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How Is ‘Retail Therapy’ Causing a Need for More?

We have all been there, going shopping to feel good on a bad day. This could be defined as ‘retail therapy’, a mechanism to give us temporary fulfilment by purchasing on impulse, and of course, it makes us feel good! Consumerism encourages the idea that happiness can be bought. This is a very problematic concept. In turn, we drift from our ‘true needs’ and turn to ‘false needs’ for temporary fulfilment. Retail therapy is much more of a common outlet than you may think, many of us are guilty of it, even if we are not conscious. Take a look at your last online haul, what item did you really need?

Why do we feel good when we spend?

Impulse spending is a big problem for many people. A study found that in the United Kingdom 78.4% of people give in to impulse shopping and more than 22.9% were making impulse purchases on a weekly basis. For something that can be so detrimental to our bank accounts, what is it that makes us feel so good? And how can we resist the urge?

Shopping is leisure whether that be online or in the store. Shopping is a way to distract our minds from reality, in a way. You have to think about what you want or need, so you are more focused on what you desire rather than other issues going on in your life. When you look in the mirror and pose around in your new item of clothing, of course, it gives you confidence and it can make you feel amazing! (at least temporarily).

Whilst shopping, you are in control of what you buy, to some degree. Everyone likes to feel in charge now and again. If you are feeling out of control lately, a day of shopping could certainly help with frustration. As well as this, by shopping, we create an outward projection of ourselves through the items that we wear. So it is effectively forming an image of ourselves to others and as a consequence, it helps us feel satisfied with the way that we see ourselves.

Will we ever be satisfied?

It is not called retail therapy for no reason, it satisfies our need to consume and helps us feel happy in our self-image. But this is not for long. We wear items a few times before it gives us the same feel-good feeling it once did. The items we chose to express ourselves can communicate more about us than words. For many, this can be dangerous as we may feel the need to spend more than we can afford just to feel beautiful. We continue to buy things we do not need in order to keep up with the persona that we display to others, and this can be theorised as conspicuous consumption.

Conspicuous consumption is the spending of money on and the acquiring of luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power of the income or of the accumulated wealth of the buyer” Veblen Thorstein (1899) The Theory of the Leisure Class.

Veblen Thorstein discussed the concept of conspicuous consumption back in the nineteenth century. The theory that what we buy is a public display of power and communicates parts of ourselves. As a result of this, it forms ‘false needs’ and leads us to always wanting to purchase the next new thing.

Whether that’s keeping up with fashion trends or buying the latest Apple phone. This separates need from want – we want new items to keep up to date, but we do not need them. So we need to ask ourselves do we need this? Or is it just searching for fulfilment through material clothing?

How does social media influence ‘Retail Therapy’?

Social media has a huge influence on consumerism, nowadays we can find anything we want online. Brands use their social media platforms to encourage ‘retail therapy’. A Deloitte report underlined that consumers who are influenced by social media are four times more likely to spend more on purchases. Additionally, it has such an influence that 29% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase on the same day of using social media.

Shopping has never been easier. Your new items are only a click away! Many brands have now harnessed the power of social media to sell more than ever. Consumers can find clothes their favourite influencer is wearing, as most of the time, their clothes are tagged. When shopping online anything is accessible, if you have an idea of what you want you can just search for it. Whereas if you go to a store and there is nothing you like you are less likely to buy anything, but online there is endless amounts of shops and brands to search through in the comfort of your own home. Feeling too low to go out? Feeling lazy but want a cute outfit? The internet has all of your material desires…

Let’s not forget about cookies! I am not talking about some baked goods, I am talking the little pop up as we enter a webpage. That mostly goes ignored, well at least, I can say I am guilty of never reading the pop-up and continuing with my shop. Cookies are small data files put on to our computers by websites so they can remember things about us, and almost every site uses them. Ever wondered why you keep being shown that pair of shoes you looked at a few days ago? It is those cookies persuading you to consume, consume, consume!

For the most part, social media can spark our desire to shop more than ever before. When we want to fill that void it is easy to boost our moods with some retail therapy. However, this can have negative effects on pollution as clothes are being shipped at a larger scale than ever. It also causes us to want more. As a result of temporary happiness through consumption, it can cause us to spend more and be satisfied for less time. Is the therapy we feel from retail worth it?


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