The Phycology Behind Why We Shop

“Fashion is about something that comes from within you” mentioned Ralph Lauren, “Fashion is Psychology” Carolyn Mair added, and for most of us, both hypotheses are equally true. In reality, all fashion-savvy consumers agree on one thing: clothing can be a form of self-care. 

In fact, shopping can influence our mental health and psychological well-being. While many people use our clothing to empower themselves, we’ve witnessed time and time again how brands and marketers try to manipulate consumer behavior to their advantage. So, is there something else creeping behind the reasons we shop? The short answer is yes.

Phycology Behind Why We Shop: Happiness

According to Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, shopping is often linked to feelings of happiness. However,  there is a problem with the word happiness. He suggests the idea that the word has two different meanings; both describing a different source of happiness.

Momentary pleasure — one of the most prominent reasons behind the psychology of why we shop — describes the happiness someone might feel each time they opt for a brand new piece of clothing, buy a new car, etc.

The second source is life satisfaction — long-time goals we often set to bring us satisfaction-driven happiness. If someone is a luxury fashion enthusiast, owning a Hermes bag will fill them up with satisfaction-driven happiness.

Shopping driven by reward

 Jeff T. Larsen and Amie R. McKibban, writers of Psychological Science, “Is Happiness Having What You Want, Wanting What You Have, or Both?” divided our need for shopping into two different groups as well.

The pleasure from “wanting what you have” implies that it is derived from the use, creating happiness at the moment, referring to the feeling of content that results from experiencing what they bought.  

The pleasure of “Having what you want” refers to the goal that is preceded by the acquisition. Happiness results from the satisfaction derived from accomplishing the goal.  

Therefore, happiness isn’t directly related to the things we buy, but to the emotions that get fuelled by our motivations for making those purchases. Just like many other human behaviors, buying things makes us feel good because we are driven by reward. Every new purchase triggers a rush of dopamine, which creates those coveted feelings of pleasure.

FOMO and impulse buying

Impulse buying can be motivated by negative emotions, like so many studies have established, purchasing something often temporarily boosts our mood. That’s where certain marketing strategies come in to furthermore feed into our panic buying with 

 “limited time offers,” and “one-time-deals” are known for increasing the tendency to impulse buy. Limited time offers overload us with a sense of urgency and force us to make quick decisions — which often works wonders if a person is already not in a good mood.

As Dr. Kit Yarrow, an expert on consumer behavior and professor emeritus at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, puts it “People get more excited about the bargain than they do about what it is they’re actually buying,” this can also be seen in many other aspects of our day to day lives “the same kind of trigger of FOMO applies when you’re on vacation and so that’s like I have to get this here and now otherwise I won’t be able to get it later, or a limited time offer limited quantity available.” she added.

So, why do we keep falling into the same shopping patterns?

 “Many shoppers act with their heart and not their head,” explained Tod Marks, Consumer Reports shopping expert. “Their good judgment is blinded by the prospect of a bargain. We buy things based on an idealized way we see ourselves, not as we actually are.”

Dr. Kit Yarrow also told NBC News that she discovered that clothing is often purchased based on a fantasy people have about themselves.

 “They imagine themselves as the sort of person who goes on cruises or attends black-tie events or goes camping or who is slimmer than they are,” Yarrow said. “So they buy things for this kind of person they imagine they’re going to be that’s not necessarily who they are now.”

The psychology behind why we shop is arguably one of the most fascinating modern fields of study; one that can help us understand our behaviors and the ways to avoid falling into the same shopping patterns over and over again. Even though getting momentary pleasure and life satisfaction can absolutely boost our mood and motivate us, moderation is always the key.

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