A Magnet for Female Compulsive Buyers?

While women Internet buyers may be outnumbered by men shopping online, new research suggests that many of the women who do shop in cyberspace are compulsive buyers. Further, as compared with female shoppers with low compulsive buying tendencies, female consumers with high compulsive buying tendencies actually prefer shopping and buying online over traditional “bricks and mortar” stores, at least when it comes to clothing and accessories for themselves.

In a survey of 314 customers of an Internet clothing retailer—nearly all of them women—Monika Kukar-Kinney, Nancy M. Ridgway, and Kent B. Monroe found a surprisingly high incidence of compulsive buying tendencies: somewhere between twice and three times the national average. In their survey, published in the Journal of Retailing, 85 (3, 2009) 298-307, nearly 18% of the sample showed overshopping tendencies. The prevalence in the general population is presently estimated at somewhere between 5% and 8%.

Detailing “The Relationship Between Consumers’ Tendencies to Buy Compulsively and Their Motivations to Shop and Buy on the Internet,” the survey explored several hypotheses about what draws overshoppers to the Internet. What emerged as the chief attractor was the ability to buy unobserved, without social interaction, and experience immediate positive feelings.

Kukar-Kinney, Ridgway, and Monroe conclude their article with a thoughtful consideration of what their findings might suggest, both to retail researchers and to public policy officials. They wonder, for example, about establishing guidelines that could help retailers identify problem buyers and perhaps remove them from regular communications so as not to constantly fuel their buying sprees. Might we actually be moving toward a “Shop Responsibly” campaign?

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