There’s no question that online giants such as Amazon are dominating the retail shopping industry. There is almost nothing you can’t find online and the Internet has revolutionized how and where we shop. For most people this is a convenience. But for some, it can be a nightmare.
Psychologists are beginning to recognize that online shopping can be just as addictive as gambling, drugs, and alcohol. The jury is still out as scientists are still trying to figure out how to categorize online pathological shopping and whether it’s more similar to impulse control disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, or addiction.
For the at-home patient and the shut-in elderly, online shopping represents an especially alluring opportunity to engage with the outside world and take advantage of seemingly unending “bargains.” Mental health professionals suggest that the following three characteristics make individuals particularly vulnerable to online shopping addiction:
A preference to buy anonymously and avoid social interaction
There is an overlap between pathological buying and anxiety—social anxiety in particular. For people who don’t like dealing with a crowded mall or the social interaction of checking out, buying online seems like the perfect solution, but it actually worsens the avoidance of social interaction. People prone to pathological shopping often feel shame and regret about their shopping and want to hide their habit, and the anonymity and privacy of online shopping can make this worse.
A wide variety and constant availability of items is particularly alluring
It’s no surprise that online shopping provides an astonishing variety that individuals find highly attractive. And online stores never “close.” This can lead to more intense online shopping cravings.
Instant gratification is associated with well-being
Let’s face it – who doesn’t like finding just the right product online, in stock, and on your doorstep overnight? People who find immense satisfaction in immediate gratification are drawn to online shopping, where purchases are a click away.
Now if you’re thinking, “Hey, wait a minute, that all sounds kind of like Aunt Beth!” it doesn’t necessarily mean Aunt Beth has an online shopping problem.
Here’s the difference:
People with a pathological buying problem feel preoccupied with shopping and believe they have no control over it, even if it leads to severe work or relationship problems, or financial bankruptcy.
Giving in to the occasional impulse buy is normal. After all, the majority of people enjoy shopping. The problem occurs when you or someone you know has succumbed to obsessive, pathological shopping. When it happens, a negative change in spending habits is noticeable and relationships can be negatively affected. Intercession and professional help may be needed.