The Big Question – 05 & 06 – Why do we shop until we drop?

Why do we buy so much stuff?


What impact does it have on society?

I cannot be trusted to go into a store and only buy what I need. It is a simple fact. One of my favourite stories to tell is about the time I left the house to buy toilet rolls and ended up with TWENTY-ONE KitKat Chunky bars (which I definitely did not eat all by myself). It was on offer and I thought, why not? Never mind that I did not need twenty-one chocolate bars (does anybody?).

I have noticed that I tend to buy a lot of things that I don’t need. My latest questionable acquisition was a harmonica and that was only because I talked myself out of buying a ukulele. The impromptu purchase was sponsored by ‘The Middle of Lidl’ a utopia of things people want because they just so happen to be in the middle of this store. The added excitement is the tag ‘When It’s Gone, It’s Gone!’ – and they are not lying. These products often don’t make a reappearance.

It always fascinates me because as a consumer, I know that I’m being worked. It is someone’s job to make these products enticing and they are succeeding. The question is why? Why is it that consumers follow the same patterns over and over again? There are a lot of articles online about shopping addictions and retail therapy, but I think that absolves the retailers themselves. After all, their job is to persuade us to part with our money. We’re only buying what’s been made available to us.

And nothing makes a consumer feel better than the idea of saving money while spending it at the same time. Regular-priced items will often have a small tag displaying the at times, overpriced amount. Sale items are the complete opposite. Big, flashy signs! A big number that’s been slashed into a smaller number. This gives us the sense that we’re winning somehow.

Are we, though?

For instance, I have been passing my collection of shoes with a wistful sigh every day for the past six months. I have promised that I will clear them out. I will throw away the old ones to free up some space. And most importantly, I will not buy more.

I’m up to my third pair of brand-new shoes so far. What do all three pairs have in common?

They were on sale.

According to research carried out by Coca-Cola, HALF of all grocery purchases are impulse buys. Despite the rational reasons not to make these purchases, the need for instant gratification often supersedes all. Instant gratification sounds like an excuse, but it’s a very real thing. If you’re having a bad day or feeling down about life, craving one high point is natural. And it’s been proven that online shopping makes people feel happier. I can attest to that. I’m at my happiest when I’m adding junk to my eBay basket or looking at earrings that I’d like to buy but won’t wear (confession: I buy them anyway).

However, there is a downside. If the shoes were really worth the original price, why is the company so happy to slash the price in half? Are sales really worth it when you didn’t want or need the item in the first place? Not to mention that not being able to wait for things can lead to a lack of self-control. Self-control is an important tool that we use in our daily life for things such as paying the bills, remaining active and healthy, and maintaining financial security.

What are the dangers of buying so much?

Although shopping is fun, exciting and a mood reliever – it comes with its disadvantages.

  • Debt – the increase of Buy Now, Pay Later companies in the UK has been linked to growing debt, particularly among younger people. Retailers have embraced BNPL, presumably because it’s one more factor encouraging people to spend freely
  • Hoarding – this a disorder not necessarily linked to shopping, but people attracted to sales may end up with boxes of items they have not or will not use.
  • Anxiety –
  • Depression
  • Loss of self

The impact of buying on society

Photo by cottonbro studio on

It is easy to think that buying items is harmless. It’s just stuff, right? Well, there are a whole host of issues. Take fast fashion, an industry plagued by concerns in terms of sustainability and worker conditions. Someone who is addicted to buying cheap sale items may be indirectly contributing to these issues. If the demand for cheap, trendy clothing is high, production is going to be high – leading to a huge amount of waste. While many leading retailers have vowed to tackle this, the rise of online e-commerce sites like SHEIN proves that it won’t be easy. SHEIN alone produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as 180 coal-fired power plants, generating 6.3 million tonnes of CO2. This is bad – CO2 is a greenhouse gas considered harmful to the planet. While the debate about climate change rages on, it is said that human activity has raised the amount of carbon dioxide on the planet by a 50% within the past two centuries. For a planet that’s over two thousand years old, that’s a shocking statistic!

Before (L) and after (R) Parched Poyang Lake, China – July 10, 2022 – August 27, 2022
Images captured by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite.
Source: NASA’s Earth Observatory

There is also the element of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ – the idea that one has to spend or buy the same items as their peers in order to fit in. A teenager might insist on having the latest pair of Nikes because their friend has them, and similarly, a young adult might indulge in the latest pair because it’s a status symbol.

Photo by cottonbro studio on

A study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry showed that ‘problem shopping’ had a negative effect on teenagers. This excessive shopping was linked to issues such as hopelessness, sadness, smoking, and drug use. The symptoms the teenagers reported were similar to the behaviors linked to addiction e.g. trying to cut back, feeling relaxed while shopping, or it disrupting their routine. One factor mentioned by the researchers was the role of external factors such as television, which is full of adverts implying that buying certain products will improve quality of life. Similarly, social media is increasingly becoming a giant marketplace where people are always trying to promote various products.


Shopping is not necessarily a bad thing. The thrill of buying a new dress or a new pair of shoes is unrivaled, and a burst of dopamine never did anyone any harm. However, like with many things in life, moderation may be required in order to ensure that society as a whole is not damaged by the thrills of retail therapy.