Loneliness leads to 'unplanned,' 'impulsive' shopping habits, UI researcher finds

Those 'socially isolated' develop stronger attachments with possessions

Jing #x201c;Alice#x201d; Wang

University of Iowa
Jing “Alice” Wang University of Iowa

And this just in time for Black Friday shopping ... .

As many people lacking social contact during coronavirus begin the holiday shopping season, that loneliness could make a difference in their shopping habits.

The more “socially deprived” someone is, the more likely the person is to buy more things, according to research from Jing “Alice” Wang, a marketing professor at the University of Iowa.

“People who don’t have the kind of social connections that they want to have, they are depleted,” Wang said.

“They don’t monitor their purchases or consumption as closely as they would otherwise do.”

It specifically results in many “unplanned” or “impulsive” shopping habits, Wang said.

“You went to the grocery store to buy salt,” Wang said. “You did not plan to buy wine, for example. If you came home with wine, that’s unplanned.”

Whether those unplanned purchases are necessary is unclear.

“We know that for most consumers, they do justification,” Wang said. “So they buy this thing, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ll need it for something.’”

Wang said this applies to anyone who doesn’t “have enough social relationships or interactions that they need.”

Someone who only has two friends and is content with that, for example, isn’t considered lonely. But someone who interacts with five people but wishes for more interaction is lonely.

It’s usually not a one-time occasion either, Wang said.

“Lonely people are materialistic,” Wang said. “And the fact that they’re materialistic makes them lonelier.”

Wang said it’s possible for this to have an impact on gift-givers as well that now have to figure out what to get for someone who is more materialistic.

That also applies to when it comes time to get rid of old possessions.

“When people feel lonelier, they are more attached to their products,” Wang said. “Therefore, they’re less likely to get rid of the product.”

Those purchases can then have long-term consequences going beyond how many items someone buys at a department store or grocery store, too.

“The feeling of loneliness does not only affect buying things impulsively, but also consuming things impulsively,” Wang said.

Wang said other researchers have connected loneliness with adverse physical health effects.

“Lonely people tend to eat more fatty foods,” Wang said. “They tend to have more health problems over time, so I think that’s a pretty important consequence especially if you’ve got COVID.”

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