What is retail therapy and is it a problem that needs solving?
If you're anything like me, you've probably experienced a time in your life when you felt a little bit sad or stressed or maybe even anxious, until you realised that the perfect solution for your problem was right in front of you all along... to buy a new top. obviously.
But why is it that I amongst many others find comfort in making random purchases which are unrelated to the root problem? Two simple words... Retail Therapy.
What is retail therapy?
Retail therapy "is the act of buying special things for yourself in order to feel better when you are unhappy", and let's be honest, it's an easy rabbit hole to fall into. This can include unplanned shopping sprees with the intention of cheering yourself up, shopping to relieve stress and shopping as a means to feel in control. However, when we step back and look at the potential impacts of retail therapy, we have to question whether or not it does more harm than good.
How does it work?
It's undeniable that getting something brand new can be an easy mood booster with one study finding that "62% of shoppers bought something in order to cheer themselves up". Since shopping can allow us to focus on one thing and distract ourselves from whatever else may be going on in our lives, it's easy to see how a good shopping spree could feel like a quick stress reliever and distraction.
Alongside this, researchers have found that endorphins and dopamine, otherwise known as the "happy hormones", are released during retail therapy which explains the buzz that we get after we buy something we like. However, it is important to not confuse 'retail therapy' for 'shopping addiction' as with retail therapy the buyer has control over their decisions and feel good about their purchases, whereas the same does not apply for people with shopping addictions.
What are the benefits?
As previously mentioned, through being able to block out everything else going on in our lives and have tunnel vision while shopping, retail therapy has the ability to help us relax and live in the present. There is also possibility that because can shoppers envision themselves being happy and having fun in the future with their purchase, this brings double the comfort and reassurance for making it through the stresses of current life.
Creative Exploration/ Freedom
Retail therapy can sometimes boost creativity as it gives us the freedom to buy and match items of clothing together however we want and make them our own in a way which makes us feel good about ourselves. Alongside this, we are able to exercise our self-expression through the way we choose to coordinate ourselves and feel confident about our choices. This is reinforced by the works of Psychologist Dr Cathy Malchiodi who concluded that being a creative can 'Increase positive emotions, lessen depressive symptoms, reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and even improve immune system functioning'.
In many ways, retail therapy can give a boost in confidence as it not only allows us to buy what we want and feel looks best, but also get to make our own decisions and take control over something in our lives. Alongside this, spending our money on what makes us feel good can feel like a well earned treat/ reward and remind us of our value and that we deserved to be treated. However, for some of us, instead of focusing on our personal value we instead focus on the value we place on the material things, which makes us feel better through owning them.
Why could it be harmful?
Although there are some positives to retail therapy such as stress relief, creative exploration and improved confidence, there are also many negatives which shouldn't be overlooked.
As shopping does not actually solve our problems or fulfil our needs, but rather act as a quick fix/ temporary distraction, it is easy for retail therapy to become a habit which is hard to break, thus heightening the risk of addiction if no alternative coping mechanisms for problems are found.
Financial Implications (Debt)
Although lots of shopping can raise your spirits, it can also raise your blood pressure once you stop and realise how much you've just spent on that last spree. Alongside the risk of addiction there is also a subsequent risk of experiencing negative financial consequences from engaging in retail therapy, sometimes as severe as debt, due to the constant need to feel better in a way which spirals out of control.
Poor Environmental Impact
With the increase of fast fashion and micro-trends, it goes without saying that the production and consumption of modern fashion is extremely unsustainable and bad for the environment. Through buying clothes any time we feel down and engaging in the constant overconsumption of clothing items in particular, we are fuelling a cycle which damages our eco-systems and endangers our planet. From the water needed to wash all these purchased items to supporting excessive consumption, it is easy to conclude that it is better we don't engage in retail therapy unless we buy recycled/ eco-friendly clothing. To read more on this topic, you can click here to read this article on Mindless Mag.
Through relying on purchasing to feel better about ourselves, there is room left for marketers to take advantage and manipulate our self-worth and image based on what they tell us we need and whether we have it. For example, if they tell us that a product will make us feel better in any capacity- we are more likely to believe them and buy into what we are told.
So, is retail therapy a problem that needs solving?
Well, as therapist Dr. Meaghan Rice says...
”Retail therapy isn’t necessarily bad. When practiced intermittently and in moderation, retail therapy can be a healthy outlet.”
Although there are negatives to retail therapy which can be harmful when not practiced sensibly, for example the risk of financial problems, negative environmental impacts and the potentially negative impact on self-image, if we are moderate in the way in which we shop, for example buying something we already needed or second hand/ environmentally friendly, then it is less of a problem and can be healthy.