Public Release:  Help for shopaholics: New test determines who's at risk for compulsive buying

University of Chicago Press Journals

Shopaholics are the butt of many jokes, but obsessive or compulsive shopping can ruin lives.

Compulsive shopping can lead to financial problems, family conflicts, stress, depression, and loss of self-esteem. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, there may be more people engaged in compulsive buying than previously thought.

Authors Nancy M. Ridgway, Monika Kukar-Kinney (both University of Richmond), and Kent B. Monroe (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Richmond) developed a new scale for measuring compulsive buying. The scale consists of just nine questions, and the authors believe it does a better job than previous measures of identifying the number of people who engage in compulsive shopping.

"The scale is designed to identify consumers who have a strong urge to buy, regularly spend a lot of money, and have difficulty resisting the impulse to buy," they explain. Previous measures depend in large part on the consequences of shopping, such as financial difficulties and family strain over money matters. But the authors explain that compulsive shoppers with higher incomes may experience fewer financial consequences yet still have compulsive tendencies.

In the course of three separate studies, the researchers found that compulsive buying was linked to materialism, reduced self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and stress. Compulsive shoppers had positive feelings associated with buying, and they also tended to hide purchases, return items, have more family arguments, and possessed more maxed-out credit cards. The researchers found that approximately 8.9 percent of the population they studied were compulsive shoppers, compared with 5 percent who were identified with the current clinical screener.

"Given the results of these studies, it is important for public policy officials to recognize that there may be a larger group of consumers suffering from problems resulting from compulsive buying than previously thought. Consumers need to be educated to recognize if compulsive buying is a problem in their lives so that they may seek help," the authors conclude.

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Nancy M. Ridgway, Monika Kukar-Kinney, and Kent B. Monroe. "An Expanded Conceptualization and a New Measure of Compulsive Buying" Journal of Consumer Research: December 2008.

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