Academic journal article Journal of Multidisciplinary Research

Consumer Characteristics Associated with Compulsive Buying

Academic journal article Journal of Multidisciplinary Research

Consumer Characteristics Associated with Compulsive Buying

Article excerpt


How consumers behave in the marketplace is far from the ideal rational model economic theory describes. Sometimes, it even falls short of the less stringent decision models appearing in consumer behavior texts. In addition to the limits on rationality theories of "bounded rationality" or "satisficing" propose, emotions and environmentally conditioned responses drive many consumer decisions (Oliveira & Green, 2012). An even less rational pattern of buying is compulsive buying, O'Guinn and Färber (1989, p. 155) define as chronic, repetitive purchasing behaviors that are a response to negative events or feelings. Compulsive buying is important to policy makers, financial counselors, educators, and practitioners for a variety of reasons. Many studies find compulsive buying has negative consequences for individuals. These negative consequences include substantial debt (Lachance, 2012), credit card abuse, and debt (Joireman et al., 2010), and purchasing products that have a premium, an additional product, or service attached for free or a low price (Prendergast et ah, 2008). Moreover, the proportion of consumers engaging in compulsive buying seems to be increasing (Ditmar, 2005).

Studies reveal several trait antecedents that correlate with and likely underlie or to motivate compulsive buying. The most important of these appear to be impulse control and materialistic tendencies (Bratko et al., 2013; Ditmar, 2005). Although these explanations are important to understanding the etiology of compulsive buying and can aid those seeking to help individuals resist the behavior, they only account for a portion of the variance in compulsive buying and leave open the opportunity to explore further possible antecedents, and thus gain a more granular view. The purpose of the present study is to add empirical evidence bearing on these presumed motivators by introducing the notions of brand engagement in self-concept, status consumption, and frugality as partial explanations for compulsive buying.

Literature Review

Compulsive Buying

We would like initially to clarify our use of the term "compulsive buying" in this study because it has more than one meaning, depending on the context. The first meaning in the literature terms the phenomenon "compulsive buying disorder" (CBD) and describes it as "excessive shopping cognitions and buying behavior that leads to distress or impairment" (Black, 2007, p. 14). In this sense, compulsive buying is a clinical disorder needing professional psychiatric treatment. Black (2007, p. 14) goes on to state:

Subjects with CBD report a preoccupation with shopping, prepurchase tension or anxiety, and a sense of relief following the purchase. CBD associates with significant psychiatric comorbidity, particularly mood and anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders, and other disorders of impulse control.

Having a 5.8% prevalence in the general U.S. population (Black, 2007), this understanding of the term is more relevant to a clinical setting than to our purpose and forms the theoretical background for the compulsive buying scale Faber and O'Guinn (1989) developed. Researchers often use this scale to distinguish compulsive buyers from "normals."

For our study, however, we understand compulsive buying to be less a discrete diagnosis and more a continuum of behavior akin to a personality or individual difference variable. In this sense, we follow Edwards (1993), Desarbo and Edwards (1996), and Palan et al. (2011), who distinguish impulsive buying from compulsive buying. External stimuli such as offering a premium, a coupon, or a deal often stimulate impulsive buying. In addition, being in a good mood or having depleted willpower can trigger an impulsive purchase (Faber, 2011). In contrast, our understanding of compulsive buying is that it is more like "an episodic urge to buy" (Palan et al., 2011, p. 83). We thus treat compulsive buying as a continuously distributed variable representing degrees to which consumers differ from each other in this pattern of behavior. …

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