Dr. Wu’s Insights into Reducing Shopping Addiction
- What business is Amazon truly in?
- Why is stress related to shopping habits?
In a recent program by Big Think, Neuroscientist Dr. Terry Wu discussed the rapid modern transition from store shopping to online buying. He explained how our brain function dictates our online shopping habits for good or bad.
Exploring the basic functional areas of our brains, we can understand our love-hate relationship with money. Learning various strategies we can use to fully benefit from our new online shopping activities can help avoid suffering from the consequences of abusing them. We find that the Internet marketplace’s easy availability can be a blessing or a curse.
- The Impact of Opposing Brain Functions – The limbic system processes our emotional responses. The brain’s frontal cortex enables reasoning and rational decision-making. He pointed out that we are evolutionarily programmed to feel first, and reason later. We seek to feel good and avoid anxiety. A major factor in this brain relationship is that stress causes the rational frontal lobe to shut down. Decision-making is then surrendered to our emotions and feelings. While this can be a very useful thing when being chased by a tiger, it can lead to damaging results when practiced in our complex modern society.
- The Loss of Control and Stress – This panic can lead to a loss of impulse control for those who are under chronic stress. That lack of impulse control feeds into our desire for the reward of instant gratification. The frantic buying of toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic is an example of how stress makes us irrational. There was no actual shortage of toilet paper. Regardless, rumors spread and actual shortages appeared due to the hoarding and panic buying of frightened consumers. This reinforced fears and ratcheted stress up even further. The panic became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- The Illusion of Control and Shopping Addiction – There are many ways to motivate consumers to buy more, including the use of crowd influence to validate consumer choices. Citing others choosing a particular product and highlighting most popular items feed into our desire to feel safe. Easily available credit accounts to defer the perceived pain of paying for goods by putting it off to a future time, making a present purchase a stress free and totally enjoyable experience. The lack of pain produces an illusion of control which makes the shopping experience pleasurable and increases the actual amounts spent by the shopper. Feeling in control of our lives is key to reducing stress, and marketers know this.
How can we control these internal gremlins that use emotion to guide our overspending online? Dr. Wu has some suggestions we can use.
Take Your Control Back and Avoid Manipulation
Dr. Wu’s brain hacks are a great starting point in making online shopping our helpful servant and not our master.
- Place Barriers to Impulsive Shopping – Random, impulsive shopping sessions are ripe for abuse. Restricting shopping to a predetermined date and time frame helps, along with a list of desired items to focus on. Traditional live shoppers lacked the time and access to shop at a whim, and thus spent more time planning and considering their purchases. The relatively new concept of credit cards also forced them to consider the payment of precious cash for each purchase.
- Delay the Urge of Instant Shopping – Allow for the passage of time between the urge to buy and an actual purchase transaction to let the rational brain center do its work. Addiction researchers have shown that impulses are fleeting and generally only last minutes until they pass. Deliberately pausing before purchasing harnesses the initial excitement and lets the rational brain function take control.
- Reduce Your Stress with Exercise – Use stress reduction techniques like physical exercise in order to minimize our stress induced urges to binge and impulse shop. Physical exertion releases stress reducing chemicals. It also has positive effects on the frontal cortex function.
- Reduce Your Stress with Social Support – Positive and regular social interaction is also key to stress reduction. Feelings of belonging and acceptance are important to human beings. Reduction of stress in this manner helps us keep emotional responses in their place and use our frontal cortex to make decisions regularly. Practice makes perfect.
Online shopping is here to stay as the dominant form of modern commerce. In order to enjoy the benefits and avoid the negative impacts of this new world of shopping, it’s important to understand its dynamics and our role in developing good habits.