Sometimes clutter problems begin with shopping problems.
I have clients who know they have shopping issues, and are working to control them. One of my clients, after her last eBay splurge, is now returning the items she can — and planning to close her eBay account after she’s done. “It’s addictive,” she said.
I’d read books about the psychology of shopping, but they were focused on shopping in stores, so I went looking for other resources to learn more about the psychology of online shopping.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology, wrote about compulsive online shopping in Psychology Today. She said that eBay does indeed have many features that lead to compulsive shopping. One of these is that “emotional selling preys on nostalgia,” and eBay is just full of people selling collectibles, often from people’s childhoods. Whitbourne provided the examples “your favorite Malibu Barbie that your mother tossed out during a move” and “your cherished baseball cards.”
There are a number of psychological effects that the auction element of eBay encourages people to spend more than they might otherwise. “When you see others willing to pay more for an item, you begin to think that the item is actually worth more and so up goes your bid.”
“At a retail store you have to pick up the item, put it in the cart, take it to the register, take out your card, and put it through the scanner to make your purchase,” Mr. Lindstrom said. “But online you don’t have all those road blocks. You just click three times.”
The same New York Times blog post explained that, just as with store design, marketers use website design to trigger our brains in ways that encourage shopping. They use colors that are associated with specific emotions; they’ll add a $300 item (which they might not even care about selling) to a page that has one for $200 and one for $250, because listing that $300 item increases the chance a customer will buy the $250 one.
For those who feel a need to control their online purchases, Whitbourne has six suggestions, including:
Decide ahead of time on an item’s value and set that as your maximum (including shipping costs). … If necessary, write that amount down on a post-it note and put it on your monitor. Don’t go above that total.
Don’t go on eBay when you are in an altered state of mind. … If you’re having a little après dinner libation, your inhibitions are likely to become looser, and you will more easily lose control of the situation. By the same token, if you’re feeling sad or frustrated about other problems in your life, stay away from any site in which an expensive mistake can’t be undone.
Lindstrom has his own recommendations:
Determine your online shopping budget, and stick to it. Mr. Lindstrom suggests going so far as spending online only what you literally have in your wallet. “It’s a mental barrier,” he said. “… If people were to follow that single piece of advice, nine out of 10 purchases would not happen.”