A blog series on Shopper Marketing.

By Cyndi Pyburn

Two friends recently confessed their shopping sins to me.  The first had dropped a whopping $1,600 on a Louis Vuitton handbag.  That didn’t include the tax.  My eyeballs ‘popped’ because she is typically very careful with her spending.  The second, whose financial future is in jeopardy, spent copious amounts of money on clothing, shoes and accessories – all in one shopping trip!  My eyeballs ‘rolled’ because this actually isn’t the first time.  I, who am a fairly disciplined and conservative spender, thought “what the hell is going on with these two — what led to these crazy spending sprees?”Truth is “retail therapy” is alive and well.  Turns out according to a recent survey of 1,000 adults conducted by TNS Global (sorry again, American figures), 63.9% of women and 39.8% of men go shopping to improve their moods. The triggers:

  • 19.0% after a bad day at work
  • 14.5% after receiving bad news
  • 12.2% after a fight with someone who is close to them

And true to my friends’ buying patterns, women rank clothes (57.9%), food (34.7%), shoes (32.4%) and accessories (29.1%) as the top items purchased when looking to boost their mood.  Men’s top items for retail therapy are quite different:  food (28.1%), electronics (27.4%), music/movies (26.6%), clothes (21.5%) and games/toys (17.6%).

Studies have proven that retail therapy increases psychological wellbeing, can relieve stress and keep you mentally active.  In a Taiwanese study of 2,000 men and women over aged 65, shopping prolongs life and independence as it involves physical activity and social interaction.  A recently published University of British Columbia paper led by Elizabeth Dunn titled “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending it Right”, examines the relationship between money and happiness.  Money can and should make you happier if you are spending it on the right things.  Buying experiences (trips, a day at the spa), purchasing small sensory pleasures (mocha specialty coffee), or being a ‘do-gooder’ buyer (buying an item for family or friends) all make us feel good.

Retailers can be there for retail therapy customers in their time of need.  Recognizing that these shoppers are highly motivated to buy can all but guarantee conversion.  Soft selling ‘hints’ such as “You deserve it”, “You’re worth it”, “You’ve earned it”, “You need it” – cinch the deal.  Let’s face it, these purchases WILL be made. The smart and savvy sales associate can truly help by making a connection with the customer in an authentic and solutions-oriented way to not only ‘seal the deal’ but ensure that the customer walks away happier, spirits lifted,  and with a spring in her step.

Devious you say? Disingenuous? A downright dishonest sales practice?  We all justify or rationalize our ‘over-the-top’ purchases.  The sales associate is simply helping the shopper in need of retail therapy to get there faster!   It is by delving into the unconscious psychological and social factors that influence customer behavior that retailers learn how to better please their shoppers.

What research also reveals is that retail therapy customers are motivated by a desire to restore some element of control to their lives. The act of choosing between various types of merchandise empowers the customer.  If we want to attract the retail therapy seeking consumer into our stores, we need to find ways to fulfill their need to be in control. Every retailer has the opportunity to identify points where they can let their customers do the driving. An empowered customer is an enthusiastic customer.

That’s how retail therapy helps retailers.  Putting customers first means understanding the world they live in, and how the events that take place impact their everyday purchasing behavior. If they can do that, retail therapy will benefit both parties.

So, will I forgive my two friends?  Sure.  I get it.  Every once and awhile, we all need a little boost.  I can only hope that when my turn comes along, I’ll keep my wits about me and my pocketbook in balance.