Many people love holiday shopping, but how to avoid debt and regret?

Prof. Sunghwan Yi, Marketing and Consumer Studies, has investigated consumers’ occasional over-eagerness to spend money, especially while shopping online.

“Online shopping is available 24/7, and all you have to do is to click anywhere you are,” says Yi. “Seeing and touching in a bricks-and-mortar store can instigate extremely strong temptations to buy, but there are many more options available in online stores.”

Yi distinguishes between two kinds of consumers.

Compulsive buyers are driven more by negative emotions and a need for self-worth. They tend to focus on the act of buying instead of thinking about the usefulness of the product.

shopping-1241024“When they are battling feelings of worthlessness they try to find a way to escape. Some achieve this by going shopping,” he says.

“On the other hand, impulsive buyers tend to be more responsive to sales, and their buying is less triggered by aversive feelings about themselves. They also buy a lot when in a celebratory mood.”

Yi’s research has found that levels of compulsiveness and impulsiveness vary among groups of buyers.

In a 2013 study, he distinguished among “compulsive-impulsive buyers” driven by both motivations, “impulsive excessive buyers” who buy on impulse rather than negative emotions, and “ordinary buyers” driven by neither compulsiveness nor impulsiveness.

Yi is now looking at how both kinds of buyers are triggered by emotional stimuli. He hopes to find ways to moderate their reactions.

By experimenting with negative and neutral words, he hopes to learn why intense negative emotions motivate compulsive buyers to shop. Eventually, he hopes to find a way to slow or redirect their reactions.

Yi says using cash instead of credit cards can help shoppers avoid purchases they will later regret. “The pain of handing over your hard-earned money is felt by the shopper.”

For online shopping, he cautions against saving credit card information and shipping addresses on shopping sites. That helps people avoid clicking the checkout button without thinking.

“Having to enter your credit card and shipping information each time you are about to buy gives you time to pause and ponder whether you really need this item.”

For last-minute shoppers, Yi suggests asking friends and family what they want or need to avoid buying unwanted or duplicate items.

With a general cultural belief that the Christmas season is a time to buy things for family and friends, he says, “We often feel pressured to buy things when we might not need them. These products might seem to be a really good deal because of the discount, but if you don’t use the product, it’s not a good deal and it’s a waste of money.”