guidance and the merchandisers. The pilot research could target the testing of a questionnaire that would feature cognitive and behavioral elements, which, on the one hand, using practical observation, and on the other hand, from the specialized literature in the field, would reflect the shopping addiction.


The research could be carried out on a representative sample of the loyal customers of the current hypermarkets who could receive discounts or small gifts for their participation in the research from the hypermarket that facilitates the access, or from a sponsor. Also, if one chooses representative samples at the level of each large hypermarket chain, a longitudinal study can be carried out, along with a marketing approach aiming at securing customer loyalty through discounts, cards, etc. Another way to carry out an impact study is to compare the results obtained in different cities within the same chain of stores, but that would exceed the area of interest for a faculty project at the Bachelor’s level and would rather be a useful approach to a master’s or doctor’s paper. An advantageous potential of such a study would be the fact that retailers are currently developing at the level they are operating in the country and expanding, city by city.

Attention! I would recommend that the questionnaire would be developed and printed according to the marketing research methodology, and not the psychological one, and that the object of the research not be disclosed to the participants!!!

I will further present the short test published in Laura Matei’s article in  Psihologia Azi, 16/2006  on shopping addiction:

  • you shop or spend money as a result of a state of sadness, despair, or fear;
  • the habit of shopping or spending money is causing you stress or turns your life into chaos;
  • conflicts with others arise related to your habit;
  • you feel “lost” when you are left penniless or without credit cards;
  • you feel euphoria but also anxiety when buying something;
  • you feel like doing something forbidden when you buy something;
  • after shopping, you feel ashamed, guilty, or confused;
  • you don’t use many of the shopping you do;
  • you have started to lie about what you bought or how much you spent;
  • you have obsessive thoughts about money.

If the test applicant identifies at least 4 of these traits, he/she may be having a shopping addiction.

How can one earn money from this?

First of all, hypermarkets may be potentially interested in applying this research.

Then, if the individuals identified with such problems agree to be contacted in the sense of receiving psychological counseling, a limited number of shopping addicts may be approached by psychologists/psychotherapists who might pay for access to lists retailing potential clients, provided that the participants in the study agree to provide their data, including to receive advertising.


Thirdly, based on the information provided, consultancy or training services may be offered, on the one hand, to retailers, in merchandising, and on the other hand, to the FMCG and electronic companies, for advertising.


Lastly, from publishing products like books and audiobooks, including electronically available on the Internet, sales may be made to the public interested in being trained in this field.

PS: from the neuro-linguistic programming point of view, it would be extremely useful to include in this study the convincer components (convincing strategy, convincing demonstration/modes, convincing representation) and the study of the neurological levels pyramid, as the former very eloquently studies the aspects about the unconscious mechanisms of the shopping decision, while the latter analyses the level of congruence and alignment of the respective person with himself/herself at the shopping time.

Thank you!

Hope all your news is good news and have a sunny day!

Copyright (C) Marcus Victor Grant  2007-present. Translation by Cristiana Brezeanu of the article “Dependența de cumpărături“ published previously in Romanian on February 28th, 2015 on Economia Online. Copyright (C) Marcus Victor Grant, all rights reserved

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