You need to know this: Retail therapy can actually backfire

  •, New York
  • Updated: Jan 23, 2015 14:57 IST

Do you buy luxury products such as designer clothes that signal success and make you feel better? This type of retail therapy can actually backfire and leave you thinking more about your failures.

According to a team of researchers, this behaviour can strip consumers of their mental resources and impair their self-control.

"When consumers experience a psychological threat to how they would like to see themselves, buying products that signal accomplishment in the same area of their life could ironically cause them to dwell on their shortcomings," the authors said.

The team included Monika Lisjak from Erasmus University in the Netherlands, Andrea Bonezzi from New York University), Soo Kim from Cornell University and Derek D. Rucker from Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.

In one study, consumers who were asked to remember a time when their intelligence was undermined and then chose a "Scientific American " magazine (an intelligence-signalling product) reported that the magazine had prompted them to dwell on their shortcomings and were less likely to resist an offer of chocolate candy.

Consumption can sometimes compensate for our blunders and failures but this does not always work.

"Consumers who use products to boost their sense of self-worth tend to dwell on their shortcomings and their ability to exert self-control is impaired," the authors wrote.

After experiencing a setback in one area of their life, consumers might be better off boosting their sense of self in a different area of their life.

"For example, a consumer whose intelligence is undermined might be better off signaling their self-worth socially rather than trying to assert their intelligence," the authors said.

The study appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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