The Joy of Shopping

Most people want to experience the joy of shopping. People no longer consume purely for practical purposes. They purchase products and services in the hope of expressing who they are, and in hope of becoming happy. Savvy retailers can help their customers to enjoy their shopping spree.

“If money can’t buy happiness, why does it sometimes feel so good to buy stuff?” asks Kristin Bianco in his personal finance column at FoxNews Network.  Well, there is an answer for Kristin’s question if you search for it at the right place. That place is consumer psychology. Professor Kit Yarrow, professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, writing in Psychology Today names the good feeling that Kristin experience when buying stuff “retail therapy”. She says a recent study has found that more than half of Americans admit to engaging in “retail therapy.”

So, when your customers feel down, they go shopping to feel better…

Finding the joy of shopping

According to the emotional view of consumer decision-making1, each of us is likely to associate deep feelings or emotions, such as joy, fear, love, hope, sexuality, fantasy and even a little ‘magic’, with certain purchases. Also, scientists2 have found that shopping does make some people feel good. It’s been reported that when a person shops, the brain releases the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is linked to feelings of satisfaction and pleasure and is released when you face new, exciting experiences. So, what do your customers pay for when they want to have “retail therapy”?

Retail TouchPoints reported the results of a recent survey done by Ebates. The results indicate that engagement in retail therapy is often driven by factors such as boredom and seasonal changes. As many as 66% of adults and 75% of teens indicate that shopping is a great cure for boredom, while 45% of adults revealed that the seasonal changes are the biggest motivator to go shopping.

As indicated in the table below (from the Ebates survey), buying clothes is making most of the US adults and teens the happiest.

Top purchases that make US adults the happiest
% of Adults who said this
% of Teens who said this
Clothing 56 68
Entertainment (i.e. books, movies, music) 42 51
Travel 40 43
Tech/ electronics 38 22
Furniture/ Home decor 33 17

If your customers really want to feel happy, they will go on a ‘shopping spree’. WiseGeek describes a shopping spree as “a playful and “devil may care” attitude in a single shopping trip where lots of money is spent. A shopping spree is the action you take to start your ‘retail therapy’.  But what do your customers say about the joy of shopping?

Customer insights about the joy of shopping

Here are some commentary and comments from customer’s experiences about the joy of shopping.

“I think the clothes I buy will make me happier. The storage bins, the throw pillows, perhaps a bottle of nail polish. And while it’s true for a day, it doesn’t bring me real, lasting happiness. It gives me a bit of a happy high: “I love this new dressssss! How cute and stylish am I!?” but then the excitement wears off and I want to buy something else…” writes Ashley in her blog Our Little Apartment“. The comment of Ashley supports the findings of the survey done by Ebates.

Customers, sometimes, are feeling guilty after a shopping spree. Here are some of the comments on Ashley’s blog:

Ashile says: “It is so true that in the moment we think buying some new it will make us happier. But truly, it is only momentary happiness”.

Marta says “We all have wasted money and resources and time on unneeded shopping. You know how I do now? I ask myself “do I REALLY need it?” “Would I come back tomorrow again to buy it?” “Is it likely that I’ll never find such a wonderful cloth again in the world? Ever?” then, I usually realize that I’m not going to buy anything, and I feel sort of liberated.”

Customers are feeling both positive and negative emotions at the same time before, during and after shopping. But what will the customer feels when she visits your shop?

Creating the right environment for joyful shopping

Previous studies have shown that consumers are influenced by their shopping environments which in turn influence consumers’ emotional states and purchases. The negative emotions consumers experience before the shopping process are soon forgotten when consumers immerse themselves in the shopping process and start visiting stores and examining the merchandise3.

It is unlikely that a random purchase at any venue will have therapeutically value for people feeling down. Their shopping experience needs to reward them. Emotional customers seeking ‘retail therapy’ should visit your shop to reward themselves.  There are some obvious things a retailer needs to do to create lasting shopping experiences for their customers.

  • Keep a wide range and a variety of products;
  • Keep products that are in ‘season’;
  • Make sure that there are always some items on promotion;
  • Try to create an atmosphere in your shop that will make the customers feel happy;
  • Provide the customers with excellent, friendly service and make the transactions hassle free;
  • Allow your customers to see, touch, rub, wear, taste and smell the products;
  • Keep your shop clean and tidy at all times;
  • Make sure that your shop is well well-lit and that there are enough cashiers at the pay points;
  • Play music that put customers in a good mood and give them stylish shopping bags when they check out.

Lastly, “What do customers do when they are feeling bored? They surf the internet to do some online shopping (from the Ebates survey).


It seems difficult to draw a line between ‘the joy of shopping’ and ‘compulsive buying’. Compulsive buying is described as an ‘addictive disorder’4   whilst the joy of shopping is keeping our shops open. The question that we as retailers need to ask is what to do if we recognize some of our customers as compulsive buyers? Do we have a moral duty to warn them about it? Or to suggest help?



1Schiffman, L. G., & Kanuk, L. L. (2000). Consumer behavior, 7th. NY: Prentice Hall.

2Comings, D.E., Rosenthal, R.J., Lesieur, H.R., Rugle, L.J., Muhleman, D., Chiu, C., Dietz, G. and Gade, (1996), ‘‘A study of the dopamine D2 receptor gene in pathological gambling’’, Pharmacogenetics,  6 (3):223-34.

3Saraneva, A., & Sääksjärvi, M. (2008). Young compulsive buyers and the emotional roller-coaster in shopping. Young Consumers, 9(2):75-89.

4Dittmar, Helga. (2004). “Understanding and diagnosing compulsive buying.” Handbook of addictive disorders: A practical guide to diagnosis and treatment , 411-450.

18 thoughts on “The Joy of Shopping

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    Never thought about shopping in quite such a way, but makes a lot of sense. I can really relate to the blog as many of us (myself included) have experienced “retail therapy” in some way or another.

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