Online shopping is a popular American pastime. Since 2009, online sales have climbed steadily, as shown by a recent U.S. Department of Commerce report. In the second quarter of 2018 alone, Americans spent a whopping $127.3 billion online.
We’ve all succumbed to the temptation. Online shopping is easy, convenient, and the Internet never closes. If you want those new flannel sushi-print pajamas at 2am, they can be yours with a simple click.
You can score some great deals and have fun shopping online. However, online shopping can be incredibly costly when you make unplanned purchases, go over your budget, or waste time at work scrolling through websites looking for the perfect blouse when you’re supposed to be finishing that important report.
Even when you know there are better uses for your time and money, it can still be hard to stop. So let’s look at several strategies you can use to curb your online shopping habit.
The Rise of Online Shopping
According to Statista, 96% of Americans now shop online, and 82% use a mobile device to do so. And while we’re spending less time shopping online, we’re spending more money when we do. According to Adobe Analytics research published by TechRepublic, we spend 27% more money on online shopping than we did in 2015, even though we spend 10% less time per visit on each website.
The frequency of our online shopping is also increasing. According to Pew Research Center, 15% of Americans now purchase something online on a weekly basis, and 28% do so a few times per month. During the few days that stretch between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, our online purchases continue to break records. The American Marketing Association (AMA) reports that on Black Friday 2017, people spent over $2 billion shopping online, while Cyber Monday saw a whopping $6.8 billion in sales — the biggest online shopping day in history. The chances are good that 2018 will break that record again.
It’s not entirely our fault that online shopping has gotten so out of hand. Retailers make it effortless to browse, add a few impulse buys to our carts, and spend more than we planned. They promise free shipping, show us related products or accessories on a sidebar, and tempt us to spend more with coupon codes. Even when you’re not on an e-commerce site, dozens of flashy ads from sites you’ve already visited try tempting you to return.
To be fair, shopping online has its perks. It allows you to buy items you need from the comfort of your home or office, which means you don’t have to make multiple trips to several different stores. It saves time and gas money and lets you avoid the aggravation of sitting in traffic.
The problem is that we sometimes use the convenience of online shopping to escape or avoid people or situations we don’t want to confront. Instead of dealing with our out-of-control kids, we browse for a new toy to make them happy. Instead of confronting a competitive colleague who’s sabotaging our efforts at work, we head over to Amazon. Instead of studying for midterms, we visit eBay.
Are You Addicted to Online Shopping?
For many people, online shopping is a bad habit that drains their finances and leads to unnecessary purchases. For others, online shopping has become a serious problem. As CNBC reports, some people, especially Gen Xers and millennials, develop an addiction to online shopping. For these people, online shopping is a habit that’s gotten entirely out of control, wrecking their finances, long-term goals, and even relationships.
Online shopping addiction has many of the same symptoms as regular shopping addiction and compulsive buying. However, it’s easier to indulge in because you can now shop anywhere, at any time, thanks to your phone.
How do you know if your online shopping habit has become something more sinister? Look for these signs:
- You often hide purchases from your family.
- You frequently exceed your monthly budget because of online purchases.
- You have rising credit card debt because of online purchases.
- You are running out of space to store or hide your online purchases.
- You have a “secret” credit card that you use to make online purchases.
- You argue with your spouse or partner over your purchases.
- You often feel guilty after you make an online purchase.
- You feel upset or out of sorts if you can’t visit your favorite retailer’s website.
- You feel anxious that you’ll “miss a deal” when you don’t have access to the Internet.
- You often buy things you don’t need just because they were on sale.
- You feel like you’re not able to stop online shopping.
Online shopping addiction is always an outward manifestation of a deeper problem. Sometimes, people who are addicted to online shopping have psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, hoarding, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Others might develop an online shopping addiction because they’re lonely, have social anxiety, or their marriage is falling apart.
How to Curb Your Online Shopping Habit
Giving up the hunt to acquire things you don’t need can be incredibly liberating. Use the tips below to curb, or even stop, your online shopping habit.
1. Schedule a Wake-Up Call
How much time do you spend every day, or every week, shopping online? If you’re like most people, you have no idea.
The free app RescueTime tracks each website you visit throughout the week and gives you a report detailing how much time you spent on each site. For example, imagine that after a week, you discover you spent over four hours browsing on Amazon and eBay. Instead of online shopping, perhaps you could have used those four hours more productively — say, to exercise more, spend quality time with your family, or even plan to start a new side business.
Tracking how much time you spend on specific websites can be an eye-opener, which is exactly what some people need to change their habits.
2. Block the Shops
Visiting a retailer’s website might give you a few minutes to unwind at work or during your kids’ naptime, but if you end up buying something you don’t need or can’t afford, it’s probably time to find a better way to relax. Thankfully, you don’t have to rely on willpower alone anymore. These apps can help:
- LeechBlock. LeechBlock is a free app that works with the Firefox browser. You specify which websites you want to block and when to block them.
- Freedom. Freedom is a productivity app that blocks your access to the Internet for a specified period. Freedom works with any device on any platform and costs $2.50 per month. According to the company, users report gaining an average of 2.5 hours of productive time every day thanks to the app. Successful writers, entrepreneurs, and the world’s largest companies use Freedom to remove distractions and get more done.
- StayFocused. StayFocused is a free app that works with Chrome. Like LeechBlock, it enables you to block specific websites during specific times. However, StayFocused goes further by enabling you to block entire “genres” of websites. You can block yourself from watching any type of video, playing any type of game, or visiting any online retailer.
3. Remove Your Credit Cards
If you’re like most people, you’ve entered and saved your credit card information on your favorite retailers’ sites so you can check out with the click of a single button. This makes it all too easy to plop something in your shopping cart and check out before you’ve really thought about the purchase.
Deleting all your saved credit cards means that when you want to make a purchase, you have to physically get up, get your wallet or purse, and then enter in your shipping and billing information. These few extra minutes, and the resulting annoyance, might be all you need to decide you don’t want to bother with the purchase at all.
Another benefit of deleting your saved credit cards is that it will reduce your risk of identity theft. Retailers are victimized by hackers all the time, and when a data breach occurs, you won’t have to worry about it.
What does the clutter you already own have to do with your online shopping habit? Perhaps a lot. According to research published in the Journal of Consumer Research, you’re more likely to make a purchase when you’re sitting in a disorganized room compared with a tidy room. You’re also likely to spend more on that purchase when you’re in a cluttered environment.
Researchers theorize that this has to do with your sense of personal control. In a cluttered environment, people often feel more out of control, and online shopping can help them regain that sense of power, if only temporarily.
If you want to curb your online shopping, take time to declutter and tidy up your home, office, or both. Decluttering allows you to grasp just how much “stuff” you really have. When you start going through your closets and drawers, you’ll see that you already have more than you need, and buying more isn’t necessary or practical. Looking closely at what you’ve already bought can be a valuable wake-up call.
Getting rid of excess items can also be a liberating and energizing experience. You might find that, as you get rid of things, you lose the desire to fill that space back up. It can reduce your anxiety, make you feel more creative, and perhaps even inspire you to live a simpler life.
As you go through each room, you might start feeling guilty or ashamed about the money you’ve wasted shopping online. Don’t. The wonderful part about being human is that, in each moment, you have the chance to start over and do better. And that’s what you’re doing right now: making a conscious choice to do better. The items you bought can be donated, which will help someone else live a better life. Focus on the positive steps you’re taking now and not what happened in the past.
5. Make Yourself Wait
Many online shoppers make unplanned purchases when they see an item has gone on sale or something catches their eye while they’re “just browsing.” And while it’s fine to treat yourself once in a while, making frequent unplanned purchases can quickly affect your budget and lead to high credit card debt.
To slow yourself down, implement a mandatory waiting period before you buy something online. Some people make themselves wait at least 24 hours when they see something they want, while others hold off for 72 hours or longer.
You can also try this short-term waiting strategy: When you see something you want, put it in your shopping cart and then take a brisk walk outside or call a friend and tell them about it. Often, this will clear your head and help you realize you don’t really need it.
Retailers often promise a great one-time discount when you sign up for their newsletters. Sure, you save money that one time, but the downside is that now you’re on their marketing list, and you can count on multiple emails per week enticing you to buy more.
Take a few minutes to unsubscribe from all the retailer newsletters you receive. You won’t hear about their special sales or customer appreciation days, but you’ll have more money in your checking account.
Not knowing about sales can also lessen your competitive urge. People fear missing out on an opportunity and often feel compelled to buy something they perceive as “scarce,” such as an item that’s on sale. If you don’t know about an upcoming sale, you won’t feel like you’re missing out.
7. Save for What Really Matters
Stop and think about what gets you the most excited in life. What’s the one thing you really want to do? For example, do you dream of owning your own home? Taking a trip to Paris? Giving more to charity? Going back to college?
Identify a life goal you want to accomplish and then put a picture of whatever it is on your desk, by your bed, or on your phone’s wallpaper. This picture will remind you that you’re saving and working toward something that’s more important, and more fulfilling, than another new pair of shoes.
Next, tally up how much money you spend each month shopping online. You can do this by looking at credit card statements from the past few months or using a service like Mint to track your spending for you. When you know how much you’re spending online, resolve to put 75% of that amount into a special savings account each month; this money will go toward your life goal. The remaining 25% is online “fun money” you can spend as you please.
Whenever you’re tempted to buy something online, take a moment and think of your life goal. Which is more important to you: that new coat or a week in Paris? Those new shoes or sending your child to college?
8. Bring Your Own Entertainment
Many people browse online when they’re bored. Perhaps you’re at the doctor’s office, waiting for your kids at school, or in a long line at the grocery store. All too often, this leads to random online browsing, which leads to an e-commerce site, where it’s tempting to buy something to alleviate your boredom.
To combat boredom shopping, always have some other form of entertainment with you. For example, keep a book you’ve been meaning to read in your car and pick that up instead while you’re waiting for your kids. Learn something new on YouTube. Read a poem at the Poetry Foundation. Carry a journal and write down some of your thoughts or concerns about the day. Listen to a great podcast or audiobook. Strike up a conversation with the stranger next to you.
In short, do something else besides opening the Web browser on your phone.
9. Shop Without Buying
In an interview with the BBC, Keonyoung Oh, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, says that we typically decide to purchase something in a split second, without rational thought. For many people, the adrenaline rush of shopping creates a high similar to that of drugs or alcohol, and it can be just as addicting.
One way to combat this is to give yourself the time and freedom to shop online like you always do, without actually purchasing something. The BBC reports that the decision to buy creates a rush of positive emotion, but you don’t have to actually buy an item to experience the same effect. Whatever you might normally covet and put in your shopping cart, go ahead and do it. But once you’ve filled your cart, instead of checking out, close your browser and walk away.
For some people, the act of shopping and putting items in a cart may be all they need to feel good. You get to experience the thrill of the hunt and the temporary feeling of ownership once items are in your shopping cart, which might be all you need to satisfy your online shopping urge.
Online shopping can be both a curse and a blessing. Yes, it saves the time and hassle of in-person shopping, which is especially convenient if you have kids. However, many people frequently spend more than they planned, and more than they can afford, when they shop online. After all, Amazon never closes, and 24/7 access to the Internet can be a challenge when you’re trying to save money.
Simple strategies such as removing your saved credit cards and unsubscribing from newsletters can go a long way toward helping you avoid the temptation to shop. But the most powerful strategy to curb online shopping might be identifying a more meaningful use of that money, such as sending your child to college or giving more charity.
How do you feel about your online shopping? Is it a bad habit, or an occasional indulgence?