Compulsive Buying was originally defined by O'Guinn and Faber (1989:155) as “chronic, repetitive purchasing that becomes a primary response to negative events or feelings”. This phenomenon has gradually become a highly significant area of study in consumer behaviour research. Arnould, Price and Zinkhan (2002:259) define this concept as “the inability to restrain the impulse to buy”. Thus, compulsive buying can be categorised as a negative facet of consumer behaviour which becomes very difficult to control and eventually leads to unfavourable economic, psychological and societal consequences. (Faber and O'Guinn, 1992)
Various aspects of compulsive buying have been previously researched upon. Their prime focus has been on the following areas of research: compulsive buying as a part of compulsive consumption (Hassay and Smith, 1996; O'Guinn and Faber, 1989); the difference between a compulsive buyer and an impulse buyer (O'Guinn and Faber, 1989; Shoham and Brencic, 2003), the personality traits of a compulsive buyer (O'Guinn and Faber, 1989; Hassay and Smith, 1996; Shoham and Brencic, 2003); compulsive buying tendencies in adolescent consumers (d'Astous, Maltais and Roberge, 1990); the motivational factors which affects the buying decisions of a compulsive buyer (O'Guinn and Faber, 1989; Hassay and Smith, 1996; d'Astous, Maltais and Roberge, 1990).
There are two key reasons for the increasing importance of researching the subject area of compulsive buying. Firstly, abnormal behaviour has severe consequences concerning both, the affected individual and the people around the person especially their family. Compulsive buying being one of them needs to be understood and it is in the interest of the society that it be researched further for the betterment of those suffering from this disorder. (O'Guinn and Faber, 1989) Secondly, compulsive buying brings out the negative aspect of consumer behaviour which has not yet been researched in much detail. Exploring this modified and new perspective of the issue, will help us compare and contrast the positive side. (Shoham and Brencic, 2003). The main focus of this review is to critically evaluate and analyze the literature available and to highlight those areas of the phenomenon that need to be understood and researched further.
O'Guinn & Faber (1989:148) defined compulsive consumption as “a response to an uncontrollable drive or desire to obtain, use or experience a feeling, substance or activity that leads an individual to repetitively engage in a behaviour that will ultimately cause harm to the individual and/or others.” Research has been carried out to provide a phenomenological description to determine whether compulsive buying is a part of compulsive consumption or not. The conclusion reached after analysing both qualitative and quantitative data stated that compulsive buying resembles many other compulsive consumption behaviours like compulsive gambling, kleptomania and eating disorders (O' Guinn & Faber, 1989:147). Hassay & Smith (1996) hold a similar view and refer to compulsive buying as a form of compulsive consumption as well. Besides personality traits, motivational factors also play a significant role in determining the similarities between compulsive buyers and normal consumers. According to O'Guinn & Faber (1989:150), if compulsive buying is similar to other compulsive behaviours it should be motivated by “alleviation of anxiety or tension through changes in arousal level or enhanced self-esteem, rather than the desire for material acquisition.” Hassay & Smith (1996) also agree with the above inference and concluded from their research that “compulsive buying is motivated by acquisition rather than accumulation.”
Impulsive buying refers to an unplanned decision to purchase an item mainly prompted by seeing the product or a promotional message which eventually leads to family disapproval, financial problems and feeling of guilt and disappointment (www.businessdictionary.com). While compulsive buying refers to repetitive excessive shopping due to boredom, tension or anxiety, (Shoham and Brencic, 2003:128). Compulsive buying is a chronic state while impulse purchasing is a an acute behaviour (O' Guinn and Faber, 1989:156) O'Guinn and Faber (1989) also believe that, “...compulsive buyers suffer from a chronic loss of impulse control that develops into a repetitive pattern marked by much more dire consequences than that experienced by the impulse shopper.” However, they go on to add that compulsive buyers are indifferent towards the actual possession of the items and rather gain gratification through the buying process itself. Thus, one of the main distinguishing factors is the motivation behind the two forms of buying. The study developed by Hassay and Smith (1996) tried to find evidence to prove the fact that compulsive buyers are concerned and motivated with the process of acquisition of the products rather than accumulation of the same. Hence, they are more likely to return the items out of guilt or shame and will be more concerned with the return policy as compared to non-compulsive buyers. Shoham and Brencic (2003:129) suggested that compulsive tendencies are based on in-store decision making processes. Consumers that make many spontaneous and impulsive in-store decisions are more prone to be inclined towards compulsive purchase behaviour than other consumers.
Limited research has been carried out to analyze the demographic characteristics of compulsive behaviour. However, a major dimension of the research undertaken by Shoham and Brencic (2003) studied the gender of the compulsive buyer and tried to prove through their research that females exhibit lower levels of compulsive purchasing tendencies than males. The research by D' Astous, Maltais and Roberge (1990) concentrates on the adolescents' compulsive buying tendencies and proves that they are mainly influenced by many personal and environmental factors.
A mixture of methods have been used to examine compulsive behaviour and its aspects depending on the final objective of the study. O'Guinn and Faber (1989) used a mixed method approach i.e. they used both quantitative and qualitative data for their research. The quantitative data included information gathered via a mail survey to compare the responses of compulsive buyers with that of other shoppers. While the qualitative side comprised of five in-depth interviews with individual compulsive buyers. D' Astous, Maltais and Roberge (1990) also adopted a similar approach. Their hypothesis was initially built on references from previous works. They performed a small-scale qualitative study based on semi structured interviews conducted with teenagers of the age group of 13 to 18 who disclosed having problems with controlling their spending. This was followed by a quantitative research based on a self-administered questionnaire which was distributed to students of four schools. Hassay and Smith (1996) also distributed self-administered questionnaires to a bunch of Canadian undergraduate management students. They utilized a 14 item compulsive buying scale which was originally used by O'Guinn and Faber (1989) to measure the compulsive buying trait. On similar lines, the data used by Shoham and Brencic (2003) to test their hypothesis was collected through a structured questionnaire which included a number of items and scales. Further on they carried out the ANCOVA model to test the hypothesised relationships.
In my opinion a mixed method approach, used by O'Guinn and Faber (1989) as well as by D'Astous, Maltais and Roberge (1990) can best explain the phenomenon of compulsive buying. This approach can facilitate comparison between normal buyers and compulsive buyers through the questionnaire while at the same time the qualitative aspect allows the researcher to understand in detail the characteristic traits of a compulsive buyer.
The solely quantitative technique applied by Shoham and Brencic (2003) and Hassay and Smith (1996) though was adequate to offer evidence to support or reject a hypothesis formed by the researchers on the basis of the study of previous literature but there was no in-depth understanding of the concept which is possible with a qualitative approach.
O' Guinn and Faber (1989) established from their research that there was a high chance of compulsivity to be a personality dimension of compulsive buying and as a result proved that compulsive buying is a form of compulsive consumption. They also found that compulsive buyers suffer from considerably low self-esteem and have high ability to fantasize, which allow them to escape reality (Evans, Jamal and Foxall, 2009:438). They showed less concern with the acquisition of the products as a motive, than the members of the general population thus validating the distinction between compulsive and impulsive buying. Compulsive buying can also lead to harmful consequences for the individual and the support group around them. This sort of obsessive behaviour can result in more credit cards and subsequently high debt load. It ultimately affects the person emotionally and the buyers end up developing feelings of shame or guilt and later of alienation (O'Guinn and Faber, 1989). Hassay and Smith (1996) maintained that the basic incentive behind compulsive buying is acquisition rather than accumulation of the products by proving that compulsive buyers were more likely to return items and exhibited higher preference for in-store purchases rather than non- store purchases. In contrast to the personality attributes of compulsive buyers already explored, Shoham and Brencic (2003:133) incorporated the behavioural and demographic drivers of compulsivity in their research. Positive links were found between unplanned purchases and compulsive buying behaviour thus proving that impulsive and spontaneous buyers were more likely to develop compulsive buying traits than other consumers. The researchers also found that gender played a significant role in determining compulsivity and established that females were more prone to display compulsive tendencies as compared to men. But, this result may vary in different countries depending on the women's lifestyle and empowerment. According to the study carried out by D'Astous, Maltais and Roberge (1990), the personal and environmental factors influencing adolescents' compulsive buying tendencies are consistent with prior studies involving adult consumers. However, it was found that adolescents are less likely to engage in socially desirable consumer behaviours and are thus more vulnerable towards compulsive behaviours.
According to O'Guinn and Faber (1989), physiological, genetic, psychological, social and cultural factors contribute towards the development of compulsive behaviour (Evans, Jamal and Foxall, 2009:438). Compulsive buyers generally experience low self-esteem, high compulsivity and extreme fantasy-imaginative levels (O‘Guinn and Faber, 1989). They also suffer from high levels of from anxiety, depression and obsession as compared with the general population. (Shoham and Brencic, 2003:133) According to the research conducted by O'Guinn and Faber (1989) the compulsive buyers didn't exhibit any sort of possessiveness towards the items purchased but showed signs of envy and non-generosity. In contrast to the above, D' Astous, Maltais and Roberge (1990:311) observed that in adolescents, generosity is positively related to the tendency to buy compulsively. This proved to be a distinguishing factor between adult and adolescent compulsive behaviours. The essential motive behind compulsive buying isn't the desire to accumulate the products but instead, is the positive interpersonal interaction and enhanced self perception that stimulate a compulsive buyer's decisions (O'Guinn and Faber, 1989).
There are a few drawbacks of the literature available on compulsive buying, which need to be mentioned. Firstly, the literature reviewed is predominantly based on compulsive buying in the USA or in Israel. Thus, we cannot generalize this information about compulsive buying as the buying behaviours, processes and the lifestyle of individuals may differ across geographical borders. Secondly, even though O'Guinn and Faber (1989:156) mention severe levels of debt, depression and domestic discord as consequences of compulsive buying, yet there is no in-depth study which provides a better understanding of this facet. Thirdly, although the demographics of a compulsive buyer have been looked into, there are no actual results which can help create the demographic profile of a compulsive buyer. Lastly, qualitative data has been given comparatively less importance while researching this concept of consumer behaviour. Compulsive buying being a personality trait can be best understood through qualitative techniques. In my opinion, qualitative methods can give a superior analysis of compulsive buying and thus should be given, if not higher but similar importance as quantitative procedures while researching the concept.
Compulsive buying is an important yet growing concept, the study of which has been increasing in recent times. The research now needs to focus deeper into some aspects. The demographic profile of compulsive buyers should be studied in greater detail. The research needs to explore more than just the American consumers to get a wider picture of compulsive buying behaviour (Shoham and Brencic, 2003). The similarities and differences between compulsive buying and types of compulsive consumption can be explained better with the help of a comparative study between the two (O'Guinn and Faber, 1989). Another significant facet which needs to be given importance is the consequences that may arise from compulsive buying. Since compulsive buying brings out the negative side of consumer behaviour it thus requires a great deal of research. This will not just develop the concept further but also spread awareness of the phenomenon as it is important to reduce the spread of compulsive buying owing to its aberrational and harmful nature in terms of consumer behaviour.
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