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Online Shopping and Hoarding Disorder

Are you vulnerable to online shopping addiction?

It may be very difficult for a person suffering from hoarding disorder to avoid the lure of late-night shopping channels or internet deals. The dizzying rush that you may feel from the instant availability of any item that attracts you is the same as a traditional in-store shopping impulse. “Great deals” lure you in and urge you to purchase now. The buyer’s remorse and anxiety you feel the next day is also the same as the regret felt after in-store impulse shopping except that it is far more convenient. As such, a problematic online shopping habit requires different coping and treatment strategies to be successful.

Factors That Make People Vulnerable to Online Shopping Addiction

A study by Marlynn Wei in 2015 found three key factors that made people especially vulnerable to an online shopping addiction:

1. Preferring to buy anonymously and avoid social interaction. There is an overlap between pathological impulsive buying and anxiety, especially social anxiety. For people who don’t comfortably tolerate crowded malls or the social interaction at the checkout counter, buying online may seem like the perfect solution, but it actually increases the incentive for an individual to avoid social interaction.

2. Enjoying a wide variety and constant availability of items. It’s not surprising that online shopping cultivates satisfaction in people who like great variety and want to have the latest model of what attracts them. And online stores never close.

3. Seeking instant gratification. People who seek immediate gratification are drawn to online shopping, where purchases are one click away. The quick satisfaction feeds into the cycle of cravings and rewards.

In addition to these factors, online shopping websites and shopping channel ads are designed to compound the problem in several ways. Online auction sites and television ads create a sense of urgency. Often the online site includes a countdown of the time left before the deal expires, or ads show a countdown of the number of items left at the unbelievable sale price. This marketing strategy leads to anxiety and an overwhelming urge to purchase now, before you can take a breath and recognise the best decision for you at this time.

Sites Induce Craving

To cue you to increased craving, when you browse for a product online, targeted ads and sponsored ads start popping up in your browser soon after. Businesses try to capitalise on your initial interest by providing you with cues to get you to click for a closer look at their product. If your initial interest was based on a craving for the item, it can quickly turn into an irresistible urge to purchase.

Many of us enjoy the convenience and immediacy of online shopping, so how is pathological impulsive online buying different from the average shopper’s behavior? According to Marlynn Wei, people with pathological impulsive buying issues feel preoccupied with shopping and feel like they have no control over it, even if it leads to severe work or relationship problems or financial bankruptcy.

10 Signs of Compulsive Online Shopping

  1. I feel I can’t stop online shopping even if I wanted to, or I have tried to stop without being able to.
  2. Online shopping has hurt my relationships, work, or finances.
  3. My loved ones are concerned about my online shopping.

  4. I think about online shopping all the time.

  5. I get grumpy or upset if I can’t shop online.

  6. Online shopping is the only thing that helps me relax or feel better.

  7. I hide things that I buy because I’m afraid other people will think it’s unreasonable or a waste of money.

  8. I often feel guilty after I go online shopping.

  9. I spend less time doing other things that I enjoy because of the time and money spent online shopping.

  10. I often buy things that I don’t need or much more than I planned, even when I can’t afford it.

Strategies to Deal with Online Shopping

There is no easy solution because online shopping is numbingly easy and available. Marketing strategies are designed to make even the tawdriest bobble look like the crown jewels or a solution to your problems.

Source: Pixabay

Ask yourself:

  • Why are shopping channels/retail websites your viewing choice of the day?
  • What is stopping you from turning off the TV/internet or changing the channel/website?
  • When you want a down-time activity, what other choices do you have?
  • Who have you not connected with in a while? Turn off the TV/internet and try writing, phoning/texting, or emailing them instead.
  • Are you a night-owl shopper? Make a contract with yourself: No shopping after 7 p.m. or when you are bored, feeling down, or need something you can’t identify.

No matter what the item, make a contract with yourself to take notes on it.

  • Put yourself on pause for 24 to 48 hours and then decide how handy or problem-solving the item really is. Never buy the same day you get excited about a new purchase if shopping has ever been a problem for you.
  • Ask yourself what are the problems, frustrations, irritations, or longings for you right now? Do a pros and cons list of how the desired acquisition(s) will solve these issues.

Remember you are worth not letting yourself get propelled by your feelings of impulsive necessity or possible usefulness. Be the driver and decide your own best path.


Trotzke, Patrick, Katrin Starcke, Anya Pedersen, and Matthias Brand. 2014. “Cue-Induced Craving in Pathological Buying: Empirical Evidence and Clinical Implications.” Psychosomatic Medicine 76 (9): 694-700

Wei, Marlynn. 2015. “10 Signs You’re Addicted to Online Shopping.” Psychology Today (blog), November 4, 2015.….