The truth about shopping ... and it’s not all bad
Some might say that shopping is in season all-year round – such is our obsession with malls.
Certainly, there are always stores offering discounts in the many shopping malls dotted around the country, as retailers seek to hook in bargain-hunting shoppers.
Research shows that people often spend more money when shopping in a sale than they would on regularly priced merchandise.
A few psychological processes can be used to explain this counterintuitive idea.
Retailers often deploy clever tactics when the sales are on. Many shops will become hectic and disorganised, forcing consumers to sift through scattered items.
It can be very disappointing to go through this process and not find anything. Many of us will feel compelled to buy something we don’t really want just to feel like our efforts were not wasted.
Snagging the last piece of something you love can also be exhilarating. At the same time, something that is desired by others becomes more attractive to us.
This can lead us to buy things that we don’t really need or want, just because we are scared that someone will get it first.
It is hard for us to resist the savings, especially when discounts are deep.
Sometimes, we buy things that we wouldn’t normally buy because we are excited by how much money we are saving.
In this case, we are focusing more on how much we are saving, instead of how much we are spending. But, are we really saving money when you spend Dh1,000 to save Dh100 on something you wouldn’t normally buy?
By this time you are probably thinking that sales shopping isn’t a great idea, because we end up buying things that we don’t really need or even want. But don’t worry – shopping has benefits, too. Research shows that in certain circumstances it can be therapeutic.
For instance, shopping helps us visualise our future. Big changes can be scary, even when they are exciting. Shopping can actually help to allay these fears.
This is why we tend to shop a lot when we are going through big life changes. For example, many expectant parents spend a lot of their time shopping for their baby. Picking toys, books and clothes gives them a sense of control and allows them to feel more connected to the baby. Involving an older sibling can also help prepare them for the new addition to the family.
Shopping also helps us connect with others. This is important because strong social relationships make us happier and healthier. They help us live longer, too.
Shopping can also turn into a fun family tradition. For example, starting about 15 years ago – which was long before I moved to this country – my mother and I would fly to Dubai for a few days during the shopping festival.
We would stay near the malls that we wanted to visit and shop from morning to night. It was a great opportunity for us to bond over something we both enjoy. It quickly turned into a family trip that we looked forward to each year.
In summary, there are many factors that motivate us to shop. Buying things can be both pleasurable and therapeutic.
Like all good things, however, it can be problematic if it is taken to the extreme.
It might be time to slow down if you are unable to stay within your budget, or if it starts to disrupt the rest of your life.
Shopping should feel good too – if it doesn’t, you might need to reach out and talk to someone about it.
Dr Sarah Rasmi is a psychologist and professor at United Arab Emirates University
On Twitter: @DrSarah Rasmi
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