Prescription for Retail Therapy

How much do you use of what you buy? Research reveals that Americans throw away 30 percent to 40 percent of the food they purchase.1 That’s just food, most of which you see daily and toss out regularly as it goes bad. But what about the things that don’t go bad — the sports equipment in the hall closet, the coat you bought for one trip or the shoes you love but never wear?

Why do we buy so much?

Maybe it’s because shopping carts are bigger. That’s right; today’s average shopping cart is three times as big as when they were first introduced in 1938.2 Here’s another interesting tidbit: Customers buy more impulse items when they grab a handheld shopping basket instead of a cart.3 Perhaps that’s because we go into a store knowing we want only one or two items but get a higher sense of fulfillment if we add just one or two more to the basket — because there’s room, and we can.

Retailers conduct research on how to encourage consumers to spend more money. There’s an entire industry devoted to studying shopping habits. Therefore, the more you know, the better you can identify retail traps. It’s not that you shouldn’t buy things; it’s that you shouldn’t buy things you don’t want or need, so it’s good to identify when you’re about to fall into a retailer’s trap. After all, the less you buy, the more you save. And the more you save, the better we can help you explore ways to create a retirement income strategy that you can have confidence in.

One nice perk some stores offer is a place to sit and rest. It’s good for bored children, patient spouses and weary shoppers laden with packages. But you should know that some stores, such as IKEA, set up displays of items that aren’t selling that well near these sitting areas.4 Apparently, staring at an item long enough while in repose can trigger an interest in buying it.

Some people use shopping like comfort food, as a way to temporarily make them feel better after a bad day or stressful situation. This is affectionately called “retail therapy.”5 In fact, studies show that about 62 percent of Americans tend to self-soothe by shopping. Scientists say we feel better because our brain releases a chemical called dopamine when we encounter something novel or exciting. However, it’s worth mentioning that dopamine levels spike higher when you anticipate making a purchase, and lower after you’ve made it.6 In other words, you can get a good feeling by shopping but not always when making a purchase. Good to know.

It’s also interesting to note the difference between impulsive shopping and compulsive shopping. Impulsive is shopping or buying on a whim, whereas compulsive is more planned out and designed to accomplish a goal, if only to feel better. Compulsive shoppers are more likely to get into financial trouble by shopping too much or too often.7 Interestingly, people tend to shop more compulsively when they are with friends as opposed to relatives.8 This could be indicative of shopping for approval or to fit in with your friends, versus trying not to be judged by your relatives.


Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications

1 United Nations Environment Programme. 2017. “Food Waste: The Facts.” Accessed Jan. 16, 2017.

2 Ali Newton. Display Centre. Dec. 14, 2016. “5 Display Tricks Supermarkets Use To Sell More.” Accessed Jan. 16, 2017.

3 Ibid.

4 Quentin Fottrell. MarketWatch. Dec. 10, 2016. “10 Psychological Retail Tricks That Make You Spend More Money.” Accessed Jan. 16, 2017.

5 Marianna Glynska. The Huffington Post. May 10, 2016. “Going Shopping: Stress Relief or Necessary Burden?” Accessed Jan. 16, 2017.

6 Paula Cookson, LCSW. Inpathy Bulletin. Dec. 21, 2016. “Retail Therapy.” Accessed Jan. 16, 2017.

7 Elizabeth Hartney, PhD. Apr. 18, 2016. “Compulsive vs. Impulsive Shopping.” Accessed Jan. 16, 2017.

8 Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. The Guardian. Nov. 26, 2015. “The Psychology of Impulsive Shopping.” Accessed Jan. 16, 2017.


We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.



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