One day last year, at five minutes to 11 am, television actress Shweta Arora, 34, from Mumbai anxiously waited for the doors of the shopping mall to open. After several days of 17-hour shoots, she was looking forward to unwinding at the mall.
“I used to mark the first day of a sale on my calendar and schedule my appointments around it,” she says. A year ago, Arora spent R90,000 on a shopping spree for designer clothes that she soon knew she would never use.
In a culture where, thanks to credit cards, money seems easily accessible and glitzy window displays constantly scream ‘sale’, experts believe that like Arora, people are turning to malls and online shopping websites to beat loneliness, stress, depression and anxiety. The numbers are not only rising, the shopaholics are also getting younger.
According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, the online shopping market alone is estimated to triple this Diwali season from last year.
Manisha Sewal (not her real name), 38. who rushed back from the mall to borrow R12000 from her neighbour for a pair of sunglasses. This was after she realised she had forgotten to carry her husband’s credit card with her. “I never fancied sunglasses,” she says, “Thanks to my husband’s card I never realise how much I am spending.”
Psychologists define this addiction as shopping beyond one’s needs and means. The compulsive, frequent shopping is driven by an impulse, followed by instant gratification and guilt. “A large number of people don’t realise that they are shopaholics,” says Devendra Save, Mumbai-based psychiatrist. “A growing number are under 19.”
Ranjana Motwani (name changed), 42, never realised that she was turning her 14-year-old into a shopaholic. “We would sip on coffee, try out new dresses and perfumes,” she says. Soon her daughter was addicted. Not only was she heading to the mall alone in the evenings and throwing tantrums if she wasn’t bought something new every week, she also started stealing money.
Mumbai-based psychologist Dr Anjali Chhabria’s youngest patient is a 13-year-old school boy. “Children’s sense of gratification now comes from shopping for fancy goods. Every week, a new gadget or toy is bought. We are unknowingly raising future shopaholics.”