updated 20 Apr 2014, 21:59
Login password
Mon, Mar 10, 2014
New Straits Times
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Clicking dangerously on the edge
by Audrey Vijaindren

RETAIL ADDICTION: Although it has been recently discovered that only 29 per cent of online shoppers in the region are satisfied with the goodies they have clicked their way into buying, the lure of online shopping is fast becoming a phenomenon. Experts fear that if this seemingly innocent craze goes unchecked, it could be the start of a psychologically and financially dangerous addiction.

For many with a decent Internet connection and online bank account, the temptation to unwrap a package or two every day may be too good to resist. The ease of getting everything you need -- or not -- at your doorstep with the click of a button is a lure that many youngsters, working adults and retirees are finding difficult to pass off.

Although shopping online saves one the hassle of braving traffic, finding a parking spot at the mall and waiting in long check-out queues, it can be the start of a damaging habit that many Malaysians are engaged in.

Rekindle International Marriage and Family Therapy Centre counselling psychologist Cathie Wu says the recent online shopping fad is because of a combination of factors, especially the greater availability of Internet shopping sites in the country over recent years.

"The obvious comfort and convenience of shopping at one's choice of time and setting, and the explosion of the Internet's presence in our daily lives across different platforms and devices, have contributed to this addiction.

"In an online environment, without the physical stimuli present in in-store retail, these elements play a greater role in determining consumers' purchasing behaviour."

Wu says studies have proven that shopping can have psychological effects, such as temporary boosts in confidence, which produce an increase in endorphins that cause the mood to lift.

"In retail addicts, this has become learned behaviour because of the association between emotional and psychological pleasure, and the experience of shopping.

"Research has cited young female adults, those between 20 and 40, as making up the majority of consumers in online retail, although local demographics may differ."

Clinical psychologist Alvin Tan says this form of addiction is part of a natural transition.

"With technological advances, high-speed Internet and the public perception towards Internet transactions becoming more positive, I see this addiction as a natural response.

"Activities such as shopping, when done in moderation, are not detrimental to a person's quality of life. It could, however, be detrimental if done in excess, to the extent of damaging the person's life.

"Among the signs of addiction include disturbances in daily functioning, increase in shopping behaviour to receive the same level of satisfaction, repetition of said behaviour despite knowing its harm and unsuccessful attempts to stop."

Tan says for many people, owning something they desire provides a feeling of contentment.

"We learn to associate such feelings of pleasure with the behaviour we engage in. As such, the behaviour of shopping is associated to feelings of pleasure.

"From our experience, we have learned that to feel pleasure, we need to repeat a behaviour such as shopping online as part of our repertoire in regulating our mood."

A self-professed online shopping addict, who only wanted to be known as Clara, says she started getting hooked after delivering her first child.

"I used to pride myself in being a frugal shopper, all that went out the window when I was confined to the house for two months after delivery. I found myself surfing the Internet for baby items, since I was not allowed to leave the house during the pantang (confinement) period.

"It all seemed fairly innocent, especially since I told myself that it was better to shop online because I would save on petrol, toll and parking, and would not be lured into buying other things while at the mall. But, I soon realised I was wrong.

"After my first purchase arrived, I realised that I had the 'power' to get up every day to unwrap my 'gifts'. From one purchase a week, I found myself making numerous purchases daily.

"After returning to work, I spent hours online surfing virtual stores for things I did not need and vacation packages I did not have time to use. There have been numerous deals that I did not use because I forgot them or did not have the time," says the 35-year-old accounting executive.

Clara realised she had an addiction problem only when her husband challenged her to not make any online purchase for a week.

"My better half told me that I was spending more money than I was making every day.

"As much I wanted to deny it, I knew it was true. I lost the bet to stay away from online shopping websites and am still struggling to get over this addiction. It is a daily challenge that I hope to overcome some day."

If a consumer does not exercise self-regulation, this addiction can lead to increased risks in accruing debt and hoarding, and be damaging to relationships and careers, warns Wu.

She advises people to look out for warning signs.

"Some red lights include feeling a lack of control, frequently over-spending, experiencing shame and guilt over compulsive buying, having to hide purchases and hoarding, which involves the accruement of goods without using them."

When one notices these warning signs, he or she should increase the repertoire of healthy outlets for improving mood and regulating stress, she says.

"Explore other hobbies and methods of relaxation. Also, it helps to recognise and know your triggers, be it increased stress and boredom, or changes in mood. Remove temptations early or make the problem behaviour difficult to carry out by carrying only cash.

"One should consider removing frequent retail browser sites and document the smallest purchases to decrease debt risks."

Wu suggests that those who recognise their online shopping addiction carry pictures of said purchases in their wallets or purses to serve as a visual reminder.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2014 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.