What is Impulsive Buying?
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Addiction to buying, also known as compulsive buying constitutes a compulsive pattern of acquisition of products that is analogous to drug addictions. Based on market research and prevalence studies estimate the scope of the problem in different countries at between 1% and 7% of the population.
However, in western consumer societies, a growing tendency has been noted of buying, which is impulsive, recreational, and compensatory for negative emotional states, and the percentage of consumers who are prone or vulnerable to addiction is estimated to be between 19.5% and 25% of the population. These figures indicate the social relevance of this phenomenon, which is not limited to a small percentage of subjects suffering from a mental disorder, but instead reflects a socio-cultural tendency whose medium- and long-term consequences should be considered.
The definitions of addiction to buying include as key characteristics a perceived difficulty in controlling one’s impulsive and excessive buying behavior, its chronic nature, its functions of emotional repair and of symbolically improving self-esteem, the development of a strong psychological dependence, and its damaging effects at the economic, psychological, and family levels. Similarly, they point to learning processes as factors that explain the difficulty to control the behavior and its repetitive nature, and they acknowledge vulnerability factors of a cultural, social, situational, and psychobiological nature.
The above-mentioned perception of difficulty to control, linked to the highly impulsive nature of buying, has led to different and, at times, contrary interpretations of the nature of addictive buying, even going so far as to indicate that addictive buying can present characteristics of voluntary behavior. This latter point of view has also been defended by other authors in the field of addiction to chemical substances (Megías et al., 2000; Peele, 1987) and of impulsive behavior in general (Baumeister, Heatherton, & Tice, 1994). These different conceptualizations are directly related to the different conceptual models of addictive behavior and to the issue of addicts’ personal responsibility for their own behavior and aspects.