Shop Til You Drop: The Pros and Cons of Retail Therapy

When your emotional wellness takes a beating, you might turn to chocolate or a good drink to get you through it, but a better option would be to hit the high street. This is according to a new survey by TNS Global on behalf of, which found that 52% of respondents engaged in “retail therapy,” to boost their sense of mental health and wellbeing, but is this a dangerous habit to cultivate?

According to Scott Rick, a professor of marketing at the University of Michigan whose research focuses on the emotional causes and consequences of financial decision-making, when you’re sad, you see the world differently. You think you live in a situation that’s out of your control, and so one way to restore control is by making choices about what to buy. Risk says that cheap and expensive purchases can help relieve mild depression.

Yet Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, who studies consumer trends and behaviours, notes, ‘I think it’s unpopular these days to say you shop for pleasure because we’re supposed to be in some stoic state in this post-recession economy. I think shopping serves as a healthy purpose for a lot of people. If it works for you, you should not feel guilty. Do it, enjoy it and don’t overdo it.’

However, April Lane Benson, author of I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self, advises that you need to be conscious of your shopping behaviours. She admits that retail therapy can have positive effects, but the odd purchase pick-me-up here and there can easily evolve into a spending problem. ‘We turn to instant gratification when we feel distressed,’ Benson warns.

But what about those times when a shopping fix is necessary? Margaret Meloy, a professor of marketing at Pennsylvania State University and co-author of the 2011 study Retail therapy: a strategic effort to improve mood, argues that you must diffuse negative emotions before they worsen, as untreated depression or frustration can push you to spending extremes. She notes that the difference between healthy and compulsive shoppers is that compulsive buyers often experience remorse when they get home and see what they bought, but with consumers who use retail therapy modestly ‘there isn’t this kind of upward and then downward spiral as there typically is with compulsive shoppers.’

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