With the year’s biggest shopping holiday just around the corner, now is the perfect time to talk about a major issue facing many shoppers: Online shopping addiction.
It may sound odd, but there are people who are addicted to shopping online—much like some people may be addicted to gambling.
So what is shopping addiction? How can you stop it?
Let’s take a look at online shopping, what can make it addictive, and how to break that addiction before it results in a massive pile of debt!
What Is Shopping Addiction and How Does It Relate to Online Purchases?
Online shopping addiction is a compulsive behaviour that is characterized by a pattern of pathological spending. Studies have shown that it affects about 1 in 20 people (5% of the population) and is more common in wealthier countries like Canada and the USA.
The condition has many names, such as compulsive shopping, shopaholism, and oniomania, just to name a few.
Those who suffer from online shopping addiction may find themselves making a large number of small impulse purchases on different online storefronts for items that they may not need.
They may also make a few large purchases with self-justifications, like “I have room in the budget” or “I can treat myself just this once.”
Online shopping makes it easier than ever to fall into addictive shopping behaviours. Interest-based ads, convenience, and a sense of urgency (like with “flash sales”), it’s never been easier to buy online, even if you don’t need what’s being sold.
How Bad Can Online Shopping Addiction Be?
If you haven’t heard the term shopping addiction before, it can be difficult to imagine just how much of a problem it can be.
Here are a few statistics about shopping addiction to help put it into perspective:
- 58% of people with shopping addiction have large debts (and 42% can’t make their debt payments).
- Shopping addiction is strongly linked to depression and generalized anxiety disorder—studies have found that 13.7% of shopping addicts suffered major depressive episodes and 11.5% suffered generalized anxiety disorder.
- University students are at an increased risk of being shopping addicts as 8% of that population are shopping addicts versus the average of 5% for the general population.
- Women make up a disproportionate percentage of compulsive shoppers (92% of shopping addicts are women).
In addition, online shopping addiction is still being discussed in terms of whether it’s an actual addiction. There is contention among experts about how to classify shopping addiction—is it an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), impulse control disorder, or a behavioural addiction like gambling?
Some experts don’t even categorise it as a disorder at all—which can make things even more difficult for those who need online shopping addiction help.
Warning Signs of Online Shopping Addiction
So how can you tell if you (or a loved one) is experiencing a full-blown online shopping addiction instead of simply making some extra impulse buys?
Considering that 59% of Canadians surveyed in a poll stated that they’ve shopped to cheer themselves up, it’s important to differentiate between a few simple impulse buys and an obsessive pattern of shopping.
Some warning signs that shopping has become a problem include:
- Continuing to shop and buy unneeded items despite damage to finances (growing debt, damage to credit, etc.).
- Attempting to hide the cost of online purchases from others.
- Getting into arguments with loved ones over online purchases.
- Using credit to make purchases you can’t afford (and not being able to pay the card off before the next billing period).
- Experiencing strong euphoria/satisfaction immediately after a purchase followed by feelings of guilt or embarrassment.
- Hoarding of unnecessary items in the home that create clutter.
If you find yourself shopping a lot to take your mind off of things and experience the behaviours listed above, then you might be experiencing a shopping addiction.
How to Stop Online Shopping Addiction
Even if you aren’t actually addicted to shopping, excessive impulse spending could harm your finances. So, it’s important to find ways to control your spending regardless of if you’re addicted to buying stuff online.
This can be difficult—companies have spent decades and countless dollars learning how to encourage people to buy. It’s all too easy to fall back into old buying habits.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you curb your online shopping addiction:
1. Find Out What Your “Shopping Triggers” Are
What is it that makes you want to shop?
Identifying your shopping triggers can help you avoid situations where you would be motivated to make unnecessary purchases. For example, is there some kind of shopping app you own that encourages you to buy a lot of stuff? Removing that app from your life could be a great way to avoid unnecessary spending.
Or, do you find yourself making more purchases when you’re feeling depressed or lonely? Emotional triggers like these are harder to avoid—but simply recognizing them and how they impact your purchasing decisions can do a lot to help you curb your spending.
2. Create a List of Must-Haves
When making any purchase, is it something you really need, or just something that would be nice-to-have? Creating a list of items that are necessary for your survival or work can help you prioritize your purchases.
For example, buying new drapes or a kitchen table might be less important if you already have functional drapes and a table. However, basic foodstuffs like bread and milk are usually a good idea. Paying for gas or maintenance on your car can be important if you need it for work, but new upholstery or fancy hubcaps might not be as necessary (unless your car’s appearance is important to your work).
Having a list that prioritizes your “must-have” purchases and putting everything else in a “nice-to-have” or “unnecessary” category can be useful for helping you control your spending and avoiding racking up debt.
3. Consider Going to Therapy
You don’t have to try to stop a compulsive spending habit on your own. It can help to seek a therapist who specializes in managing compulsive behaviours. At the very least, it can be helpful to find a family member, friend, or loved one to confide in.
Talking about your more impulsive purchases can be embarrassing, even frustrating, at times. However, you may find the emotional support invaluable for helping you curb your spending and feeling better about your situation.
4. Challenge Yourself to Avoid Spending
Having trouble controlling your spending? Consider setting up a challenge to only spend a set amount of money in a month or to go the whole month without shopping online. These challenges can help motivate you to break bad habits that lead to impulse buys and wasted money.
Once you’ve beaten your goal for one month, consider stretching it out for an extra month—taking things one month at a time until you’ve broken your dependence on online shopping.
It can help to use a budget planner and expense tracker to help you keep an eye on your spending and identify where and how you could cut back on your purchases.
5. Find New Hobbies That Aren’t as Expensive
Are a lot of your impulse buys related to a particular hobby or activity? It could help to try a different activity that doesn’t require you to spend as much. For example, say you’re into collectible card games (like Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic, or Pokémon). You could switch to playing board games or standard card games with your family.
Of course, these alternatives might not always hit the same way as your preferred hobbies. But, it can still be useful for getting out of an expensive hobby since quitting cold turkey can be extremely difficult.
6. Avoid Using Your Credit Cards
Credit cards can be incredibly convenient for making purchases online. However, overreliance on them can lead to steep debts. So, it can help to find ways to avoid using credit cards outside of actual emergencies.
Consider setting aside your unsecured credit cards (the ones where there is no collateral—like a deposit—securing the card balance). This can help you avoid spending more money than you can afford. Switching to prepaid cards can also help you set a spending ceiling for your credit-based purchases since you can’t overspend your card’s balance.
As an added bonus, if you fall victim to online credit card fraud with a prepaid card, you can only lose the balance you’ve loaded onto the card.
Do you need help with controlling your spending habits or getting out of debt caused by excessive online purchases? Reach out to the Credit Canada team today!
Our certified Credit Counsellors have helped thousands of people get (and stay) out of debt by modifying their spending habits, creating customized budgets, and providing debt consolidation program (DCP) services.