Addiction Week: Shopping Edition

As I’ve mentioned in this week’s other posts, there is a reason I’m focusing on addiction right now.  Note: This is a longer post than most, but that’s because this one is critical. Please take a few to read and then share.

Many of us have already received a month’s worth of Black Friday-esque emails, targeted ads, maybe even meatspace catalogs (some companies, even online only companies, still use the mail at this time of year).

All of these marketing hits include coupons, or teasers about deep savings and upcoming discounts, and all of them are designed to look and feel like the best thing we’ve ever received.

The competition for our eyes, minds, and wallets has never been more fierce. Marketers are good at what they do, and when they combine their human talents with machine learning and big data, we don’t stand a chance.

We will, all of us, get hooked. There will be some special, some product, some perk that we or our families didn’t know we needed, but now just can’t live without. And, starting early next week and continuing until early January, we’re going to be under assault like never before.

As humorist Tom Lehrer said, it’s a year when “Angels we have heard on high tell us to go out and buy.”

Winter commercialism is nothing new. And, it’s not going away. Here’s a stat from the National Retail Federation:

NRF expects holiday retail sales in November and December – excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – to increase between 3.6 and 4 percent for a total of $678.75 billion to $682 billion, up from $655.8 billion last year.

In other words – for big retail, this season means the difference between profit and loss, holiday bonuses, shareholder happiness. For small businesses, struggling chains, and the growing number of small online businesses, this season represents the thin line between survival and bankruptcy.

So, marketers pull out all the stops. They assault our senses. And they do it with better data and a much more effective targeting approach than ever.

I could go on and on about my feelings regarding consumerism and the holiday season, but I’ll refrain. This is not a consumption economics tirade.

So back to the part about addiction:

It is hard for anyone to completely ignore advertising’s siren song, especially because the holiday season is so important in our culture. We’ve been groomed to give. We feel the need to spend. We stress about expectation and scale. Even the most self-controlled among us worry if we can’t show up with the best / most / newest / shiniest / rarest presents, we lose.

We are a long, long way from the Laura Ingalls Wilder days:

penny quote

This sales barrage is even more dangerous those of us who  face impulse control issues, addictions, compulsions, or mental conditions that lead to shopping as a way to dull pain. For them (us?) it can be a devastating time of year.

For compulsive types, the next two months can lead to personal bankruptcy, loss of sleep and rest, guilt, fear, and sadness. Not exactly the holiday spirit.

If you are worried about yourself, your spouse, or a friend or family member, here are two tests that can help ascertain the scope of the issue:

  1. The Compulsive Buying Scale
  2. The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale

I got these links from a great Psychology Today article. It addresses online shopping compulsion – but most of the information there is portable and would also apply to those who will be lining up at Midnight on Thanksgiving to buy this year’s cheap knockoff TV or other bauble.

Next up: A post about how targeted online marketing works.

For now: Stay safe (and relatively addiction free) out there.


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