Thinking about ‘functional possessions’ you already use at home can reduce your urge to make impulse purchases, new research suggests
This really makes you think.
Reflecting on recently used personal possessions can help stifle the urge to impulse-buy, according to new Rice University research slated for publication in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing. This reflection reduced study participants’ willingness to purchase new items by about 14% compared to a control group, the study found.
Lead author Utpal Dholakia, a professor of marketing at Rice, likened the visualization exercise to “mentally shopping the closet.” Consumers can use it right when they feel the urge to buy something in a store or online, he told Moneyish.
Thinking about recently used “functional possessions” — like a tool, a hair dryer or lawn mower, for example — actually works better, Dholakia added. “You think of what you already have, and it kind of calms you down. It calms that impulsive shopping urge,” he said. “After people reflect on functional possessions, they are less tempted. They are less interested in pulling the trigger on buying something new.”
The findings are free advice for the five in six Americans (84%) who admitted having made impulse purchases at some time, and the 77% who said they’d made one in the past three months, according to a 2016 CreditCards.com survey. While most were small indulgences, 54% said they’d dropped $100 or more, and 20% said they’d spent at least $1,000. Consumers spend an average of $450 a month on impulse buys, according to a SlickDeals survey released in February — stacking up to $5,400 a year.
Dholakia and his team ran four studies, the first of which asked 165 online survey participants to “describe your recent experience with a product. Specifically, we would like you to think of any product that you purchased, currently own, and have used recently.” (In a control condition, participants did nothing; in another condition, Dholakia said, they came up with a plan to use a belonging they hadn’t used recently.)
One 29-year-old woman’s response, by way of example: “I just purchased a Kindle Fire. It is black. I can read books and access the internet. It opens a world of novelty to me. I read a book in bed and checked the weather this morning before even getting up. I spent about 45 mins. I also downloaded several apps. I was laying down and the ease of Kindle use allowed me to comfortably read without noise to wake up my partner.”
Participants were then shown five products — a sweater, a stainless-steel watch, a chair, a box of Godiva chocolates and a coffee maker — and asked to estimate the product’s actual price and indicate their willingness to pay for it. People who engaged in reflection on a recently used possession, the researchers found, were less willing to pay for the basket of items than were those in the control group or planning group.
“The findings of these studies show that reflection about the recent use of one’s possessions provides an effective method to quell the shopping urge, and to reduce consumption,” the authors concluded.
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