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Online Shopping: An Addiction or Just Boredom

Covid-19 brought a host of problems to the forefront of society, one plaguing many people right now is the accessibility and ease of online shopping. E-commerce sales in the US went up 44% in 2020 as compared to 2019.

While this uptick was largely motivated by health concerns, more and more people are also seeking out temporary relief from boredom or anxieties by shopping online. Although online shopping is not necessarily problematic, it can hint at underlying issues and with consistent indulgence this habit can atrophy a person’s emotional wellbeing as well as their wallet. 

How to tell If your Addicted to Online Shopping

So what differentiates a pattern of online shopping from an addiction to it? In general, once a behavior becomes a mental crutch with negative effects, it is no longer a healthy indulgence. Most people struggle to explain their online purchases because shopping is more about the anticipation and thrill of the experience than the product itself, so it’s not surprising that consumers continue to shop online even if their purchases fail to meet their expectations. 

This gratification is reinforced by marketing ploys that tempt consumers with promises of quality products at eye-catching discounts; encouraging us to take advantage of this seemingly stunning opportunity before someone else does.

Recognizing that the perceived competition for a product is almost entirely a construct and not a legitimate concern can be a difficult obstacle. But freeing yourself from the rush to get a deceptively well-priced item before it’s gone will help you make more practical decisions. Yet an addiction to shopping can prevent the consumer from feeling in control of their behavior. 

Like in-person shopping, the process of online-shopping can be all-consuming and ritualistic. The individual becomes caught up in anticipation as they plan for their shopping spree, buoying their enthusiasm until the purchase is ultimately made. Feelings of despondency and depression often follow which they then relieve with another purchase.  

Online Shopping: Experts Opinions

Experts disagree on the nature of this compulsion, since behavioral addictions are in general highly contested. Without a psychoactive substance to create physical withdrawal, “shopping addiction” may not even be an addiction. Therefore, compulsive shopping is often described as a mood or impulse disorder. But gambling is proof of how seriously compulsion can affect people. Uninfluenced by a psychoactive substance, serious gamblers will habitually use a game of chance to relieve their stress until they neurologically perceive near-misses as wins. 

New research on the convergence of habits and behavioral addictions offers insights into online shopping addictions and other toxic habits. Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit”, highlights that even after life-altering brain damage or the onset of Alzheimer’s, people will still cling to habits even if they are nonsensical. Our brain’s powerful synapses form as neurons connect and strengthen through a lifetime of routines, creating automatic habits or “habit loops” which consist of: a cue, a routine, and a reward. For online shopping the cue can be anything from boredom to stress. However, the routine is always buying something online to create the reward of anticipation.  

Kicking the habit

Adjusting our habits can mean identifying the cues which trigger these loops and then avoiding them. First, analyzing basic things like: where you are, how you are feeling, and your social circle at the time, will give you an idea of what these cues are. But when it’s impossible to avoid them, finding a new reward will help you form a new and hopefully healthier habit. 

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