Last week I explored a few of the fascinating theories being tossed around in the scientific world to explain why women shop. As to be expected, I heard from several women who love to shop, and just about as many who said they don’t. And although there are exceptions to everything, statistics show that approximately two-thirds of us regularly enjoy the experience—especially when we have the time. That fact is just one more piece of the puzzle that explains the attraction to shopping. This week I offer more insight into the complicated motivations behind the urge to shop—all with the intention to help us become more conscious and responsible consumers.
From what I have been able to uncover, five big reasons to shop exist for women:
#1 Somebody has to do it. As mentioned in Part 1, women remain the primary family caregivers. As Forbes author Bridget Brennan says, “In virtually every society in the world, women have primary care-giving responsibilities for both children and the elderly (and often, just about everybody else in-between). In this primary caregiving role, women find themselves buying on behalf of everyone else in their lives.” She continues with, “I sometimes think entire industries would collapse overnight if women stopped being so thoughtful.”
Regardless of whether women enjoy this responsibility or the fact that men are stepping up to help, women still carry the majority of shopping responsibility for the family. Thankfully, due to instinct and practicality, most women manage to handle the task in addition to their always-busy lives.
Unfortunately, the dark side to this obligation is those women often spend more than they planned. According to the 2012 Shopper Engagement Study by POPAI, a trade association for the marketing and retail industry, the in-store decision rate for shoppers climbed to 76% in 2012. Retail merchandizing expert Castretail says about the study, “The average shopper misjudges the amount they will spend — in either direction — by 35%, and even when accounting for impulse purchases 57% spend more than they planned. Those who said they “overspend on impulse items” do so by more than 200% of what they expected to spend on such purchases.” In other words, everyone is susceptible to impulse buying—especially when tired, hungry or in a hurry.
#2 Defining ourselves and maintaining an image. Plenty of scientific evidence exists that confirms that both women and men buy items to define themselves and maintain an image. According to Jennifer Escalas, associate professor of management at the Owen Graduate School of Management, “…consumers use possessions and brands to create their self-identities and communicate these selves to others and to themselves.” In other words, in many ways we are what we buy.
Interestingly enough, the way that each sex goes about displaying their identities and image by what they buy is different for men and women. A study by Y. Wang and V. Griskvicius explains about men’s purchases that, “Luxury goods are known to serve an important function in relationships for men by helping to attract romantic partners…. (and) men’s tendency to seek and display luxury possessions is believed to have enhanced their reproductive fitness.”
But what about women? According to the same research by Wang and Griskvicius, what we buy not only communicates our status to others, but it also sometimes serves as a “signaling function in romantic relationships.” Who are we primarily signaling? Research says that women signal other women and the quality of their relationships by conspicuously displaying luxury goods in a way that is called “mate guarding.” The more prevalent the mate guarding, the more luxurious and visible the product. So while men buy products to impress the opposite sex, women often buy items to impress other women.
Even more fascinating is how people in general use shopping to broadcast their status in their community. Yet another study explains, “even when purchasing mundane products, consumers can signal status on the basis of the size of their selection within a set.” So depending upon your neighborhood, buying a supersized burger looks more impressive and signals status to your peers. It all depends upon who you think you need to impress.
#3 Emotional regulation and feeling better about ourselves. Research done by Professor Karen J. Pine from the University of Hertfordshire in 2009 spreads light on this issue. Pine found that:
Women shop more when emotions, both positive and negative, are running high.
A significant portion reported that, “they shop to cheer themselves up”, usually providing momentary pleasure but long-term regret.
Women felt that negative emotions like depression or feeling a bit low were frequently triggers to go on a spending spree—often going into debt to do it.
Women sometimes feel that shopping is “compensatory consumption,” or makes up for a lack of something missing in their lives.
Women admitted they sometimes shopped out of boredom or to give themselves something to do.
Positive emotions like feeling good can also trigger an urge to shop.
Women admitted to going on a spending spree and spending money they didn’t have when treating others (75%) and to impress others (52%) including loved ones.
#4 Instant gratification or lack of control. Unfortunately, impulse shopping happens with both men and women. According to Martin Merzer at CreditCards.com, 75% of us will admit to buying impulsively on occasion. Merzer goes on to say, “Of the impulse buyers, 16 percent said they spent $500 or more on the purchase, and 10 percent spent $1,000 or more. Those purchases came because we were excited (49 percent), bored (30 percent), sad (22 percent), angry (9 percent) or intoxicated (9 percent).” Men were much more likely to admit to buying while intoxicated, while 28% of the women confessed that sadness was their trigger.
At some point it is very possible that impulsive shopping becomes addictive. Donald Black, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa College of Medicine says, “Like other addictions, it basically has to do with impulsiveness and lack of control over one’s impulses. In America, shopping is embedded in our culture; so often, the impulsiveness comes out as excessive shopping.”
A shopping addiction can include:
continually buying over budget.
compulsively buying more than is needed.
hiding the purchases;
lying about purchases and how much money was actually spent.
#5. Hormones—that’s right, hormones. It’s common knowledge that hormones affect our lives in numerous ways throughout our lifetimes. What wasn’t known until relatively recently that women’s buying habits are also affected.
According to research done by Professors Karen Pine and Ben Fletcher, “Spending was less controlled, more impulsive and more excessive for women in the luteal phase, or the further on they were in their cycle, compared to the earlier, follicular phase.” Pine and Fletcher continue with, “Women report mood swings at this time, increased irritability and impulsivity, as well as impaired memory, concentration and motor coordination. It is therefore unsurprising that women in this study who were in the premenstrual phase reported some dysfunctional behavior with money. This manifested in them feeling out of control, spending more money than they had intended to, and a greater incidence of unplanned spending or purchasing of items on impulse.”
Of course hormones to a greater or lesser degree influence everyone. But research like this suggests that it is just one more trigger for us to be conscious about—especially if it triggers behaviors that we later regret or find problematic.
I’m pretty sure I personally have shopped for nearly all the reasons listed above at one time or another during my lifetime. But now with a clearer understanding about why women (and men too!) typically shop, it is much easier to understand common motivations and triggers. Again, there is nothing wrong with shopping or not shopping. However, anytime we use shopping to cover up a deeper issue that needs to be resolved, or spend money we don’t have, it’s time to try to discover what it is we are really seeking. It is also important to remember that most retailers have analytic departments set up to understand our buying habits so they can separate our money from our purse. In the end, becoming more aware and conscious about why we shop or do anything on a regular basis is just plain SMART.
Photo Credit: Orin Zebest on Fliker Creative Commons