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The Emotional Shopper: Assessing the Effectiveness of Retail Therapy


Abstract and Figures

Shopping is an integral part of our everyday lives. Common wisdom suggests that many consumers engage in shopping and buying as a means to repair their negative feelings - a notion commonly referred to as retail therapy. However, does retail therapy really work? The present monograph seeks to address this question by proposing a tripartite approach, reviewing and organizing relevant research in marketing and consumer psychology based on this tripartite framework: (1) motivational (the goals and motives that consumers have for shopping); (2) behavioral (the activities in which consumers engage during the shopping process); and (3) emotional (the feelings that consumers experience while shopping). Although accumulating evidence suggests that retail therapy does work to a certain extent, simultaneously considering the three perspectives in future empirical investigation helps to further improve our understanding of the antecedents, underlying mechanisms, and consequences of retail therapy. Accordingly, a number of questions and directions for future research on the topic of retail therapy are discussed, drawing upon the proposed tripartite framework.
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Foundations and Trends R
in Marketing
Vol. 8, No. 2 (2013) 69–145
2015 L. Lee
DOI: 10.1561/1700000035
The Emotional Shopper: Assessing the
Effectiveness of Retail Therapy
Leonard Lee
National University of Singapore (NUS),
NUS Business School, BIZ 1, 8–20,
Mochtar Riady Building,
15 Kent Ridge Drive,
Singapore 119245,
1 Introduction 70
2 Retail Therapy — Conceptual Foundations 73
2.1 Definitions and conceptualizations . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
2.2 Measurement scales for retail therapy . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
2.3 Other related constructs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
2.4 Summary........................... 80
3 Of Moods and Motivations: Assessing Retail Therapy Effec-
tiveness from a Motivational Perspective 81
3.1 Shopping goals and motivation — existing taxonomies . . 81
3.2 The role of shopping motives in mood elevation . . . . . . 82
3.3 Summary........................... 96
4 While You Are Shopping: Assessing Retail Therapy Effective-
ness from a Behavioral Perspective 98
4.1 Mapping the stages of the shopping process . . . . . . . . 99
4.2 Summary........................... 104
5 Fleeting Feelings: Assessing Retail Therapy Effectiveness
from an Emotional Perspective 105
5.1 Affective drivers and consequences of shopping . . . . . . 105
5.2 Main themes in research on shopping and emotions . . . . 112
5.3 Summary........................... 113
6 Conclusions and Future Directions in Retail Therapy
Research 115
6.1 Questions for further research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
6.2 Future research directions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120
6.3 Finalremarks ........................ 123
Acknowlegements 125
References 126
Shopping is an integral part of our everyday lives. Common wisdom
suggests that many consumers engage in shopping and buying as a
means to repair their negative feelings — a notion commonly referred to
as retail therapy. However, does retail therapy really work? The present
monograph seeks to address this question by proposing a tripartite
approach, reviewing and organizing relevant research in marketing and
consumer psychology based on this tripartite framework: (1) moti-
vational (the goals and motives that consumers have for shopping);
(2) behavioral (the activities in which consumers engage during the
shopping process); and (3) emotional (the feelings that consumers expe-
rience while shopping). Although accumulating evidence suggests that
retail therapy does work to a certain extent, simultaneously considering
the three perspectives in future empirical investigation helps to further
improve our understanding of the antecedents, underlying mechanisms,
and consequences of retail therapy. Accordingly, a number of questions
and directions for future research on the topic of retail therapy are
discussed, drawing upon the proposed tripartite framework.
L. Lee. The Emotional Shopper: Assessing the Effectiveness of Retail Therapy.
Foundations and Trends R
in Marketing, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 69–145, 2013. Copyright
2015 L. Lee.
DOI: 10.1561/1700000035.
Besides work and sleep, shopping is a daily activity on which people in
many parts of the world spend the most amount of their time [Hutton,
2002]. In addition to buying and acquiring a variety of products and
services that serve every day functional needs, shopping also helps to
achieve more hedonic goals, in particular, self-gratification and mood
repair [Isen, 1984; Tauber, 1972] — a notion popularly referred to as
retail therapy. Indeed, anecdotes that speak to the incidence and influ-
ence of retail therapy in our lives are aplenty:
“I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.— Tammy
Faye Messner, American singer and television personality
“Win or lose, we go shopping after the election. — Imelda
Marcos, previous First Lady of the Philippines
“I was so nervous...I just had to go shopping.— Usher,
American singer–songwriter
“When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.— undeter-
“Everyone needs an occasional dose of retail therapy.— Susan
Thurston, Tampa Bay Times staff writer
“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know
where to go shopping. — Bo Derek, American actress
These popular quotes seem to underscore the prevalence of shopping
as a means to regulate one’s negative emotions. In fact, nearly one in
three Americans shop to alleviate stress, according to a study commis-
sioned by the Huffington Post [Gregoire, 2013] that polled over 1,000
U.S. adults online. [2013], an online cash-back shopping
merchant, reported an even larger proportion in their recent Retail
Therapy survey: they found that among 1,000 American adults sur-
veyed, more than half (51.8%) shop and spend money to improve
their mood. Comparable figures have also been reported in academic
research. In a study on retail therapy, Atalay and Meloy [2011] found
that among 69 college participants, 43 (62%) reported having purchased
an item to treat themselves in the past one week in order to repair their
mood; in comparison, 19 (28%) were motivated by celebratory events
(see also Krupnick [2011] and Yarrow [2013]).
Given these convergent statistics, the many stories and anecdotes
we might have heard about retail therapy, and our own personal expe-
riences as consumers, to what extent does retail therapy really work?
In this monograph, I examine this question by reviewing the extant
literature on shopping behavior and emotions. Specifically, I propose
and adopt a tripartite approach to provide a more systematic and holis-
tic treatment of this subject, assessing whether retail therapy works
according to three perspectives (see Figure 1.1):
1. Motivational — I examine broadly the different goals and motiva-
tions that consumers have for shopping, and whether these vari-
ous motivations may contribute toward more positive moods and
greater well-being.
2. Behavioral — By viewing shopping as a sequence of constituent
actions or activities, I assess whether engaging in these specific
activities can bring about improved moods and well-being.
72 Introduction
How do consumers feel?
Why do consumers shop?
How do consumers shop?
Figure 1.1: A tripartite framework for examining the effectiveness of retail therapy.
3. Emotional — More specifically, I consider shopping as a hedonic
experience that triggers a variety of emotions. The incidence (or
lack) of these specific emotions when consumers shop is examined.
As Figure 1.1 illustrates, these three perspectives, though individ-
ually distinct, are interrelated and complementary with one another.
For instance, consumers’ motivation to shop can influence how they go
about their shopping, which can in turn affect their emotional experi-
ence. As another example, how consumers shop in a store can impact
how they feel while shopping which can conversely influence their shop-
ping goals.
The rest of this monograph is structured as follows. In Section 2,
I review some conceptual foundations of the notion of retail therapy,
including its definition and scope as well as the scales that researchers
have developed to measure it. I next delve into the three aforemen-
tioned perspectives, assessing the effectiveness of retail therapy from
each perspective by discussing and analyzing relevant work that has
adopted the particular perspective in Sections 3–5. Finally, I conclude
with a general discussion of the main findings as well as some questions
and directions for future research in Section 6.
Retail Therapy — Conceptual Foundations
2.1 Definitions and conceptualizations
The notion of retail therapy has generally been conceived in two ways
(see Figure 2.1). The more common approach associates the term with
the use of shopping and buying as a way to repair or alleviate nega-
tive feelings [Atalay and Meloy, 2011; Babin and Griffin, 1994; Babin
and Darden, 1995; Elliott, 1994; Faber and Christenson, 1996; Kacen,
1998; Kacen and Friese, 1999; Kang and Johnson, 2010; 2011; Kemp
and Kopp, 2011; Li and Li, 2013; Luomala, 1998; 2002; Rick et al.,
2014; Yurchisin et al., 2006; 2008]. Kemp and Kopp [2011], in particu-
lar, propose the term emotional regulation consumption to refer specif-
ically to this notion of retail therapy. In comparison, a number of other
researchers view retail therapy with a different pair of lens, regarding
it as the consumption of goods in order to protect one’s self-concept
and to compensate for perceived psychosocial deficiencies such as low
self-esteem or perceived loss of power [Dichter, 1960; Gronmo, 1988;
Sivanathan and Pettit, 2010; Woodruffe, 1997; Woodruffe-Burton and
Elliott, 2005; Woodruffe-Burton et al., 2002]. Correspondingly, the term
compensatory consumption is often used interchangeably to describe
this interpretation of retail therapy [see also Kang and Johnson, 2010].
74 Retail Therapy — Conceptual Foundations
Focus of current work
Retail Therapy
Emotion Repair
(To alleviate negative feelings)
Compensatory Consumption
(To protect self-concept or
compensate for perceived
psychosocial deficiencies)
Figure 2.1: A dual-route conceptualization of retail therapy.
This interpretation arguably represents a narrower lens with which to
consider retail therapy given that an array of other factors, besides
perceived psychosocial deficiencies, can also negatively color one’s emo-
tions [Cryder et al., 2008].
In this monograph, I adopt the emotion-repair view of retail therapy
for two main reasons: (a) it is a broader, and importantly, a more pop-
ular and widely accepted view of retail therapy from both an academic
standpoint and the general consumer’s understanding; (b) whether per-
ceived psychosocial deficiencies always follow an affective route (in
addition to the cognitive route) in triggering the desire for compen-
satory consumption and greater spending seems debatable [Chen et al.,
2010; Gao et al., 2009; Mandel and Smeesters, 2008; Rucker and Galin-
sky, 2008, see Figure 2.1 for a depiction of the two routes associated
with compensatory consumption]. Nonetheless, to the extent that such
deficiencies trigger negative feelings that motivate the desire for mood
repair and thus greater spending, I shall discuss the relevant empirical
findings accordingly.
2.2. Measurement scales for retail therapy 75
2.2 Measurement scales for retail therapy
A few researchers have developed scales to measure retail therapy in
order to operationalize the construct and facilitate its empirical inves-
tigation. These scales are summarized in Table 2.1.
Table 2.1: Retail therapy measurement scales.
References Name of scale Scale items
Arnold and
Reynolds [2003]
shopping subscale of
hedonic shopping
(3 items)
When I’m in a down mood, I go shopping to
make me feel better.
To me, shopping is a way to relieve stress.
I go shopping when I want to treat myself to
something special.
Isen [1984] Mood repair (4 items)
Buying cheers me up when I’m feeling down.
When I’m feeling depressed I have to buy
Shopping has helped me cope with
depression in the past.
Shopping helps me cope with depression
Kang and Johnson
Retail therapy scale (22 items, 4 factors)
Factor 1: Therapeutic shopping motivations (6
I shop to relieve my stress.
I shop to cheer myself up.
I shop to make myself feel better.
I shop to compensate for a bad day.
I shop to feel relaxed.
I shop to feel good about myself.
Factor 2: Therapeutic shopping value: Positive
mood reinforcement (6 items)
Shopping is a positive distraction.
Shopping gives me a sense of achievement.
76 Retail Therapy — Conceptual Foundations
Table 2.1: (Continued)
References Name of scale Scale items
I like the visual stimulation shopping
Shopping provides me with knowledge of
new styles.
I enjoy being in a pleasant environment that
shopping provides.
Finding a great deal reinforces positive
feelings about myself.
Factor 3: Therapeutic shopping value:
Negative mood reduction (5 items)
Shopping is an escape from loneliness.
Shopping is a way to remove myself from
stressful environments.
Shopping is a way to take my mind off
things that are bothering me.
Shopping for something new fills an empty
Shopping is a way to control things when
other things seem out of control.
Factor 4: Therapeutic shopping outcome (5
My shopping trip to relieve my bad mood is
After a shopping trip to make myself feel
better, the good feelings generated last at
least for the rest of the day.
I feel good immediately after my shopping
trip to relieve a bad mood.
I use items I bought during my shopping to
relieve a bad mood.
When I use items I bought during my
shopping to relieve my bad mood, I
remember the shopping experience.
Yurchisin et al.
consumption (of
apparel products)
(46 items)*
I shop for apparel when I am not content
with my life.
*Full scale not reported in article.
2.3. Other related constructs 77
Among the four sets of measures, the first three pertain more to
the mood-repair interpretation of retail therapy, while the fourth scale
[Yurchisin et al., 2008] applies more to compensatory consumption.
The three-item scale by Arnold and Reynolds [2003] represents the
“gratification shopping” subscale from a larger set of 18 items that
comprise six different dimensions of hedonic shopping motivations.
The remaining two scales, though qualitatively similar in scope, dif-
fer somewhat in their degree of specificity. Both scales capture the
motivation and effectiveness aspects of retail therapy; however, while
Isen’s [1984] four-item scale is relatively succinct, Kang and John-
son’s [2011] four-factor scale delves more deeply into two potential
sources of value in retail therapy — enhancement of positive moods
and reduction of negative moods. This comprehensive 22-item scale
also embeds several potential causes for negative feelings and hence the
desire for retail therapy, in particular, stressful environments, loneliness
or the feeling of emptiness, and the perceived loss of control over one’s
2.3 Other related constructs
The presence of different definitions for retail therapy suggests that
other distinct yet related constructs (for example, mood regulation and
materialism) exist, and these constructs are often discussed in the con-
text of retail therapy. Therefore, it seems worthwhile to first briefly
discuss how these other constructs are different from but yet concep-
tually related to retail therapy before examining our main construct of
interest in detail. (Figure 2.2 illustrates the conceptual relationships of
these myriad constructs with retail therapy by depicting their respec-
tive locations within the proposed tripartite framework of retail ther-
2.3.1 Affect regulation
Affect regulation can be defined as individuals’ spontaneous — whether
conscious or unconscious — attempt to intensify, attenuate, or maintain
an affective state or subjective feeling [Cohen et al., 2008; Gross, 1998;
78 Retail Therapy — Conceptual Foundations
How do consumers feel?
Why do consumers shop?
ow do consumers shop?
Impulse buying
Compulsive buying
Mood/emotion repair
Mood/emotion maintenance
Unplanned buying
Figure 2.2: Retail therapy and its related constructs.
2014; Larsen, 2000]. Given that affect, or an internal feeling state, can
take the form of either moods (that is, low intensity and diffuse affect
whose source is often unidentified) or emotions (that is, more spe-
cific and differentiated affective states), the corresponding and arguably
more precise terms mood regulation and emotion regulation are often
used in the literature. Even more specifically, the term mood (emotion)
repair has been used to refer to the attempt to improve one’s nega-
tive moods (emotions), whereas mood (emotion) maintenance denotes
endeavors to sustain or prolong one’s positive moods (emotions) [Gross,
1998; Isen, 1984]. Individuals repair their negative affect by using a
variety of strategies [Forgas, 1995; Gross, 2014; Josephson et al., 1996;
Parkinson and Totterdell, 1999; Thayer et al., 1994], which include
shopping and buying.
2.3.2 Unplanned buying
Unplanned buying, as the name implies, refers to any purchases
that have not been planned a priori [Bell et al., 2011; Inman et al.,
2009]. A sizable variety of factors can result in a higher incidence of
unplanned buying, including low store familiarity [Park et al., 1989],
2.3. Other related constructs 79
extended shopping time [Park et al., 1989], low shopping frequency
[Inman et al., 2009], a high amount of in-store slack in one’s mental
budget [Stilley et al., 2010], in-store travel distance [Hui et al., 2013],
unexpected price promotions [Heilman et al., 2002], and the presence
of special in-store displays [Inman et al., 2009]. Perhaps the factor
most pertinent to the present interest in retail therapy is the level of
abstraction of consumers’ shopping goals. Prior research has shown
that having abstract shopping goals (for example, buying something
to eat to satisfy one’s hunger vs. buying a tuna sandwich) can result
in more unplanned buying [Bell et al., 2011; Lee and Ariely, 2006]. To
the extent that emotion repair is an abstract shopping goal, the desire
for retail therapy can lead to more unplanned purchases.
2.3.3 Impulse buying
Although often used interchangeably with unplanned buying, the term
impulse buying (or impulsive buying) is more affect-laden; it refers
to a spontaneous desire or powerful urge to make an immediate pur-
chase [Beatty and Elizabeth Ferrell, 1998; Rook, 1987; Rook et al.,
1993]. Factors that have been found to result in greater impulse pur-
chases include the depletion of self-control resources [Vohs and Faber,
2007], money and time availability [Beatty and Elizabeth Ferrell, 1998],
engagement in experience-focused ongoing search (vs. outcome-focused
pre-purchase search) [Bloch et al., 1986], the normative belief that it
is appropriate to act on one’s impulse [Rook and Fisher, 1995], demo-
graphic factors such as culture and age [Kacen and Lee, 2002], and
even environmental factors that stimulate the consumer such as per-
ceived crowding or the mere presence of other shoppers [Chen et al.,
2011; Luo, 2005; Mattila and Wirtz, 2008]. The degree of impulsive
consumption also differs by consumer [Puri, 1996; Zhang and Shrum,
2009] and product type [Bellenger et al., 1978]. To the extent that nega-
tive emotions induce the urge to spend, and impulse purchases generate
positive feelings of pleasure and excitement [Gardner and Rook, 1988],
impulse buying can be concomitant with retail therapy. In the same
vein, concurrently having two conflicting goals (for example, the desire
to feel better immediately and the goal to save money) has been posited
80 Retail Therapy — Conceptual Foundations
to undermine control and lead to impulse buying [Baumeister, 2002]. In
more extreme cases, impulse buying can turn into compulsive buying or
compulsive consumption where people (“shopaholics”) purchase or con-
sume excessively in search of pleasure and gratification from the buying
process itself rather than satisfaction from the actual purchased goods
[Dittmar et al., 2007; Faber and O’guinn, 1992; O’Guinn and Faber,
1989; Paquet, 2003].
2.3.4 Materialism
Although often associated with compulsive buying, materialism
actually refers to the importance that consumers place on worldly
possessions [Belk, 1985; Richins and Dawson, 1992; Van Boven and
Gilovich, 2003]. The term thus describes a particular consumer value
rather than an aspect of consumer behavior. Relating this consumer
value with retail therapy, it has been found that a greater self-
endorsement of materialism in one’s value system is associated with
greater emotion enhancement motives in shopping and greater com-
pulsive buying [Dittmar et al., 2007; Richins, 2013].
Some recent work has also shown that the negative emotion of
loneliness can result in greater materialism, which, paradoxically, can
in turn increase loneliness if treated as a remedy of sadness [Pieters,
2013]. This vicious cycle can be attributed in part to the greater social
competitiveness and isolation that consumerism may engender [Bauer
et al., 2012].
2.4 Summary
This section defines the concept of retail therapy, delineates several
scales that researchers have proposed to operationalize the concept, and
discusses a number of other theoretically related constructs, hence lay-
ing the conceptual foundation for our discussion of the effectiveness of
retail therapy in this monograph. In the rest of this monograph, I shall
refer to retail therapy as a means to repair negative emotions, referenc-
ing these measurement scales and related constructs where appropriate.
Of Moods and Motivations: Assessing Retail
Therapy Effectiveness from a Motivational
We begin our investigation of the effectiveness of retail therapy from
a motivational perspective. Consumers shop with a variety of goals in
mind. Although a shopping trip may not be motivated by the desire to
improve one’s moods or feelings [cf. Atalay and Meloy, 2011; Kacen and
Friese, 1999], it is conceivable that other seemingly unrelated objectives
of shopping, whether conscious or non-conscious, can nonetheless confer
positive emotional benefits on shoppers, alleviating negative moods and
increasing general well-being.
3.1 Shopping goals and motivation — existing taxonomies
A number of different typologies and taxonomies have been proposed
to systematically document the various goals and motivations that
consumers may have for embarking on a shopping trip. In deriving
these taxonomies, researchers have employed a variety of methodolo-
gies, ranging from in-depth interviews and field experiments to broad
household surveys and consumer questionnaires. These studies also per-
tain to a variety of shopping contexts (department stores, traditional
malls, grocery stores, supermarkets, discount clubs, online and mobile
82 Of Moods and Motivations
stores, outlet malls, mail catalogs, airport stores) and relate to the shop-
ping habits of consumers from all over the world. Although much of
the research is based on studies conducted at various locations within
the United States, other countries where the shopping research has
been performed include Australia, Belgium, China, Croatia, Finland,
Hungary, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar,
Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and Tunisia.
Table 3.1 summarizes, in chronological order, the shopping context,
research sample, methodology, and the corresponding proposed typol-
ogy of shopper types and shopping motives documented in some of
the main research studies on shopping goals. Despite the diversity in
shopping contexts and research methods used in deriving these vari-
ous taxonomies, they share several common patterns in depicting the
varied goals that consumers have for shopping. Broadly, these shop-
ping motives can be described as either personal or social [Tauber,
1972] on one dimension, and serving either hedonic or utilitarian goals
[Babin and Griffin, 1994; Childers et al., 2002] on another dimension
(see Figure 3.1).
3.2 The role of shopping motives in mood elevation
At first glance, many of the constituent motives in these shopping tax-
onomies do not seem to pertain at all to the desire to improve one’s
moods or feelings, and some of them may not even have a hedonic
basis. However, a closer examination of the various shopping motiva-
tions, whether personal or social, hedonic or utilitarian, suggests that
they may generate positive feelings and elevate one’s moods in indirect,
and perhaps unexpected, ways. I next briefly discuss how the various
shopping motives may contribute toward retail therapy effectiveness,
drawing upon relevant research in marketing and consumer psychology.
3.2.1 The hedonism of shopping
No doubt, one of the main functions that shopping as an activity may
serve is recreation [Bellenger and Korgaonkar, 1980; Bellenger et al.,
1977; Brown et al., 2003; Jones, 1999; Tsang et al., 2004]. Rather than
3.2. The role of shopping motives in mood elevation 83
Table 3.1: Taxonomies of shopper types and motivations.
Shopping Typology of shopper
References context Research sample Methodology types and motivations
Stone [1954] Large chain
department store
124 Adult female married
residents in Chicago
Economic, personalizing, ethical,
Darden and
Reynolds [1971]
Physical stores (local
stores, chain stores,
large department
167 Housewives from
households in six middle
to upper middle class
suburban areas in
Athens, Georgia
Survey with
Tauber [1972]
(adopted in
Parsons [2002] for
online shopping,
and Mooradian
and Olver [1996])
General 30 Respondents in Los
Angeles; 50% female; age:
Personal (role playing, diversion,
self-gratification, learning about new
trends, physical activity, sensory
stimulation), social (peer group
attraction, communication with others
having a similar interest, pleasure of
bargaining, status and authority)
Darden and
Ashton [1974]
Supermarket shopping 116 Middle-class
suburban housewives in
the United States
Apathetic shopper, demanding
shopper, quality shopper, fastidious
shopper, stamp preferer, convenient
location shopper, stamp haters
Moschis [1976] Shopping centers
(cosmetics purchase)
206 Female shoppers in
Madison, Wisconsin.
Special shopper (shopping for
specials), brand-loyal shopper,
store-loyal shopper, problem-solving
shopper, psycho-socializing shopper,
name-conscious shopper
Bellenger et al.
[1977] (adopted in
Williams et al.
Shopping centers,
malls, department
261 Female middle-class
shoppers in Atlanta,
Convenience (economic), recreational
84 Of Moods and Motivations
Table 3.1: (Continued)
Shopping Typology of shopper
References context Research sample Methodology types and motivations
Zikmund [1977] Grocery shopping 198 Afro-American
Personal interviews
with questionnaires
Comparative shopper,
neighborhood shopper,
Williams et al.
Grocery shopping 298 Grocer shoppers in Salt
Lake City,Utah
Questionnaires Involved shopper, convenience
shopper, price shopper,
apathetic (uninvolved) shopper
Westbrook and
Black [1985]
Department stores 203 Adult female shoppers
in Tucson, Arizona
Interviews and
Anticipated utility, role
enactment, negotiation, choice
optimization, affiliation, power
& authority, stimulation
Lesser and Hughes
General 6,818 Respondents across 12
states in the United States;
heads of households
Inactive shoppers, active
shoppers, service shoppers,
traditional shoppers, dedicated
fringe shoppers, price shoppers,
transitional shoppers
Dawson et al.
Outdoor crafts market 278 Shoppers in the West
Coast of the United States;
64% female
administered at
Product motives, experiential
Babin and Griffin
[1994]; Babin and
Darden [1995]
(adopted in
Childers et al.
[2002] with online
shopping, and in
Karim et al.
Shopping mall Focus group: 16 participants
in two separate groups (69%
female); age: 20–55.
Survey: 125 undergraduate
Scale validation: 404 adult
Focus group
interviews +
53-item survey for
scale development
Hedonic, utilitarian
3.2. The role of shopping motives in mood elevation 85
Table 3.1: (Continued)
Shopping Typology of shopper
References context Research sample Methodology types and motivations
Babin and Darden
Shopping mall 130 Shoppers who shopped at
one of ten stores in a major
southeastern regional mall in
the United States
Action-oriented vs. state-oriented
Eastlick and
Feinberg [1999]
Mail catalog
458 Respondents (88% female);
age: 18–44
Mailed ques-
Perceived value, convenience, economic
utility, home environment, merchandise
assortment, order services, company
clientele, information services, salesperson
interaction, company responsiveness,
company reputation
Reynolds and
Beatty [1999]
Retail clothing
364 Respondents with ongoing
customer relationship with a
clothing/accessories salesperson;
51% female; 53% aged 35-49.
Mailed ques-
Happy busy shoppers, challenged
shopping lovers, happy social shoppers,
capable shopping haters, asocial busy
shopping avoiders
Wolfinbarger and
Gilly [2001]
64 Participants (across 9 focus
groups); MBA students and
staff, online panel from Harris
Focus group
Goal-oriented shopping (convenience,
selection, informativeness, lack of
sociality), experience-oriented shopping
(surprise/excitement/uniqueness, positive
sociality, deals, product involvement)
Reynolds et al.
malls vs. outlet
1097 Shoppers at traditional
mall (64% female) and 1,561
shoppers at outlet mall (54%
female); both malls in southeast
United States
Traditional malls: basic, apathetic,
destination, enthusiasts, serious
Outlet malls: basic, apathetic,
destination, enthusiasts, serious, brand
86 Of Moods and Motivations
Table 3.1: (Continued)
Shopping Typology of shopper
References context Research sample Methodology types and motivations
Arnold and
Reynolds [2003]
(adopted in Bloch
et al. [1994])
Stores and
98 Non-student respondents
(66% female); age: 18–55; 31%
completed high school and 33%
attended some college; annual
income: $20–50K
In-depth interviews
and scale development
Shopper segments: minimalists,
gatherers, providers, enthusiasts,
Shopping motivations: adventure
shopping, social shopping,
gratification shopping, idea
shopping, role shopping, value
Moe [2003] Online store Clickstream data from online
store that sells nutrition
products; 7 weeks, 7,143 visit
sessions made by 5,730 unique
Analysis of
clickstream data:
categorization of
observed in-store
navigational patterns
Store visit categories: directed
buying, hedonic browsing,
Brown et al. [2003] Online retail
437 Internet users from online
market research firm (31%
female); age: 25–54.
Online questionnaire
including measures of
convenience, loyalty to
local merchants, price
consciousness, and
purchase intention
Personalizing shoppers, recreational
shoppers, economic shoppers,
involved shoppers,
convenience-oriented recreational
shoppers, community-oriented
shoppers, apathetic,
convenience-oriented shoppers
Geuens et al.
236 Belgian travelers at the
Brussels airport; 37% female;
42% holiday travelers, 50%
business travelers, 8% both
holiday and business travelers
Questionnaire Mood shoppers, apathetic shoppers,
shopping lovers
Shopping factors: airport related,
atmospherics, experiential,
3.2. The role of shopping motives in mood elevation 87
Table 3.1: (Continued)
Shopping Typology of shopper
References context Research sample Methodology types and motivations
Jin and Kim
Discount stores
452 Married female
respondents in Seoul, Korea
Leisurely motivated shoppers, socially
motivated shoppers, utilitarian shoppers,
shopping-apathetic shoppers
Kau et al.
3,712 online respondents;
94% Reside in Singapore;
34% female
Online survey On–off shopper, comparison shopper,
traditional shopper, dual shopper,
e-laggard, information surfer
Rohm and
Online grocery
429 Customers of online
grocery retailer in northeast
United States
Survey Convenience shoppers, variety seekers,
balanced buyers, store-oriented shoppers
Anić and Vouk
243 Shoppers who have
made major grocery
shopping trips in Croatia;
49% female
Questionnaire Price-driven shoppers, convenience-oriented
shoppers, involved shoppers, price-driven
Jamal et al.
Food and
400 Convenience-sample
respondents in Doha, Qatar;
54% female; 80% aged 20–39.
Survey Shopper types: socializing shoppers,
disloyal shoppers, independent perfectionist
shoppers, escapist shoppers,
budget-conscious shoppers
Shopping motivations: gratification seeking,
social shopping, high quality seeking,
confused by choice, value shopping, brand
loyal/habitual, brand conscious, utilitarian,
hedonic shopping, role playing
et al. [2006]
364 Shoppers at the second
largest department store in
Finland; 54% female
Hedonic (entertainment, exploration),
utilitarian (monetary savings,
convenience), social (status, self-esteem)
88 Of Moods and Motivations
Table 3.1: (Continued)
Shopping Typology of shopper
References context Research sample Methodology types and motivations
Millan and
Howard [2007]
Shopping mall 355 Shoppers at seven large
shopping centers in five
major cities in Hungary;
54% female
Relaxed utilitarians, strict
utilitarians, committed shoppers,
Ganesh et al.
Traditional mall,
factory outlet mall,
national discount
chain, national
category killer chain
Traditional mall: 968
Outlet mall: 868
Discount store: 407
Category killer: 476
Apathetic, enthusiasts, destination,
basic, bargain seekers
Wagner [2007] Department store 40 Shoppers in a large
department store in
Switzerland; 64% female
Frictionless shopping, shopping
pleasure, value seeking, quality
Cardoso and
Pinto [2010]
General 219 Undergraduates in
Portugal; 56.6% female;
aged 18–35
Survey Shopping dimensions: Pleasure and
gratification shopping, idea
shopping, social shopping, role
shopping, value shopping,
achievement, and efficiency
Shopper types: social, dynamic,
pragmatic, moderate involved
3.2. The role of shopping motives in mood elevation 89
Table 3.1: (Continued)
Shopping Typology of shopper
References context Research sample Methodology types and motivations
Wagner and
Rudolph [2010]
General 503 Consumers from
national online panel; 50%
Survey Three hierarchical levels of shopping
motivation: purpose-specific (task
fulfillment, recreation), activity-specific
(efficiency shopping, sensory stimulation,
inspiration, gratification, gift shopping,
socialization, bargain hunting),
demand-specific (service convenience, store
atmosphere, assortment innovation,
assortment uniqueness, personnel
Ganesh et al.
3,059 Online respondents
from web panel (67%
female) with the various age
groups and income levels
Shopper segments: interactive, destination,
apathetic, e-Window shopper, basic,
bargain seekers, shopping enthusiast
Shopping motivation: role enactment,
online bidding/haggling, web shopping
convenience, avant-gardism, affiliation,
stimulation, personalized services
Mejri et al.
Physical store
655 Shoppers in Tunisia;
53% female
Types of shopping trips: planned,
recreational, light fill-in, ordinary fill-in
90 Of Moods and Motivations
Personal Social
Sensory stimulation
Social interaction
Power & authority
Physical activity
Role playing/enactment
Figure 3.1: The two dimensions of shopping goals.
simply a means to an end (that is, the purchase or acquisition of goods
and services), shopping can serve as a form of leisure and be an end
of its own. Compared to function-oriented shopping (that is, shopping
as an instrumental means to acquire products), recreational shopping
is typically associated with longer shopping hours, a lower likelihood
of having concrete shopping goals, and a higher propensity to shop
with others and to continue shopping even after making a purchase
[Bellenger et al., 1978].
Many factors potentially contribute toward the generation of hedo-
nic value for consumers engaging in a leisurely stroll through the mall.
First, shopping can be a source of positive distraction, allowing one to
forget, albeit temporarily, one’s worldly concerns and worries even with-
out any actual purchase [Kang and Johnson, 2010; Nolen-Hoeksema
and Morrow, 1993]. Second, this attention diversion is bolstered by the
often copious amount of sensory stimulation and extensive assortment
of products on display to which the consumer is exposed while shop-
ping [Arnold and Reynolds, 2003; Chernev, 2011; De Nisco and Warn-
aby, 2014; Kotler, 1973; Krishna, 2009; 2012; Spies et al., 1997; Tai and
Fung, 1997; Tauber, 1972; Turley and Milliman, 2000; Underhill, 2000].
Recent research supports the common wisdom that consumers who are
impulsive in disposition are more distracted by non-focal items that
are unrelated to their shopping goals [Büttner et al., 2014]. Third, a
significant source of enjoyment in shopping lies in the feelings of excite-
ment and anticipation that one may chance upon an item that one
desires but may not have specifically planned to buy [Falk and Camp-
bell, 1993]. Last but not least, with actual purchases, particularly those
that are unplanned or made on a whim, “consummatory indulgence” or
3.2. The role of shopping motives in mood elevation 91
the autonomous ability to buy what the heart pleases may afford one
with feelings of freedom from any psychological encumbrances [Falk
and Campbell, 1993; Wolfinbarger and Gilly, 2001; Woodruffe, 1997;
Woodruffe-Burton and Wakenshaw, 2011].
Given that shopping can generate much hedonic value, several
researchers have examined the impact of shopping as a mood-repair
solution. For instance, Luomala [2002], based on a phenomenological
analysis of consumers in Finland, identifies shopping as one of the con-
sumption activities that provide therapeutic power through attentional
distraction, self-indulgence, and behavioral activation (or dejection alle-
viation). In the same vein, Atalay and Meloy [2011] demonstrate that
shopping is often a strategic endeavor that consumers employ to man-
age their moods and that consumers are inclined to reward themselves
with self-treats when they experience negative moods. By asking par-
ticipants to complete a consumption diary over a two-week period, the
researchers also found that these self-treats can provide sustained repar-
ative benefits to consumers even though the purchase of these products
may be unplanned.
3.2.2 Planning and shopping goal satisfaction
Certainly, not everyone enjoys shopping. Some people may even regard
shopping (especially grocery shopping) as a laborious but necessary
chore. Indeed, many consumers shop only when they have a particular
goal in mind, while others may facilitate their weekly (or monthly!)
grocery shopping by drawing together a shopping list prior to stepping
into the store or adhering to an implicit standard script while shopping
[Block and Morwitz, 1999; Thomas and Garland, 2004]. The reliance
on such lists and scripts may also explain why certain online stores
are especially effective in retaining customers once they have acquired
them (for example, FreshDirect). These online stores not only provide
the reluctant shopper with much convenience but also raise (perceived)
switching costs and reduce brand switching [Degeratu et al., 2000].
However, even in such cases where shopping is planned and suppos-
edly serves a more mundane or utilitarian purpose, it can still, perhaps
ironically, allow one to experience feelings of joy. In particular, the
92 Of Moods and Motivations
satisfaction of goals (shopping goals included) is often accompanied
by a sense of accomplishment, which can in turn engender feelings of
competency and efficacy [Carver and Scheier, 1981; 1990]. Rather than
feelings of anticipation as in recreational shopping, the satisfaction of
one’s expectation contributes primarily to the feelings of joy that con-
sumers may experience with planned shopping [Falk and Campbell,
3.2.3 Deal proneness and bargain hunting — the smart-shopper
To some consumers, perhaps one of the main attractions of shop-
ping lies in the ability to enjoy price discounts and other marketing
perks and promotions [Cox et al., 2005; Lichtenstein et al., 1990; 1997;
Neslin, 2002; Schneider and Currim, 1991; Webster Jr, 1965]. While
these monetary (or non-monetary) benefits certainly allow shoppers to
receive some economic gains, they could also enhance consumers’ shop-
ping experience via at least two important psychological mechanisms
[Chandon et al., 2000]. First, sales promotions satisfy many consumers’
innate hunter-gatherer motive in shopping [Arnold and Reynolds, 2003]
such that consumers experience intrinsic pleasure when they are able
to locate hard-to-find deals. Such pleasure can also boost shoppers’
transaction utility, or the perception that they have gotten a good deal
[Lichtenstein et al., 1990]. Second, the knowledge that one has enjoyed
a good deal can also fuel the smart-shopper mindset, or the feeling that
one is an astute shopper; this self-esteem-boosting mindset potentially
leads to increased brand or product loyalty and positive word-of-mouth
[Schindler, 1989; 1998].
Arguably, the prevalent use of promotions and loss leaders to lure
customers into the store by many marketers and retailers can signifi-
cantly foster these positive consumer feelings toward sales promotions.
However, it is noteworthy that some research also suggests potentially
deleterious long-term effects of sales promotions. For instance, price
discounts, in particular, can nurture hordes of cherry pickers and deal-
prone shoppers [Fox and Hoch, 2005; Webster Jr, 1965], increasing
price sensitivity and lowering price expectations [Kalwani and Yim,
3.2. The role of shopping motives in mood elevation 93
1992; Mela et al., 1997; Papatla and Krishnamurthi, 1996]. More recent
research also suggests that price promotions can increase consumer
impatience through the activation of a reward-seeking mindset [Nay-
lor et al., 2006; Shaddy and Lee, 2012], as well as negatively impact
consumption enjoyment if shoppers do not consume the discounted
products that they have purchased immediately [Lee and Tsai, 2014].
3.2.4 Learning
Knowing the best store or lowest-price retailer from which to buy a
product, which is associated with the smart-shopper mindset, may be
part of a more general source of shopping satisfaction — the joy of
learning. Consumers may experience intrinsic satisfaction from acquir-
ing information about the newest stores on the block or the latest
product trends and innovation beyond mere prices, or where the “best”
places to buy particular products would be. In fact, some consumers
shop specifically with such motives in mind even if they were to return
home empty handed. Rather than “shopping for” particular items, con-
sumers, especially those identified as “market mavens,” “shop around”
to increase their pool of knowledge about the marketplace [Clark and
Goldsmith, 2005; Price et al., 1988].
3.2.5 The joy of bargaining and competition
While most retail outlets have evolved into their modern form where
consumers shop from a variety of products on display with clearly
labeled prices, many retail contexts and locations in the world seem
to have retained the bartering spirit of traditional trade practices such
that sale bargaining remains a norm. Although possibly more effortful
and less time-efficient for both the buyer and the seller to arrive at
a closing price and to agree to trade, the practice of bargaining can
also encourage trade by enhancing the likelihood of a match between
the seller’s willingness-to-sell price and the buyer’s willingness-to-pay
Importantly, related to our present interest in retail therapy, many
shoppers also derive much satisfaction from the process of price hag-
gling despite the increase in transaction costs (largely time) [Arnold
94 Of Moods and Motivations
and Reynolds, 2003; Ganesh et al., 2010; Tauber, 1972]. At least two
psychological factors are potentially at work here. First, the bargain-
ing shopper may perceive the price which she eventually pays for a
product to be lower having saved some amount from the initial ask-
ing price, thus increasing transaction utility. Second, the very effort
that she has invested into the bargaining process can also bolster the
aforementioned smart-shopper mindset. The ensuing satisfaction that
the shopper thus obtains from closing the sales transaction enhances
her enjoyment of the shopping experience that may, in turn, positively
influence her satisfaction with the purchased item through emotional
contagion. The gratification that the bargaining shopper obtains from
perceiving herself as a smart shopper may also reflect a certain degree
of joy from winning the “competition,” with competition here referring
either to the seller (from having “beaten the system” to obtain the
lowest price possible) or to other buyers (from possibly having paid a
lower price than fellow shoppers) [see also Shubik, 1970].
The positive feelings that shoppers may obtain from this latter com-
petitive mindset potentially explain the success of other more contem-
porary modes of shopping such as online auctions and, more recently,
the “name-your-own-price” format. eBay (2014), the most popular
online auction website, reported an astounding 21% growth in enabled
commerce volume to $212 billion last year [2013]. Both of these shop-
ping models have attracted much interest among academics who seek to
examine the economic impact and psychological underpinnings of these
new models [Ariely and Simonson, 2003; Gneezy et al., 2012; Heyman
et al., 2004; Kim et al., 2014; Santana and Morwitz, 2015; Terwiesch
et al., 2005].
3.2.6 Social interactions
To many consumers, shopping is essentially a social experience. In times
of sadness, individuals’ desire for social connectedness is often ampli-
fied [Gray et al., 2011]. Hence, we can perhaps appreciate many of
the potential emotional benefits of shopping by viewing it as a social
3.2. The role of shopping motives in mood elevation 95
In his seminal work on shopping, Tauber [1972] distinguishes
between two main categories of shopping motives — personal versus
social (see Table 3.1 and Figure 3.1). The social benefits of shopping
can take various forms. Certainly, shopping, especially for recreational
purposes [Bellenger et al., 1978], represents an opportunity for individ-
uals to get together with their friends and family, fostering relationship
building and general well-being. Even when shopping alone, being in a
retail environment with other like-minded consumers with similar inter-
ests could increase shopping satisfaction, encourage social interactions,
or even strengthen brand communities [Borges et al., 2010]. Even less
“friendly” interactions with fellow shoppers, as in the case of an online
auction, can also generate excitement during the shopping process and
lead to joy when one eventually wins the auction [Lee et al., 2013]. More
generally, some research has shown that the mere presence of crowds
or perceived crowding can increase shopping satisfaction [Eroglu et al.,
Apart from their own shopping companions and other fellow shop-
pers, consumers may also interact with members of the sales staff. Some
shoppers may derive pleasure from the attention that they receive from
these pampering sales assistants, and perceive a sense of psychological
power from being served and waited on [Tauber, 1972].
Nonetheless, some recent research has shown that there are limits in
the degree to which having a shopping companion increases shopping
satisfaction [Borges et al., 2010]. In particular, when shoppers have a
high degree of identification with a store such that they perceive other
shoppers to be similar to them, they tend to enjoy shopping at the store
more when they shop alone or with a friend compared to shopping with
a family member. When the number of non-interacting fellow shoppers
increase, however, consumers are also more likely to experience negative
feelings [Argo et al., 2005].
Furthermore, shopping with others may increase consumers’ over-
all spending [Cheng et al., 2013; Mangleburg et al., 2004], particu-
larly when the shopper is agency-oriented (vs. communion-oriented)
and high in self-monitoring [Kurt et al., 2011] or when the shopping
96 Of Moods and Motivations
companion is of the opposite sex [Sommer et al., 1992]. The mere pres-
ence of other shoppers can also increase impulse purchases [Luo, 2005].
3.2.7 Power and control
An important psychological need potentially underlies many of the
determinants of shopping satisfaction discussed above — the need for
power and control [Inesi et al., 2011]. It should nonetheless be noted
that while control (similar to “effectance” or “self-determination”)
refers to experiencing oneself as an agent producing desired outcomes
in the environment, power refers to having influence over other individ-
uals’ resources and outcomes [Deci and Ryan, 1985; Keltner et al., 2003;
Thibaut and Kelley, 1959]. Thus, control can be conceived as a broader
concept than power. In the shopping context, individual actions such
as finding out about the latest brands and product trends and buying
the items that one desires without constraints affords one with greater
perceived control. In comparison, social encounters such as overtaking
other shoppers in successfully bidding for a limited-supply item, and
being served and waited upon by a store’s sales assistants confers a
momentary sense of power. Be it through providing a greater sense
of control or power, shopping may generate positive feelings and pro-
mote general well-being [Keltner et al., 2003; Langer, 1975; Langer and
Rodin, 1976; Rodin and Langer, 1977; Burger, 1989].
Yet another source of control could be derived from the mere act of
deciding which stores to visit and which brands/products to buy [Rick
et al., 2014]. I explore this possibility further in the next section.
3.3 Summary
Although consumers may not go on a shopping trip with the explicit
goal to repair their negative feelings, a variety of shopping goals that
they do have might contribute indirectly toward emotion enhancement.
Drawing upon a wide selection of taxonomies of shopping motivations
3.3. Summary 97
that marketing scholars have proposed, we can categorize these shop-
ping goals along two general dimensions: personal versus social goals,
and hedonic versus utilitarian goals. How several of these goals can
help ameliorate one’s negative feelings are discussed: the hedonic value
of shopping, satisfaction of planned shopping goals, deals and bargain
hunting, the joy of learning about the marketplace, the pleasure of bar-
gaining and competing with fellow shoppers, social interactions, and
attaining psychological power and control through shopping.
While You Are Shopping: Assessing Retail
Therapy Effectiveness from a Behavioral
In this section, instead of focusing on the motivations that consumers
may have for shopping, I examine, at the individual level, the vari-
ous activities in which consumers typically engage during the shopping
process, and explore how these activities can increase positive feel-
ings and allow consumers to achieve retail therapy. A similar behavior-
based approach has been adopted by several researchers in the study
of shopping albeit at different levels of specificity [Kang and Johnson,
2010; Puccinelli et al., 2009; Rick et al., 2014]. For instance, Kang and
Johnson [2010] examine consumers’ pre-shopping, shopping, and post-
shopping experiences, while Rick et al. [2014] consider the specific com-
ponents of a shopping episode: browsing, interacting with salespeople,
choosing, paying, acquiring, and consuming.
Inevitably, shoppers may have specific motives that correspond to
each of these activities, and these motives, in turn, may contribute
toward positive emotions and well-being, as discussed in the previous
section. In such cases, I shall be brief in the present discussion; instead,
I focus on the particular sources of psychological value in shopping that
adopting this behavioral perspective illuminates.
4.1. Mapping the stages of the shopping process 99
Figure 4.1: A stylized view of the shopping process.
4.1 Mapping the stages of the shopping process
Many shopping episodes traverse the following main stages (see Fig-
ure 4.1): browsing the items available in a store, deciding which brand
or product to buy, paying for the selected product, and finally, acquir-
ing the product as its new rightful owner [Rick et al., 2014]. While
this stylized process is typical of many shopping encounters, there are
clearly many exceptions. For instance, some shoppers may have a con-
crete goal in mind even before entering a store [Lee and Ariely, 2006],
hence bypassing the first two stages of the process. Other consumers
may either window shop without any desire to make a purchase [Bloch
and Richins, 1983; Bloch et al., 1989; Ganesh et al., 2010; Moe, 2003],
or decide not to purchase anything after browsing, thus omitting the
latter two stages of the above process.
In this section, I examine how each of these individual stages of the
stylized shopping process may highlight particular aspects of shopping
that could increase consumers’ positive feelings and offer retail therapy
4.1.1 Browsing
When consumers browse the products that are on display in a store,
they may either do this with a product or shopping goal in mind (util-
itarian browsing) or simply enjoy the hedonic experience and benefits
from the browsing process [hedonic browsing; Bloch et al., 1989]. These
two forms of browsing have also been referred to as pre-purchase search
and ongoing search, respectively [Bloch et al., 1986], and they differ in
100 While You Are Shopping
several aspects besides their association with different objectives. For
instance, hedonic browsing, compared to utilitarian browsing, has been
linked to more impulse purchases and greater product (vs. purchase)
involvement [Bloch et al., 1986; Moe, 2003; Park et al., 2012].
No doubt, given that consumers engage in utilitarian browsing to
satisfy an instrumental purchase goal, the ability to satisfy the goal
brings about satisfaction and a sense of goal achievement [Carver and
Scheier, 1981; 1990]. However, hedonic browsing can also engender
many psychological benefits for consumers. Consistent with this claim,
hedonic browsers have been found to exhibit a higher level of self-
confidence and social extraversion; they also report greater purchase
satisfaction and lower levels of dissonance [Jarboe and McDaniel, 1987].
These browsers who may not shop with a concrete goal in mind also
tend to have greater interest in and knowledge of the searched product
category and often serve as opinion leaders for other consumers [Bloch
and Richins, 1983].
Hedonic browsing can increase positive feelings via two different
mechanisms. First, as discussed in a previous section, finding out about
the latest brands and trends in the marketplace can engender a sense of
control by helping consumers build a bank of product information. This
information bank mentally prepares consumers for future consumption
needs and thus reduces shopping anxiety [Bloch et al., 1986]. Second,
hedonic browsing, despite not being tied to an instrumental purchase
goal, also allows consumers to engage in self-discovery. Through brows-
ing the products on display and evaluating their preferences, consumers
can derive inherent pleasure from learning about what they like and
dislike [He et al., 2013].
In-store browsing can also generate positive feelings through con-
sumers’ direct and indirect interaction with the extant shopping envi-
ronment. Be it the soothing sounds of Bach’s harpsichord concertos or
the freshening fragrances of citrus and fresh linen in the air, shoppers
engage with the retail atmosphere in a multisensory manner. Such sen-
sory stimulation may influence how consumers think and feel in myriad
ways [Inman, 2001; Krishna, 2009; 2012; Ng, 2003; Tai and Fung, 1997;
Tauber, 1972; Turley and Milliman, 2000; Zwebner et al., 2014] and
4.1. Mapping the stages of the shopping process 101
provide consumers with positive hedonic benefits such as relaxation
and rejuvenation.
A more specific type of browsing, bargain hunting also constitutes
one of the main pleasures of shopping [Cox et al., 2005; Schindler, 1989].
Apart from economic benefits, bargain hunting promotes positive feel-
ings associated with both the hunter-gatherer and smart-shopper mind-
sets. Sales promotions also trigger positive product evaluations [Naylor
et al., 2006], increase total purchase and unplanned consumption [Heil-
man et al., 2002], and enhance consumption enjoyment of the products
under promotion through emotional contagion [Lee and Tsai, 2014].
4.1.2 Deciding
Shopping typically requires the consumer to make a series of choices:
where to shop, whom to shop with, how long to shop for, and eventually
(for most shoppers who are not merely window shoppers), whether to
buy and what to buy. Despite being sometimes cognitively demanding,
these shopping-related decisions can promote feelings of self-efficacy
and enhance one’s sense of control [Langer, 1975; Rick et al., 2014], alle-
viating negative moods of sadness and promoting general well-being.
Relatedly, giving people the ability to choose attenuates the negative
effects of sadness on consumption such as binge eating and overspend-
ing [Garg and Lerner, 2013].
This emotional therapeutic effect of shopping, however, may not
generalize to negative feelings of anger. Unlike sadness, anger tends to
be caused by others and may not be ameliorated by reinstating one’s
control over the environment [Rick et al., 2014].
4.1.3 Paying
Following the decision to buy a product, the natural next step is to pay
for the product. Financial disbursement has been linked to the psycho-
logical “pain of paying” [Prelec and Loewenstein, 1998] and thus may
negatively affect one’s moods during shopping. This “pain of paying”
is consistent with the activation of the insula in neuropsychology prior
to a purchase transaction [Knutson et al., 2007], and is especially pro-
nounced among “tightwads” who are therefore often reluctant to spend
102 While You Are Shopping
[Rick et al., 2008]. Yet, this psychological pain can be buffered by the
anticipatory joy and benefits of consuming the purchased product later,
which explains the strong preference for prepayment schemes to post-
consumption payment arrangements in the marketplace [Patrick and
Park, 2006; Prelec and Loewenstein, 1998].
Further, prior research suggests that different modes of payment
can be associated with different degrees of psychological pain [Raghubir
and Srivastava, 2008; Thomas et al., 2011]. For instance, compared to
cash, credit cards render the payment outflow less transparent and can
therefore alleviate the “pain of paying” [Loewenstein and O’Donoghue,
2006]. Consequently, credit-card payment can induce greater spending
and fewer negative feelings associated with shopping transactions. The
availability of attractive reward programs tied to credit card transac-
tions can further encourage spending and generate shopping satisfac-
tion [Oliver, 2010; Wirtz et al., 2007].
Regardless of the payment method, spending money can induce
greater feelings of self-sufficiency [Vohs et al., 2006]. However, spending
money on others has been shown to generate greater happiness than
spending money on oneself [Dunn et al., 2008].
4.1.4 Acquiring
Paying for a product results in the transfer of the product’s owner-
ship to the payer. More generally, shopping allows consumers to own
products that generate hedonic value in various ways. While buying and
consuming hedonic experiential goods such as chocolates and vacations
are naturally accompanied by positive feelings, the purchase of products
with specific characteristics can also afford hedonic value in less direct
ways. In particular, in response to situational perceived psychosocial
deficiencies, consumers may purchase specific types of products to com-
pensate for these perceived deficiencies [Dichter, 1960; Gronmo, 1988;
Sivanathan and Pettit, 2010; Woodruffe, 1997; Woodruffe-Burton and
Elliott, 2005]. That is, these consumers may be consuming the symbolic
meaning of the products rather than the physical products themselves.
Examples of such compensatory purchases are aplenty: consumers
buy conspicuous high-status products when they feel powerless [Rucker
4.1. Mapping the stages of the shopping process 103
and Galinsky, 2008] or when they experience self-threat [Sivanathan
and Pettit, 2010], products that boost their self concept when their
confidently held self-view is shaken [Gao et al., 2009], and both utili-
tarian products and products that are tangibly bounded (for example,
a framed picture instead of an unframed picture) when they perceive a
loss of control over the environment [Chen et al., 2010; 2011; Cutright,
2012]. Such reactive compensatory consumption differs from proactive
compensatory consumption since they are engaged after, not before,
one experiences a self-threat, and tend to be driven by the goal of
distraction [Kim and Rucker, 2012]. In other words, consumers pur-
chase these products with specific qualities to distract themselves from
self-awareness, thus alleviating the negative impact of the experienced
self-threat. This is akin to Kacen’s [1994] notion of a “fresh start” or
a “rebirth” that motivates product acquisition as ownership of new
items helps one to “forget about the old things,” while the pleasure
from shopping may “distract us from our negative feelings and provide
a happier, more positive focus” (p. 522).
Nonetheless, some recent work suggests that such “within-domain
compensation” (such as buying a copy of Scientific American after one’s
intelligence has been undermined), compared to “across-domain com-
pensation” (such as buying a copy of the Creativity magazine instead),
could trigger more ruminative thinking about the threat rather than
distracting them from the source of their self-threat [Lisjak et al., 2015].
A further exploration of the boundaries of this effect would be worth-
while to better understand the effectiveness of compensatory consump-
tion in retail therapy.
The term “acquisitive buying” has been introduced recently into the
consumer behavior literature [Bose et al., 2013]. It refers to an osten-
sibly compulsive form of buying (such as buying the fourteenth pair
of white t-shirts) but is somewhat controlled in that the “acquisitive
buyer” is able to differentiate among the seemingly similar products
in minute ways. Such product acquisition or ownership is believed to
enhance the buyer’s preparedness for specific product-use occasions in
the future and therefore provide her with a sense of control. Acquisi-
tive buying is conceptually distinct from materialism. Unlike acquisitive
104 While You Are Shopping
buyers who do not experience buyer’s remorse, high-materialism (vs.
low-materialism) consumers tend to consistently experience emotional
fluctuations during the shopping process, with their product-evoked
emotions elevating before buying and declining after purchase [Richins,
2013]. These high-materialism consumers generally derive more plea-
sure from anticipating and desiring a product than from owning the
product itself.
4.2 Summary
Instead of considering the overarching goals that consumers might have
for shopping, this section delves into the specific stages of a stylized
shopping process, examining how the constituent activities at each
stage of shopping can contribute toward emotion enhancement and
greater well-being. These stages include: browsing, choosing, paying,
and acquiring. Beyond this stylized process, future work could explore
how other activities that consumers may engage in while shopping,
such as passing time and people watching, could impact consumers’
emotions and shopping experience [Bloch et al., 1994; Bowlby, 2000].
Fleeting Feelings: Assessing Retail Therapy
Effectiveness from an Emotional Perspective
From excitement and curiosity to guilt and contentment, a consumer’s
experience during the shopping process can be replete with a range of
feelings and emotions. A better understanding of the presence of these
various affective states during shopping could offer greater insight into
the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of retail therapy.
5.1 Affective drivers and consequences of shopping
While there has been much work in the psychology and decision-making
literature on how emotions affect consumers’ decisions and decision-
making processes (see Cohen et al. [2008] for a comprehensive review)
there has been relatively less work on the changing emotional states
while consumers shop, particularly when they shop with the specific
objective of regulating their negative emotions and achieving retail
Table 5.1 summarizes, in chronological order, some of the main find-
ings of past research that lies at the intersection of shopping and emo-
tions. These research programs examine the specific emotional drivers
106 Fleeting Feelings
Table 5.1: Summary of past research on shopping and emotions.
References examined Methodology Key findings
Mick and
Survey with unstructured
questions and content
analysis. N= 287; 51%
female; sample comprised
students and
non-students (43%)
Respondents reported feeling “renewed” and “refreshed when asked
to describe an acquisition “to cheer yourself [themselves] up because
you [they] were feeling down.” Guilt and regret were rarely
Elliott [1994] Excited-calm,
happy, anxious,
In-depth interviews
(N= 15) and mail survey
(N= 46) of self-identified
addictive female buyers
who tended to use
shopping as a means to
repair negative moods
Respondents reported feeling excitement before and during
shopping, but guilt and anxiety after arriving home with their
Faber and
angry, irritable,
anxious, bored
administered to 24
respondents who qualified
as compulsive buyers
(92% female) and 24
control respondents who
were not compulsive
Compared to a control group, compulsive buyers were more likely to
experience all the enquired mood states (both positive and negative,
except happy) before deciding to go shopping, and the more extreme
moods (sad/depressed, angry, excited, anxious) while shopping.
Positive moods (happy, excited): compulsive buyers reported
experiencing these moods more during shopping than prior to
shopping, while control consumers were more likely to experience
these moods prior to than during shopping.
Negative moods (sad/depressed, angry, irritable, anxious, bored):
compulsive buyers reported experiencing these moods more before
shopping than during shopping, while comparison consumers were
more likely to experience these moods during than before shopping.
5.1. Affective drivers and consequences of shopping 107
Table 5.1: (Continued)
References examined Methodology Key findings
Spies et al.
Adjectives for
angry moods
[SES; Hampel,
Field surveys conducted at two
IKEA stores in Germany
(N= 152; 76 per store);
respondents’ moods were
assessed three times: first at the
entrance, second after they had
passed the exhibition area, and
finally before they left the store.
Compared to a less pleasant store (dilapidated,
disorganized store configuration), shopping in a more
pleasant store (modern and organized) improves
consumers’ moods, increases shopping satisfaction, and
induces more spontaneous purchase of liked items.
Luomala and
Thematic interviews
(antecedents, process, and
consequences of
mood-regulatory self-gifting
behaviors) and qualitative
analysis; N= 28, female, aged
Participants reported engaging in self-gifting behavior
for different reasons under positive and negative moods:
to reward themselves when they feel good, but to
repair/alleviate negative feelings when they feel bad.
Only a few participants thought they engaged in
self-gifting behavior to prolong or improve their already
existing good moods.
Participants generally regarded their mood-regulatory
self-gifting behaviors as successful and described their
post-success positive feelings in vivid ways (relaxed,
satisfied, happy, relieved, positive, calm, harmonic,
uplifting). However, their original negative moods were
usually attenuated, not entirely erased. Also, intense
negative moods often could not be repaired through
self-gifting, and unsuccessful mood-reparatory self-gifting
behaviors were accompanied by feelings of guilt,
frustration, and regret, and may even aggravate.
108 Fleeting Feelings
Table 5.1: (Continued)
References examined Methodology Key findings
Clark and
Calleja [2008]
In-depth interview of 8 university
students (Malta) who qualified as
compulsive shoppers in initial
screening test; aged 19–30.
Compulsive buyers often use shopping as a way to
elevate their moods. They often experience extreme
positive/negative mood fluctuations while shopping: a
sense of exhilaration (a quick fix) to reach a
heightened state of arousal, followed quickly by
feelings of remorse.
Herabadi et al.
Open-ended Multi-method approach: (A)
interview of 103 shoppers at a large
department store in Indonesia (65%
female, aged 17–61) immediately
after they had made a purchase;
(B) two-part study with 77
undergraduates in Indonesia (83%
female, aged 19–24) in which
participants kept a shopping diary
for 3 consecutive days.
Impulsive buying was accompanied by positive
feelings of high arousal (excitement, urge, attracted,
in love, enthusiastic) while contemplative buying with
feelings of low arousal (pleased, relieved, interested,
contented, nothing special).
Atalay and
Meloy [2011]
Mood (valence),
220 Adult shoppers at a shopping
mall responded to survey before
and after they shopped (69%
female, average age: 34).
Less happy shoppers were more likely to make
unplanned self-treat purchases; loneliness was
unrelated to the purchase of self-treats.
Lab experiment with 2 (mood:
positive vs. negative) ×2 (goal of
restraint vs. no-goal)
between-subjects design; N= 118
Participants who were initially in a bad mood
experienced more positive moods after indulging in
unplanned consumption of self-treats (that is,
chocolate candies); those with the goal of restraint
were able to use the achievement of that goal to
repair their moods instead.
5.1. Affective drivers and consequences of shopping 109
Table 5.1: (Continued)
References examined Methodology Key findings
Positive and
negative affect
Watson et al.,
1988], guilt,
69 Undergraduates completed two
consumption diaries over a two-week
period: first diary examined the events
leading to the purchase of a self-treat;
second diary tracked respondents’
post-purchase feelings toward the
Both mood repair and celebratory treats led to
post-purchase mood improvements regardless of
whether purchase was planned or unplanned.
No evidence of increased guilt or regret (buyer’s
remorse) and product-return attempts following
the purchase of self-treats for mood repair or
celebratory reasons.
Kemp and
Kopp [2011]
Lab experiment: 96 college students
randomly assigned to one of three
mood conditions: contentment,
fear/anxiety,neutral and responded to
question about impulsive purchase
Participants in both the contentment and
fear/anxiety conditions were more likely to
purchase impulsively than those in the neutral
condition, but for different reasons supposedly —
mood maintenance and mood repair, respectively.
Lab experiment: 3 (mood: amusement,
sadness, neutral) ×2 (cognitive
reappraisal: high vs. low)
between-subjects; N= 167.
Participants in both the amusement and sadness
conditions were more likely to purchase
impulsively than those in the neutral condition.
For participants in the sadness condition, those
with low (vs. high) cognitive reappraisals had
stronger preference for the focal hedonic product,
presumably because they were less able to access
their internal processes or to self-medicate in order
to regulate their negative emotions (and hence
enlist external means).
110 Fleeting Feelings
Table 5.1: (Continued)
References examined Methodology Key findings
López and de
Maya [2012]
Two lab experiments: (A) 3 (mood:
positive, negative, neutral) ×2
(valence of hedonic product: positive,
negative) between-subjects; N= 147
(B) 2 (mood: positive, negative) ×3
(valence of external product review:
positive, negative, no-info)
When participants were in a negative (vs.
positive) mood, they were more likely to buy a
positive hedonic product, but not a negative
hedonic product. However, the influence of
product reviews dominated their desire to repair
their moods such that they were more likely to be
influenced by the valence of the product reviews
rather than their own mood states.
Clarke and
Mortimer [2013]
Regret Online survey in Australia and
structural equation modeling;
N= 307, 75% female, aged 18–45.
Participants expected to experience post-purchase
regret from buying self-gifts to cheer themselves
up (for example, retail therapy) and for
celebratory (for example, birthday, Christmas)
reasons, but not from buying the gifts to reward
themselves for an achievement or from the hedonic
enjoyment of shopping for the product.
Pieters [2013] Loneliness Longitudinal data from online
consumer panel administered in the
Netherlands over six years; surveys
measured materialism and loneliness
in five waves; N= 2,789.
Loneliness leads to more materialism; conversely,
valuing possessions as a happiness medicine or as
a measure of success increases loneliness (resulting
in a “material trap”), but seeking possessions for
material mirth (acquisition centrality, luxury, or
the joy of spending money on impractical things)
decreases loneliness.
5.1. Affective drivers and consequences of shopping 111
Table 5.1: (Continued)
References examined Methodology Key findings
Rick et al.
Three lab experiments: (A) After
watching a sad video clip, participants
were randomly assigned to either the
Choosing condition or the Browsing
condition; mood was accessed at three
different times; N= 100, 52% female,
mean age =36;
(B) 2 (mood: sadness, anger) ×2
(agency: personal control, situation
control) between-subjects design;
following emotion induction,
participants completed shopping task
with agency manipulation; N= 147;
(C) 3 (mood: sadness, anger, neutral)
×2 (agency: personal control,
situation control) between-subjects
design; N= 301 undergrads; 51%
Residual sadness (final score — baseline score) was
significantly lower among participants (choosers)
who were asked to choose which products they
would like to buy compared to pure browsers.
Residual sadness in the sadness conditions
(participants watched a sad movie clip) was
significantly lower among participants who had
control over their outcomes (personal control)
than among participants who did not have control
over their outcomes (situational control). Residual
anger in the anger conditions (participants
watched a movie clip that induced anger) did not
differ between conditions. Both residual sadness
and residual anger did not differ in the neutral
conditions (participants watched a documentary
clip) regardless of whether control was personal or
112 Fleeting Feelings
of retail therapy, the effectiveness and emotional impact of retail ther-
apy, as well as factors that determine retail therapy success. The studies
were conducted with both regular shoppers (both students and non-
student individuals) as well as consumers who had been clinically diag-
nosed as addictive or compulsive buyers and who had a propensity
to rely excessively on shopping as a means to repair their negative
feelings. They also employed a variety of methods, including in-depth
interviews, shopping diary analysis, longitudinal behavioral analysis,
lab experiments, online surveys, and field studies conducted in malls
and department stores.
5.2 Main themes in research on shopping and emotions
Several themes emerge from these research findings that are especially
relevant to our present focus on retail therapy:
(a) Self-gifting and impulse buying: A number of empirical findings
support the common wisdom that consumers often shop with the
objective of achieving retail therapy [Atalay and Meloy, 2011;
Kemp and Kopp, 2011; López and de Maya, 2012; Luomala and
Laaksonen, 1999]. To repair their negative moods, consumers may
engage in self-gifting or unplanned/impulse buying. Furthermore,
happy shoppers may also buy themselves gifts to maintain their
already positive feelings [Kemp and Kopp, 2011; Luomala and
Laaksonen, 1999]. Such behavior is not restricted to addictive or
compulsive shoppers.
(b) Success of retail therapy: Shoppers who seek retail therapy gen-
erally find shopping effective in helping them ameliorate their
negative moods [Atalay and Meloy, 2011; Luomala and Laakso-
nen, 1999; Mick and DeMoss, 1990; Rick et al., 2014]. Adjectives
such as “relaxed,” “renewed,” and “refreshed” were some adjec-
tives that these shoppers used to describe their positive feelings
after successful retail therapy. Further, there were very few actual
reports of post-shopping guilt and regret even though consumers
5.3. Summary 113
may expect to experience these negative emotions with self-
gifting and retail therapy [Clarke and Mortimer, 2013]. Nonethe-
less, some exceptions to the general effectiveness of retail ther-
apy exist. In particular, compulsive shoppers tend to experience
greater excitement before shopping, extreme mood swings while
shopping, and negative feelings of guilt, regret, and anxiety after
returning home with their purchases [Clark and Calleja, 2008;
Elliott, 1994; Faber and Christenson, 1996]. Even for regular
shoppers, some recent work suggests that whether retail therapy,
particularly compensatory consumption in the face of psycholog-
ical threat, is effective may hinge on what consumers buy [Lisjak
et al., 2015]; within-domain compensatory purchases are found
to be less effective than across-domain purchases as the former
could trigger greater ruminative thinking about the threat. It is
conceivable that such undesirable rumination could also gener-
ate accompanying negative feelings that ironically undermine the
very objective of compensatory consumption in the first place.
(c) Why does retail therapy work: Emerging work suggests that a
potential reason why shopping helps mitigate negative emotions
is that choosing whether to buy and what to buy afford con-
sumers with a sense of control or personal agency that feeds into
mood enhancement [Rick et al., 2014]. This adds to the poten-
tial symbolic meaning that consumers may obtain through buying
products with specific features or characteristics and that satisfies
particular perceived psychosocial deficiencies (for example, lower
self esteem) [Dichter, 1960; Gronmo, 1988; Sivanathan and Pettit,
2010; Woodruffe, 1997; Woodruffe-Burton and Elliott, 2005].
5.3 Summary
In this section, I focus on the affective lives of shoppers, delving into the
emotions that might drive them to shop, how they feel while shopping,
and how these emotions fluctuate over time during the shopping pro-
cess. A review of some representative work on emotions and shopping
behavior reveal three main themes: (a) negative feelings often induce
114 Fleeting Feelings
consumers to engage in retail therapy, self-gifting, and unplanned buy-
ing; (b) such retail therapy attempts are often reported to be successful;
and (c) emerging work has revealed that one of the factors that could
contribute toward retail-therapy success is the perceived control that
choosing what to buy can provide shoppers. Despite the work reviewed
in this section, research on emotions and shopping seems to remain
at a rather nascent stage, as several related questions call for further
examination and investigation. I shall discuss some of these questions
in the next and final section.
Conclusions and Future Directions in Retail
Therapy Research
Shopping is a complex everyday activity that involves the intricate
interaction of both the individual and the situation [Darden and
Reynolds, 1971; Inman et al., 2009; Tauber, 1972]. In this post-recession
era characterized by consumerism and dominated by new media and
social connectivity, it is critical to understand the inherent motiva-
tions that drive consumers’ shopping behavior as well as how shoppers
respond to retailers’ marketing actions and to the immediate shopping
environment. From a theoretical perspective, shopping provides a rich
context for researchers to examine how various psychological constructs
interact with one another and to extend and enrich existing theories in
the social sciences.
One of the most common motivations that consumers may have for
shopping is retail therapy — consumers shop with the specific intention
to repair their negative emotions. Despite the presumed popularity of
retail therapy based on lay intuition and common wisdom, its effective-
ness remains unclear. That is, to what extent does retail therapy really
This monograph aims to review the extant literature on shopping
behavior and emotions in search of an answer to this question. In
116 Conclusions and Future Directions in Retail Therapy Research
particular, I adopt a holistic approach by examining systematically the
affective impact of shopping from three interlocking perspectives: moti-
vational,behavioral, and emotional. These perspectives serve to delve
into the focal question of retail therapy at increasing levels of concrete-
ness, from the broad goals that consumers may have for shopping, to
the more specific activities that they engage in while they shop, and to
the even more concrete feelings and emotions that they may experience
during the shopping process. By shining a spotlight on each of these
perspectives and considering relevant empirical findings corresponding
to each perspective, I hope to uncover aspects of the psychology of
shopping that may together provide a comprehensive understanding of
the antecedents, mechanisms, and consequences of retail therapy.
While the multipronged approach that this review has taken may
have provided some clues to answering our main question, much
remains to be investigated in the area of retail therapy given that
work along each of the three perspectives has arguably been conducted
somewhat in isolation. The increasing availability of large data sets
from brands and retailers along with advances in multi-platform data
collection techniques (for example, scanners, in-store cameras and sen-
sors, mobile, online, shopping carts with radio frequency identification
[RFID] equipment, shopper physiological measures, neural measures,
eye tracking, social media and text mining) could help overcome many
of the methodological challenges that might have hampered a more
holistic examination of retail therapy in the past [Chandon et al., 2009;
Hui et al., 2009a;b; Knutson et al., 2007; Ko et al., 2015; Netzer et al.,
2012; Shankar, 2011; Sorenson, 2009; Wedel and Pieters, 2008].
Although there has been much research that focuses on each of the
three perspectives that we have discussed in this review — motiva-
tional, behavioral, and emotional — more could arguably be uncov-
ered by considering combinations of these perspectives simultaneously.
In this section, I shall first outline a number of follow-up questions in
retail therapy, drawing upon the proposed tripartite framework and the
discussion in the preceding sections. At a more macro level, in order to
highlight the importance of considering these questions in their broader
policy, cultural, and technological contexts, I will then discuss three
6.1. Questions for further research 117
broad research directions that would be worthwhile for further inves-
tigation. Through examining these questions and research directions,
it is my sincere hope that the path toward a better understanding of
retail therapy will continue to be further illuminated.
6.1 Questions for further research
6.1.1 Emotional, demographic, and dispositional determinants of
retail therapy motives (motivational/behavioral/emotional)
Just as we often cognitively distinguish between different emotional
experiences, accumulating research has shown that not all negative
emotions are equal; in fact, they may have disparate effects on decisions
and behavior [Lerner and Keltner, 2000; Raghunathan and Pham, 1999;
Raghunathan et al., 2006]. Moreover, incidental emotional states and
integral emotional responses could also have differential impact on one’s
cognition and behavior [Cohen et al., 2008; Garg et al., 2005; Pham,
2007]. Therefore, rather than treating all negative feelings as belong-
ing to one umbrella category, it would be worthwhile to understand
and contrast the impact of specific negative emotions (such as sadness,
anger, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, regret, and loneliness) on shopping
goals and spending decisions (taking into account of whether they are
integral or incidental), and, more generally, whether and how these
emotions motivate mood-repair behaviors [Raghunathan and Corfman,
2004]. As a recent example, shopping as a means to regain one’s sense
of control has been shown to be effective in ameliorating feelings of
sadness but not feelings of anger [Rick et al., 2014]. In another inves-
tigation, incidental feelings of envy have been shown to drive greater
adoption of unique products in an unrelated context as a means to
repair one’s self-concept [Chung and Lee, 2014]. Together, such studies
can provide a more refined understanding of the emotional drivers and
consequences of retail therapy.
More broadly, the extent to which consumers rely upon retail
therapy to improve their moods may also depend on a host
of individual-difference factors. Drawing upon the emotion-repair
literature, potential dispositional moderators that deserve further
118 Conclusions and Future Directions in Retail Therapy Research
examination may include gender [Atalay and Meloy, 2011; Chang
et al., 2012; Cheng et al., 2013; Inman et al., 2009; Yurchisin et al.,
2008], consumers’ regulatory focus [Arnold and Reynolds, 2009] and
approach/avoidance motivations [Arnold and Reynolds, 2012], their
beliefs about the transience of emotions [Labroo and Mukhopadhyay,
2009; Maier et al., 2012] and whether their moods are frozen or change-
able [Tice et al., 2001], and even their Big-5 personality traits (for
example, neuroticism and openness to experience; see Mooradian and
Olver [1996]). In particular, although prior research has shown that
males and females tend to have different affect regulation strategies
[Gross and John, 2003; John and Eng, 2014] and common wisdom fur-
ther suggests that females may be more likely to resort to retail therapy
as a means for affect regulation, empirical findings as to whether any
gender differences exist in retail therapy has been mixed [Atalay and
Meloy, 2011; Chang et al., 2012; Yurchisin et al., 2008], indicating the
potential presence of other moderators that warrant further investiga-
6.1.2 Non-conscious versus deliberative retail therapy
While many consumers may shop with an explicit goal to repair their
negative feelings, to what extent does deliberately having this goal
affect one’s shopping experience and buying decisions compared to not
shopping with this explicit goal in mind? Would positive expectations
and anticipatory feelings that might accompany deliberative retail ther-
apy boost the effectiveness of retail therapy [Caplin and Leahy, 2001;
Hsee and Tsai, 2008; Lee et al., 2006; Mandel and Nowlis, 2008]? Or
might non-conscious (or passive) attempts at retail therapy work better
than deliberative (or active) endeavors, since potential feelings of guilt
and buyer remorse (for example, with self-gifting) with deliberative
retail therapy attempts might negatively color one’s shopping experi-
ence? [See Bruyneel et al., 2009 who show that active vs. passive mood
regulation results in different risk preferences such as spending on lot-
tery tickets.] Relatedly, would shopping under the influence of negative
emotions alter one’s shopping behavior and experience in unexpected
6.1. Questions for further research 119
ways [c.f. Clarke and Mortimer, 2013], such as greater variety seeking
and product exploration [Chuang et al., 2008; Lin and Lin, 2012, see
also Kahn and Isen, 1993 Roehm and Roehm, 2005]? Examining the
answers to these questions seems theoretically and practically worth-
6.1.3 Therapy without transactions: the value of window-shopping
While retail therapy is typically associated with making actual prod-
uct purchases, considering that shopping encompasses a broad array of
activities besides the sales transaction, to what extent would window-
shopping [that is, browsing without buying; Bloch and Richins, 1983,
Moe, 2003] be sufficient to mend the “broken soul” and help achieve
retail therapy? Indeed, common wisdom suggests that a large pro-
portion of shopping trips that are driven by hedonic factors may
not result in any transactions. Or would the therapeutic benefits of
window-shopping be store-dependent, since people generally do not
window-shop in grocery stores and supermarkets but rather in fash-
ion boutiques, luxury retail, or department stores?
Prior research has suggested that a host of factors, including knowl-
edge acquisition of trends and preferences [Bloch et al., 1986; He et al.,
2013], environmental stimulation in the store [Krishna, 2012; Ng, 2003],
and social interactions with fellow shoppers, be it direct or indirect [Bel-
lenger et al., 1978; Eroglu et al., 2005; Tauber, 1972], may be adequate
to repair one’s negative feelings. While the process of choosing what
to buy has been found to play a significant role in retail therapy [Rick
et al., 2014], recent findings also suggest that monetary considerations
during product choice may induce greater analytical processing and
interfere with one’s preference stability [Lee et al., 2015]. Moreover, it
is conceivable that shoppers, faced with the dazzling display of prod-
uct options when they shop, may still enjoy utility from choice through
mentally simulating what they would buy without actually buying any-
thing [He et al., 2013]. Arguably, product acquisition occurs from the
moment that consumers decide whether and what to put into their
shopping carts regardless of whether they eventually buy the products
120 Conclusions and Future Directions in Retail Therapy Research
or not. Consequently, retailers may have to consider more carefully
how they could encourage such window shoppers to loosen their purse
strings and make the leap from mere imagining to real transacting.
One plausible strategy may be to shift consumers’ attention from the
financial costs of the sales transaction to its hedonic benefits (Lee et
al., 2015). Nonetheless, given its potential theoretical and especially
managerial implications, an enhanced understanding of the effects and
utility of window-shopping seems vital.
6.1.4 Process, persistence, and habits: a time perspective
Taking a more dynamic perspective, in what ways might consumers’
shopping goals change during their shopping process, and how do these
changes in shopping goals result in different emotional experiences?
Importantly, how persistent are the effects of retail therapy — to what
extent do these effects change the way that consumers shop in the
future? Furthermore, how might habitual retail therapy (for example,
invoking the “cue-routine-reward” habit loop; see Duhigg [2012] and
Graybiel [2008]) influence the overall effectiveness of retail therapy in
the long run? Would consumers become desensitized to retail therapy
over time if they were to become overly reliant on this mood-repair
strategy? These are just a few of the additional questions that might
be worth investigating and which could be derived by juxtaposing the
three aforementioned perspectives of retail therapy instead of examin-
ing them separately.
6.2 Future research directions
6.2.1 Shopping and well-being: a policy perspective
In an astounding study published a few years ago [Chang et al., 2012],
a team of researchers found that elderly people who shopped every day
had a 27% reduced risk of death than the least frequent shoppers, based
on the results of a 10-year longitudinal study conducted in Taiwan. Men
(28% less risk) in particular benefited more from everyday shopping
than women (23% less risk). While these results may seem surprising,
6.2. Future research directions 121
the essence of the findings seems in line with some of the empirical
work we have discussed that suggests that retail therapy may be an
effective antidote to emotional depression.
Nonetheless, under what conditions might shopping be dysfunc-
tional instead, leading to adverse effects such as materialism, compul-
sive buying, and social exclusion (for example, Pieters [2013] and Bauer
et al. [2012])? Given the pervasiveness of shopping as an activity in our
every day lives, a more in-depth understanding of the underlying psy-
chological mechanisms for the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of retail
therapy, and more generally, the extent to which shopping is associated
with general physical and mental health, could have important social
policy and public health implications.
6.2.2 Cross-cultural differences in retail therapy
The rise of emerging markets and their role in shaping the global
economy is a well-recognized trend. A recent report predicts that the
economies in these emerging markets will grow almost three times faster
than developed economies and to account for an average of 65% of
global economic growth through 2020 [Boumphrey and Bevis, 2013].
These and other global developments have spurred increased interest
in understanding the cultural determinants of consumer behavior [Lee,
2014; Shavitt et al., 2008]. While much of the work in cross-cultural
research to date has centered on the difference between individualistic
and collectivistic cultures, and correspondingly, the impact of inde-
pendent versus interdependent construal on consumer behavior, there
is a substantial void in understanding how other cultural dimensions
such as power distance and uncertainty avoidance influence consump-
tion patterns [Hofstede, 1980], as well as the similarities and differ-
ences between different sub-cultures within continents such as Asia
and Europe. This dearth of work in other important cultural dimen-
sions presents researchers with ample opportunities to explore and gain
new insights into why consumers shop, as well as how consumers shop
and consume across cultures.
In particular, recent work has revealed cross-cultural differences in
consumers’ propensity to regulate their moods [Luomala et al., 2004;
122 Conclusions and Future Directions in Retail Therapy Research
Valenzuela et al., 2010] and behave impulsively [Zhang and Shrum,
2009], as well as their definitions of hedonic shopping experience,
with consumers from collectivistic (vs. individualistic) cultures being
less likely to associate hedonic shopping experiences with self-oriented
gratification [Evanschitzky et al., 2014]. A further examination of the
underlying cultural mechanisms of these differences can thus contribute
toward a greater understanding of how important retail therapy as a
shopping motivation truly is across cultures.
6.2.3 Technology, omni-channels, and future shopping worlds
Today, we live in a shopper economy that is characterized by grow-
ing consumerism [Crawford, 2012]. With the increasing range of shop-
per marketing technological innovations available in the marketplace
[Shankar et al., 2011; Silberer, 2008], consumers enjoy a multitude of
ways by which they can shop and acquire new product information
and possessions. Certainly, understanding how consumers make chan-
nel decisions and product decisions concurrently is imperative in help-
ing firms design more effective and streamlined omni-channel solutions
to market to consumers [Neslin et al., 2014].
With regard to our present focus on retail therapy, how does the
presence of these myriad shopping technologies change the way that
consumers shop? With the omnipresence of numerous shopping plat-
forms (for example, brick-and-mortar stores, online, mobile, social
media) in today’s marketplace, might consumers be more likely to
rely on shopping as a means to repair their negative feelings? How
might the characteristics of different channels and platforms for shop-
ping contribute toward retail therapy effectiveness, especially as the
line between shopping malls and integrated multi-purpose entertain-
ment centers continues to blur [Abaza, 2001; Bäckström and Johans-
son, 2006; Crawford, 2004; Ibrahim and Wee, 2002; Juwaheer et al.,
2013; Meyer-Ohle, 2009]? Would emerging technologies such as 3D
printing [Baldwin, 2015; Bird, 2012; Herrmann, 2015; Marriott, 2015]
eventually render social brick-and-mortar shopping an activity of the
past altogether as consumers satisfy their product needs and wants
in the privacy of their own homes? To address these challenging but
6.3. Final remarks 123
broadly important questions, rather than simply staring expectantly
into one’s crystal ball, it seems imperative to carefully consider the
socio-psychological implications of such technological advancements for
marketers and consumers.
6.3 Final remarks
September 11, 2001, 8.46 a.m. When American Airlines Flight 11
crashed into the northern facade of the World Trade Center’s North
Tower, followed by the calamitous crash of a second flight moments
later, the world changed forever. As people around the world struggled
to make sense of the shocking and horrific events on that fateful morn-
ing, then New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in a press conference the
next day urged Americans, if they were home from work, to “go about
their normal day, and take the day as an opportunity to go shopping.
Certainly, this appeal is aimed at encouraging people to return to their
normal lives and to contain their emotions from the cataclysmic events
of the previous day. Seen from a different light, the appeal not only
speaks to the normalcy of shopping as a daily activity in life, but also
hints at the potential ameliorative powers of shopping in calming the
shaken soul in the wake of a national tragedy.
With a tripartite framework that I propose for approaching the sub-
ject of retail therapy at its center stage, in this monograph, I attempt to
address the question of whether retail therapy works by reviewing the
extant literature on shopping behavior and consumer psychology. The
research questions discussed in this section, in particular, offer a mod-
est selection of the plausibly unlimited set of questions that researchers
could address in seeking to further understand the rich domain of shop-
ping and its role in affect regulation; that these questions seem theo-
retically rich and practically relevant at the same time suggests that
there is potential value in systematically adopting the proposed tri-
partite model as a guiding framework for the holistic study of retail
therapy. The three broad research directions that follow further under-
score the importance of examining the subject of retail therapy while
considering its broader policy, cultural, and technological backdrop, so
124 Conclusions and Future Directions in Retail Therapy Research
as to enhance the continued relevance and ecological validity of the
research investigation. Considering the burgeoning interest in shopper
marketing and multi-channel retailing, and the emergence of new tech-
nologies that facilitate the study of shopping behavior (such as eye
tracking devices, shopping path tracking using RFID, as well as social
media and text mining), the time seems ripe to dive deeper into these
research questions and directions, as we seek to better appreciate Rudy
Giuliani’s post-9/11 call to the Americans to shop, and to embark on
our continued quest toward a better understanding of the effectiveness
of retail therapy.
The author thanks the Center for International Business Education
and Research (CIBER) at Columbia University for research support;
Jaeyeon Chung, Isabel Ding, and Youjung Jun for research assistance;
and Ximena Garcia Rada, Bernd Schmitt, Franklin Shaddy, and an
anonymous reviewer for helpful comments.
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