Why We Really Shop

Posted by Jill Chivers in Shopping Messages

It’s not that revolutionary an idea that our motivations for shopping form a huge part of our buying behaviour.

We don’t simply shop for necessity. We don’t just shop for the items we end up taking home in boxes and bags.

We shop for a reason!

And it is these reasons, the many and many-faceted reasons that we are motivated to shop, that has so caught the attention of researchers, authors, academics, marketers and manufacturers.

They want to know more about why we buy.

Why do they want to know this? So they can sell us more stuff, of course! They want us to buy more, and buy more frequently.

And if they can tap into our emotional state, and even better, if they can manipulate our emotional states, then they will literally have us by the credit card. We’ll be theirs – all theirs! (cue maniacal laughter and the stroking of a large long-haired cat atop a leather clad lap).

So the responsibility is ours, as consumers, to understand all the dastardly , devious and downright determined tricks that marketers have up their sleeves to understand us better.

We need to understand our buying motivations as well as if not better than the marketers. Otherwise we’ll be sitting ducks, just waiting to be plucked from the sky and into their very large shopping baskets.

In a recent article by Peter Murray, PhD, who specialises in the psychological and emotional drivers of consumer behaviour, he shared some interesting findings that marketers are using to get us to buy more.

Why We Really Shop - post

In a nutshell, we buy to feel better.

We shop in an effort to feel better about ourselves and our lives– Who are we? What are we doing on this planet? And, importantly, are we doing better than others?

Dr Murray shares there are two separate “feel betters” we are going for, even if we don’t know these distinctions exist or which one is driving us to shop on this particular occasion.

  • The first is an immediate feel better. A momentary pleasure. A passing fancy.
  • The second is a longer-term feel better. Dr Murray refers to it as life satisfaction. The type found by the striving for and achievement of a long-term goal.

So what? I hear you say.

Well, tune in dear reader, as those (sometimes unscrupulous but always goal-oriented) marketers out there are using this distinction – this “I want it all and I want it now!” vs “I’ve always wanted it and now I’ve got it” set of distinct buying behaviours – to sell us more stuff.

They are using this information to tap us on the shoulder and say “You want it now! You deserve it now! Why wait? No need – here’s a red hot special – 70% off! Get it now or regret it forever!”

And they are using this information to evoke emotions in their advertising that speak to the power and morality of striving and persevering and then fiiiiiiinally, through enormous strength of character, achieving something worthwhile… which is neatly characterised by this (likely expensive and most likely “luxury”) THING (watch, handbag, car) that you should purchase.

Dr Murray summarises that “happiness does not come specifically from the objects we buy. It is an emotion associated with our motivations for making those purchases”.

And if he knows that, we know that those out there trying to sell us more stuff, more often, know it too.

But let’s be fair.  And smart.

Putting on my “fair and balanced” hat back on, marketers have a job to do and they are doing it extremely well. The problem isn’t with them, not really. In fact, there may not even be a problem, as such. Just helpful information for us as consumers to make better decisions.

And that’s what I suggest we do. Let’s be as smart as those trying to sell us stuff. Let’s perhaps be smarter.

It’s our money, and our life, after all.

We have the ability to become more self-aware, to know what and be in touch with what we are feeling at any moment in time. And to make better, smarter choices about where we find ourselves, in a mall or in the garden, when we are feeling especially susceptible to a well-crafted message that taps into our emotional state.

We have the ability to do something else with our time and money, than to be spending it (literally and figuratively) in the mall.

We have the ability to “vote with our feet” and not just find ourselves in a shopping environment, wandering from one alluring window display to the next, shopping on auto-pilot.

We have the ability, the responsibility even, to choose what kind of life we want. We have the ability to live that life – fully, richly, completely.

And I’d like to respectfully suggest that a full, rich, complete life is not to be found in the mall, or in the acquisition of more and more things.

A full, rich and complete life is found in real connection with others, in experiences that satisfy our soul, and in making a worthwhile contribution to the planet.

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    One Response to “Why We Really Shop”

    1. Jennifer L says:

      Awesome article… I wrote on this in ‘How to Kick Bad Spending Habits’ in 2006 after my own shopping addiction had to be culled.

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