If a slogan could find appeal around the world it would perhaps be ‘Hail Shopping’. We live in a world dotted with mega malls and 24x7 online stores, countless once-in-a-lifetime special offers and ever-persuasive advertising.
It seems that no longer one needs a good reason to grab those ever-enticing products, as the love of shopping in itself is a reason enough to splurge. Erma Bombeck once said that the odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one. Her words sum up the power of materialistic world – seems we just can’t resist it nor can we have enough of it. Last Diwali, we Indians spent over Rs 11,000 crore in first three days of festive sale on e-commerce websites. The top three buying categories were smart phones, large appliances and fashion products. And yes, these are the sales figures from just the e-commerce sites.
Increased consumer spending is hailed as good news for the economy as it fuels business activity, job and wealth creation. Yet, we all know of elders and wise ones in our families warning us not to pamper or spoil the kids by fulfilling all their worldly wishes. After all, they need to realise the value of hard-earned money and also learn to conserve and value what they already possess.
Psychologists too are wary of increasing materialism, defined by Marsha Richins, Professor at University of Missouri, as a personal value that reflects the importance consumer places on the acquisition and possession of material objects. A materialistic person believes that having products brings happiness and is a marker of success. Further, materialism defined as such has been widely measured with a psychometric scale developed by Marsha Richins and Scott Dawson. Research across cultures suggests that highly materialistic people tend to have lower self-esteem, life satisfaction and well-being, stronger feelings of loneliness, positive attitudes towards borrowing and a greater probability for indebtedness. A vast amount of research suggests that as human-beings seek to make more and more money, want to buy more, acquire more and possess more, they are perhaps treading a tunnel of doom with no light at the end.
But hey, let us pause and reflect. There must be something good for us in our quest for financial success and in all that shopping we do with that money. After all, we do experience joy and happiness when we possess that new house and when we get together for that family dinner at the newly opened eatery. So here is the twist in the tale. We must assess our consumption along with the motivation behind it. It is the motives behind our apparently materialistic pursuits that determine whether they result in doom or boon. Research shows that when our motives for a particular purchase or possession are extrinsic in nature, such as to gain social approval from others, such consumption may not enhance our psychological well-being. However, when the primary motives behind our consumption are intrinsic, such as, to ensure safety and security of ourselves or our loved ones, to support our family, to self-express or to reflect our core values, such consumption enhances our overall well-being. Thus, buying an expensive new house in a prime city locality or spending a fortune on a family dinner at the top-rated restaurant may enhance our well-being when the primary motivation behind these actions is an intrinsic one, for instance to ensure a more secure or peaceful neighbourhood to live in or to derive joy from spending quality time with our dear ones.
Be rest assured that all that shopping on Diwali eve was not all in vain; perhaps much of it was to express our love, gratitude and appreciation for those others in our lives or reflect our own core values such as our creative or geeky streak. It is not that our marketers do not know these fundamentals of consumer well-being. Why else do you think the greatest brands of our times are built around aspects that are fundamentally intrinsic to us, and thereby instigating us to Think Different or to Just Do It!
Nimish Rustagi is a civil servant and a PhD in Consumer Behaviour from HEC Paris. The views expressed are personal.