We all know that feeling when we've bought something but don't really know why we bought it? Whether we are mindlessly adding items to our online cart and before you know it, it's 12 am and you're about to click "Pay Now" or you grab that chocolate bar just before you get to the cash register that you didn't even want anyway. So why do we do it?
If you don't know this feeling, then clearly you're a superhuman who can somehow avoid the temptations of decades-long researched marketing techniques and basic human instincts. Or you've discovered how to be a conscious consumer - go you!
So why do we buy things we don't need?
Most of these purchases are either impulse purchases or unconscious purchases. Between 40% and 80%of purchases are impulse buys. Animpulse buy is anytime you purchase something that you don't need and didn't intend to buy. This could be as small as a candy bar or as big as a car. According to this study, "impulse products are commonly characterized as low-cost, frequently purchased goods that demand little cognitive effort from the consumer." A study in America showed that 5 in 6 Americans admit to impulse buying and 77% of shoppers polled said they'd made an impulse purchase in the last three months.
And large corporations, brands and chains have made it incredibly easy for us to shop without being conscious of our purchases. We're constantly inundated with a world that encourages us to buy things without even thinking. This is called unconscious consumerism. Shops, magazines, advertisements, companies and brands are all vying for our money and they've designed strategies that allow you to make purchases unconsciously. This is called unconscious consumerism. Shops, magazines, advertisements, companies and brands are all vying for our money and they've designed strategies that allow you to make purchases unconsciously.
Think about social media for comparison. Every app you have on your phone is specifically designed to keep you on the app longer, to guide you to the page where you can give them money or where they can take your data. This is called the attention economy, where companies profit from your attention and your time.
Much like the attention economy, the market economy does the same thing. They profit off basic human instincts and the transient dopamine hit we get from buying stuff, as do clothing brands and supermarket chains. In a supermarket, the "impulse buy" products are placed right next to the cash registers. These are the chocolate bars and mints that you think "oh, why not, I need a treat" just as you're about to be free!
And that's how they get you. Language, signage, colour, design and lighting are all used to help you make unconscious purchases. Advertising and marketing are used to seduce our subconscious.
Not to mention that money has become even more abstract. Now we don't even see the transaction of money happening, so with just a swipe of our card or the tap of our phones, we can buy whatever we want and not ever have to see the money leaving our wallets.
How can we stop it?
We seldom ask ourselves, do I really need this? But this is the attitude we need if we are going to combat the overconsumption which starves the planet of its resources and drains our wallets. This isn't just about being sustainable, this is about being present and not giving into external forces that make us spend our money on things we don't need and don't want.
1. Be aware of these forces that make us want to buy
When you're in the shopping centre remind yourself that things are designed in a way to get you to buy things that weren't already on your shopping list. Be mindful of your impulse to buy things and be aware of your surroundings.
2. Go with a list
Have a list of the things you want and stick to the list! You can also write down things you want like clothes or gadgets and put them on a 30-day waiting list, if you still want them after 30 days then you'll know you really wanted it.
3. Avoid shopping centres like the plague!
Less and less of us go to shopping centres now with online shopping so readily at our fingertips. But if we happen to find ourselves in a shopping centre stick to the "get in and get out" mentality, because we know it's an adult playground of instant gratification, flashing lights and cute tops.
4. Find other ways to reward yourself or lift your spirits
We all know the feeling of needing a bit of "retail therapy" and there's actually some proof that it can improve your mood, but that feeling is transient and we need to remember that. Find other ways to reward yourself or feel better without spending money on items that harm the planet. Fill the space usually taken up by shopping with seeing a friend, reading a book, cooking or doing something else that brings you joy.
5. Do your shopping early in the day
Humans are susceptible to something called "decision fatigue" where we get depleted of our willpower throughout the day by having to make decisions. This causes people to act impulsively. By doing your shopping earlier in the day you will have more mental resources to draw on.
You'll be able to navigate the murky market waters a lot better if you're aware of your purchases and your surroundings. This is why we need to be conscious consumers for the planet, our mental health and our wallets!