Researchers at University of Michigan say the mechanism of action is restoration of control. Sadness generally arises from perceptions that situations are controlling one’s life. Deciding to go shopping and then doing it verifies to the person that they can assert themselves in the face of difficult situations. Making choices during the trip is another signal of being in control.
Other research suggests related explanations for the documented success of retail therapy. Rubbing elbows with other shoppers meets the need not be alone in the world. Solicitous store staff jack up our sense of importance. Spending money bestows mastery.
The Michigan research findings sharpen the case by showing why retail therapy works to ease sadness, but not anger. Anger arises from perceptions that certain other people, not situational forces, are blocking our fulfillment.
Older research from University of California-Riverside, Columbia University, and Harvard University had also found greater effectiveness with sadness than with anger or fear. That research also discovered how consumers engaging in retail therapy want quick payoffs, even if this means forgoing substantially larger payoffs later. The impatient preference for the quicker, less valuable isn’t nearly as strong with other negative emotions.
Sad consumers created arguments to justify to themselves a choice which was, from the perspective of rational economics, inferior. For example, preferring $37 today to waiting three months for $85.
- Present sad shoppers with alternatives. Then guide the shopper through the choice process so there’s prompt progress. Effective retail therapy includes both choices and quick payoffs.
- Guide sad shoppers toward items which are easy to start using and in which the benefits of use are easily recognized. These might be alternatives a regular shopper with you is unaccustomed to considering. Researchers at National Central University and Hungkuang University in Taiwan find that sadness tends to lead to variety seeking.
- With items you’re wanting to sell to sad shoppers, emphasize the feasibility of the purchase over the long-term advantages of the purchase.
- Follow up with sad shoppers, such as inviting them to return to your store to say how the purchase worked out. Then use the follow-ups to assess if the sadness has eased, and when it has, to consider upgrading the purchase to what might better serve the longer-term interests of the customer.
Satisfy Sad Shoppers with Prompt Rewards
Give Shoppers Variety for Control