Retail Dogma

Retail Therapy: Why it Works?

What is Retail Therapy?

Retail therapy is the act of shopping with the intention of achieving a positive psychological outcome or “a better mood” after the activity.

Why Retail Therapy Works

how retail therapy works
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Retail therapy works, due to many different reasons related to the shopping environment, as well as the shopper’s psychology.

1. Affecting Pleasure & Arousal

One of the reasons retail therapy works, is that retailers deliberately design and create their store environments to give the customers a good shopping experience, which in return leads to more sales for the retailers. This was based on numerous research studies connecting psychology and consumer behavior.

For example, a large scale 1997 field study on store environment and consumer purchase behavior has found that the store environment can largely affect customers’ shopping behavior. Specifically by using different environmental stimuli at the store, pleasure and arousal can be enhanced, and thereby leading to a different buying behavior. A 1992 study in the Journal of Retailing has found that pleasure in particular can lead to extra time and amount spent at the stores.

Such research findings have led retailers to start giving more attention to store design and atmosphere, and not only focus on merchandise depth & breadth, prices and value for money.

Due to the fact that many retail environments are deliberately designed to give shoppers more pleasure, shoppers in return tend to remember how visiting the mall enhances their mood, and so they use it as a therapy when they are in bad mood.

A 2011 research study has found that customers use retail therapy as a “strategic effort to improve mood”


2. A Lasting Positive Effect

The same study has found that the mood-repair effect is not a short-lived one. In fact, it has been found that retail therapy has a lasting positive effect, and that guilt or remorse feelings were not associated with the unplanned purchases made to uplift someone’s mood. Consumers who purchased those “self-treats” didn’t seem to engage in any type of compensatory activity (e.g returning the item) after the purchase.

In the absence of such remorse, consumers tend go back to shopping as a mood repair mechanism, the next time they need to do so.

3. A Planned, Strategic Behavior

Despite the fact that the purchases made during retail therapy are unplanned, the behavior itself has been strategically initiated by the consumer, as evidenced from the study above.

Many consumers actually leave a space in their monthly budgets for “going out” and “shopping”, because they know that they will eventually want to engage in these activities to uplift their mood and treat themselves.

This type of exercising control in itself is pleasing, and is one of the reasons why retail therapy works.

The study has also found that consumers tend to make those purchases within their budgets, and this is one of the reasons they don’t tend to regret it later, and one of the evidences that this behavior is actually a planned, strategic endeavor, unlike compulsive buying disorder.

4. Effect of Anticipation

Another positive effect of retail therapy is the act of anticipating something positive to happen.

This is usually the case when someone orders something online and waits for it to arrive. It also happens with in-store shopping, when the buyer visualizes using the product and anticipates the outcome of owning and using it.

Another way this is achieved, is when someone saves up for a specific purchase and anticipates the day of owning this product and the feeling of achievement & fulfillment for being able to save up and buy it.

Is Retail Therapy Restricted on The Act of Buying

Retail therapy is not necessarily restricted on the act of making a purchase. In fact, just the sensory experience resulting from going to the shopping mall and window shopping can positively affect the mood, due to the uplifting store atmosphere, the colorful environment, and the social experience of interacting with other people.

It has been found that dopamine, the hormone that makes you feel good, is released even before making a purchase, and just by browsing and going through this journey.

Is Retail Therapy an Addiction

Retail therapy by itself, when practiced from time to time to uplift the mood, is not an addiction. However; if the shopping behavior gets excessive and irresistible, it could turn to compulsive buying, which is a form of addiction.

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