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Are You Online Shopping A Lot During Quarantine? Here Are Some Psychological Reasons Why.

Hi everyone, welcome back to Couple Talk Tuesday! A big problem that we’ve all been facing during quarantine, couples and singles, is the growing habit of online shopping. Making up for the loss of outside activity by spending money on the internet is taking its toll on our wallets and on our relationships. This article explains some reasons why this habit has been growing so much during quarantine, and will hopefully allow you to identify your own behavior and feelings. The more you understand it, the easier it’ll be to get a handle on it and solve whatever problems it has been creating.

-Amanda, Social Media Coordinator,


Before the coronavirus, many New Yorkers took advantage of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world by shopping — but not me. 

I’ve developed sort-of blinders to all the retailers, the sprawling department stores and the kitschy millennial-branded shops. Out of necessity or practicality (this is one of the most expensive cities in the world, after all), I didn’t shop as a hobby, in-person or online.

During the pandemic, however? All bets are off.

I want to be clear: I am not buying things every day or even every week. But while I haven’t smashed that “complete purchase” button over and over, lest I create more work for the already-overwhelmed essential workers in this country, my browsing has been off the charts. For stuff I don’t even want

Instagram-friendly athleisure, Instagram-friendly furniture, Instagram-friendly underwear — I’ve scrolled through page after page of e-commerce websites, wondering if each shiny new thing would fill the nebulous void I’ve had in my core since the pandemic hit.

It’s not just me. Many industries are seeing spikes in sales right now. Casual apparel sales are up 340 percent according to Criteo. The sales of home goods, consumer electronics, sporting goods, pet supplies have all increased; there’s even been a “sharp spike” in face mask sales.

Non-essential food and drink are off the charts as well. Sales of alcohol online surged 243 percent; sales of cookies increased by 50 percent, according to Ayalla Ruvio, professor of marketing at Michigan State University, who studies consumer behavior. 

Let’s not forget children: Toy sales have increased by 28 percent, said Ruvio. 

There are psychological reasons behind this “hobby” of ours. While a time of economic uncertainty and unprecedented unemployment numbers may not seem to coincide with increases in consumer spending, Ruvio’s research shows otherwise. This happened after 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, as well. People shop in a time of crisis. 

Why we’re still shopping

The surface level of this particular itch is boredom, according to Anthony P. DeMaria, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, and director of adult ambulatory psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Morningside and West Hospitals in New York. 

Boredom leads to impulsivity, and for those who are experiencing the lack of novelty and excitement that staying at home brings, online shopping can fill that void of novelty. It’s also a form of entertainment according to Dr. Brian Wind, Ph.D., and Chief Clinical Executive at JourneyPure.

Shopping “keeps your mind off of the chaos in the world and gives you something fun to do,” said Wind.  

On a deeper level, many people are currently experiencing a loss of control, and shopping could be a way of coping with it. (Another way of coping with it: Thos viral challenges many of us had to deal with in March.) It gives people a sense of agency and volitional behavior over their otherwise non-autonomous lives, as they have to both stay at home and watch what’s happening to the outside world unfold before them. 

“Buying things that remind them of summer so that they bring to mind plans of what they will do when they get ‘back to normal.'”

“Some volitional behavior that they feel in control over, including things like sprucing up a wardrobe or making their home environment look the way they want to, or purchasing new items can provide some sense of control over their own environment, some sense of control over their own lives,” said Dr. DeMaria. 

Wind made a similar point. “Oftentimes, people who feel like they are powerless over certain circumstances tend to reach for things that they do have power over — like online shopping,” he said.  

DeMaria also mentioned that shopping can provide a sort-of wish fulfillment for our future selves, even if we have no idea what the future will look like. He used an example of buying things that remind you of summer, say bathing suits, summer outfits. “Buying things that remind them of summer so that they bring to mind plans of what they will do when they get ‘back to normal,'” said DeMaria.

It’s not just your brain — it’s marketing

While shopping does provide an escape or comfort our brains may crave, that’s not the only explanation. If your social media use has increased, it’s likely you’ve been barraged with sneaky influencer sponcon — and that’s not accidental. 

Brands are putting more money into influencer marketing than ever before, according to Clayton Durant, managing partner and founder of CAD Management, an entertainment consulting firm based in New York. CAD represents and consults for influencers/artists/content creators ranging from 50,000 to over four million followers.

Before the pandemic, the average number of brand inquiries to CAD Management’s influencers was five per month. Now, it’s 10, and these brands are asking influencers to drive their followers to their e-commerce sites. What’s more is that, given that in a time of crisis the usual #ad sponcon looks tasteless, brands are asking influencers to hide the advertisement component, and in Durant’s words, “make it a more content marketing play that consumers, in general, want to see or are already watching.”

“It is clear that many consumer brands have rethought their e-commerce strategy to make it more user friendly on both mobile and desktop, especially brands that had brick-and-mortar but can no longer operate those locations,” said Durant. 

“My guess is that consumers across the board are seeing these influencer collaborations more than they ever have because the volume of deal activity is bigger than before,” Durant continued. “These brands are just showing up in a lot of different pieces of digital content and it is reinforcing the brand image and ethos into the consumer’s mind that ultimately helps drive e-commerce sales.” 

While you could be using online shopping as a coping mechanism, you could also be affected by the increase in marketing that has the sole purpose of getting you onto those e-commerce sites. 

What happens after you click “Purchase”

If you’re chasing that feel-good rush of buying something new, you may notice it doesn’t last long. “Sometimes… as soon as they click ‘buy,’ the thing that they thought it would be so great to have, somehow it’s old news,” said DeMaria. 

“Consumers need to know that’s actually a short-term fix with retail therapy — soon after purchasing something, many feel reduced anxiety and even excitement,” said Ruvio. “Beware, though: the feeling doesn’t last very long and with a shaky economy, the last thing people need is soaring credit card debt.”

This is how a feedback loop with shopping forms, as it does with other addictive activities: You buy something, you get a high, then the high crashes down, and you want to buy more. 

Aside from using online shopping as a coping mechanism, there’s a sense of guilt that comes with the act — completely separate to any money guilt one might experience, even in “normal” circumstances. It’s guilt about the supply chain, the essential workers who are on the front lines and have to leave their homes in order to get our packages to us.

“You may see people moving towards things like sustainable investing.”

While this guilt may not be strong enough to dissuade us from purchasing, DeMaria says it could have positive impacts in the future. “You may see people moving towards things like sustainable investing as a result,” he said, “and really considering more ethical ways to engage in market-based behavior and economics.” 

This goes back to the core of why we experience guilt: It’s painful and makes us consider what we should do in the future. So if there’s a good thing that comes out of consuming (or perhaps overconsuming) and the resulting guilt, it’s that it’ll bring more awareness to the consequences and push us towards a more sustainable lifestyle.  

If you’re finding yourself overspending, you’re not alone. There’s likely an end in sight, although it’s uncertain when that’ll be. You will still spend after this ordeal, of course, but Ruvio predicts spending habits will change.

After the pandemic, Ruvio anticipates that shopping for material items will decrease, but buying experiences — movies, festivals, dining out — will skyrocket, which is unsurprising as we can’t indulge in any of these social experiences right now. 

“Because of social distancing, there will be a great need for social interactions,” said Ruvio. “People will seek out ways and venues to enjoy reuniting with their loved ones.”

This article was originally posted here.

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