The rapid development of Covid-19 turning into a worldwide public health emergency has been one of the most powerful disruptors in retail industry. As the retail landscape goes through dramatic shifts resulting from the chaos of the pandemic, the most prominent change in consumer behaviour is the significant gravitation towards virtual worlds.
The strict recommendations for social distancing, staying at home, and the closure of retail stores, made digital shopping sprees become order of the day. However, following the external factors, this ongoing shift from offline to online accentuates a certain component of shopping behaviour that is connected to our emotional wellbeing.
When we look at the psychological consequences of the pandemic arising from the job losses, business closures, uncertain future and fear that started almost a year ago, we can confidently conclude that these unwelcome changes proved to have negative impact on general public’s mental health.
Additionally, with the increase of the psychological distress in the form of anxiety and depression, we’ve also seen the emergence of impulse buying.
The phenomenon of impulse buying is nothing new. It happens in normal times and it happens during crises. In both cases, such consumer behaviour comes from the depths of the human psyche. That is, our subconscious mind is often driving our human impulses and our behaviour as consumers. And that’s the thing with impulse buying – it’s not rational, it’s subconscious and emotional. And it happens faster when we buy online.
In reality we buy products and services that supply positive emotions. There’s consistent, evidence-based conclusion that emotions tend to leave a much greater impression in our memories than product that was bought. Especially when we experience a dopamine buzz in the reward part of our brain, we have tendency to not just remember a particular feel-good state, but we also enjoy repeating it countless times.
Generally, human beings want to experience an instant gratification, based on our hedonistic motivation. But as most shopping is too tedious and time consuming to carry out with conscious attention, in order to get faster satisfaction, we use heuristics. These are unconsciously held rules of thumb that help us make quick decisions that we’ve learned are rewarding and generally work out well. As the thoughts and emotions play a major role in impulse buying, so the heuristics can be triggered by both positive and negative emotions.
Unfortunately, there’s ample supply of negative emotions such as grief, sadness, anxiety, anger, that have been triggered by the pandemic situation. So much so that during the lockdown, the psychological tendency for impulse buying is supported by the dynamic interaction between uncertainty, anxiety and daily information overload that makes our consumer minds take mental shortcuts leading to quick decision-making that ends up as impulse buying. This is much easier to execute with the click of a button that only digital offerings can support.
Of course, when we look at it from the business perspective, impulse buying is the source of revenues and profits for the companies, which without doubt brings a great satisfaction to any business. However, when it comes to you as a consumer the story is somewhat different.
On one hand, the impulse buying during the lockdown may play an effective role in reducing depression, and improving your mood towards the positive side. It can help divert your mind from negative destructive psychological thinking, negative emotional state and low self-esteem. If you do it sporadically, that is.
But then, on the other hand, if you are habitually ending up buying more than what you originally had planned for, the regret about wasting money and the stress that comes with it is not good for your mental health.
For example, if you’re in the category of consumers with neuroticism trait, that means that you tend to be less emotionally stable and possess more negative emotions, compared to the individuals who score low on this trait. You can experience more intensely the damaging effects of anxiety, distress, low mood, and unhappiness that come with lockdown restrictions. Very often the emotional distress may lead you to make an impulse purchase in order to feel better. Except that the elated mood doesn’t last too long, so this behaviour pattern needs to be repeated again. This is how you form the negative feedback loop. With every repetition your spending habits may get out of control, your blown budget remains, and your psychological distress grows.
So next time, before you automatically reach for the “retail mood fix” pay attention to your thoughts and emotions. Give it careful consideration and try to resist the urge to click the buy button. It is certainly tempting to want to combat the stress and boredom of the lockdown era with retail therapy. However, in the search for comfort and pleasure, you may end up even more distressed if you heavily rely on online shopping as your coping mechanism. Remember – retail therapy can numb the pain for a moment, but it doesn’t cure what’s driving you to impulse buy in the first place.