What Can Merchants Do to Become Better Retail Therapists?

Apr 04, 2013

Retail therapy is real. More than half of all Americans, 63.9 percent of women and 39.8 percent of men, go shopping to improve their moods, according to a survey conducted by TNS Global for Ebates.com.

According to the survey of 1,000 adults conducted last month, nearly 19 percent turn to retail therapy after a bad day at work, 14.6 percent go shopping after getting bad news and 12.2 percent following a fight with someone who is close to them.

Women rank clothes (57.9 percent), food (34.7 percent), shoes (32.4 percent), accessories (29.1 percent) and books/magazines (28.7 percent) as the top items they purchase when looking to lift their spirits.

Men go for food (28.1 percent), electronics (27.4 percent), music/movies (26.6 percent), clothes (21.5 percent) and games/toys (17.6 percent) as the top items for their particular brand of retail therapy.

Interestingly, shoppers don’t seem to need to go to a store for their retail therapy. Two out of three Americans said online shopping is preferable in looking to get over a case of the blues. Among their reasons: not having to leave the house (43.7 percent); broader selections from which to purchase (30.8 percent); and keeping their purchases private (13.1 percent).

"Our survey confirms that shopping truly is ‘therapy’ for many people, and can help raise one’s spirits after a bad day. Online shopping makes this pick-me-up only a couple of clicks away," said Ebates.com CEO, Kevin Johnson, in a statement.

Do you agree that the practice of shopping to feel better, AKA retail therapy, is a common one among American consumers? What can retailers do to make their websites/stores the places to visit when consumers are looking to shop the blues away?

Join the Discussion!

11 Comments on "What Can Merchants Do to Become Better Retail Therapists?"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Ken Lonyai

Therapy… don’t know, but probably. A learned behavior surely. A commentary on the society, absolutely.

There are likely a lot of psychological studies that would indicate that certain colors or phraseology would make someone in need of a pick me up feel better (on a web site), but then what about other people “just shopping” or company branding? The best thing retailers can do to be there for people in need of retail therapy is to be there for them all the time and they will be the go-to store when their customers reach out.

Adrian Weidmann

Retail therapy is definitely real. More brands and retailers should tap into this reality. Shopping and its expectations is about being surprised and delighted.

Another aspect of the shopping journey is about the suspension of disbelief. The ideal shopping journey happens under a ‘spell’. The gaming industry has known about this for years. Retailers and brands should take a lesson and translate this understanding into the shopping experience.

Gene Detroyer

What an awful indictment of American culture. The fact that it exists says retailers are doing a pretty good job of encouraging and providing therapy, even if they are not trying.

That being said, I am not suggesting they stop it. It is business after all.

The first thing they should do is recognize that it is not really “therapy.” Therapy would be what people do to deal with their blues, rather than going shopping. Once the retailer understands that, it gets a lot easier. They have to focus on the cues and rewards. This is no different than the tools the cigarette and food companies use.

I suspect that retailers have been successful in this area just by luck. I believe with some good behavior studies and using experts in behavioral psychology, they can significantly ramp up this phenomenon.

Matt Lincoln
Matt Lincoln
4 years 6 months ago

Therapy no, however, I would perceive this as more of a habit in consumers that are looking for instantaneous gratification after feeling down on themselves.

It is a challenge on websites to determine when a shopper is shopping at that point in time to feel better about themselves. If they were able to recognize this based on click streams and deviation from a users standard behavior, they could dynamically adjust their experience to optimize their selling strategy based around this behavior.

Ryan Mathews

In a society without broadly accepted common cultural values, things become a substitute for other objects of faith and shopping becomes a form of worship,


Maybe, but this study reinforces the underlying principles behind “The Myth of Excellence,” the book I co-authored with Fred Crawford in 2001. Not much has changed much since then.

People still feel “bad” because they are disconnected, disengaged with the reality of their own lives and the lives of those around them. We used to look to our institutions (schools, government, the church, etc.) for values reinforcement, now we go shopping.


Because commercial transactions have become sacramental to the secular soul and because we are desperate to connect—apparently even with toothpaste and tomato sauce.

The search for self has become the search for stuff.


Maybe, but it’s good for business.

Gene Detroyer

Ryan, great comment. I just downloaded your book. I look forward to reading it.

Ed Rosenbaum

I do believe getting away from what one was doing and becoming immersed in something different such as shopping can change moods. I admitted long ago to not being a good shopper, so that would not be my outlet of choice.

Sid Raisch
Sid Raisch
4 years 6 months ago

“Escape” from reality and “celebration” are two intangible benefits offered by retail stores.

A month after his wife passed away, an elderly friend of mine bought a car and doesn’t remember how it happened.

It isn’t ethical to take advantage of people in a distressed state of mind. But we can welcome them, entertain and provide an experience, and be there when they are ready to buy.

David Zahn

My sense of it is that shopping allows us to be “in control” (or have the illusion of control) after we have experienced something that has shaken us. It permits us to feel capable and competent (I chose this, I compared these, I made a decision, etc.).

To add oto the prior points—shopping allows us to explore options, envision futures, master challenges, and not have to comply, coordinate, collaborate, etc. with anyone else. We get to decide and do not have to justify it (at least for a little while) to anyone else.

Colleen Hannegan
Colleen Hannegan
4 years 6 months ago

My comment here would have us consider what the credit card, debit card and cash, represent, to any of us, business owners and shoppers. POWER. Some purchases are made because we want to feel the power of making a decision (I will buy this navy blue blouse, not the yellow one), the power of choosing to buy (we pull out the cash, the card), the power of taking it home and owning it (It’s mine now!) While retail therapy is a primal urge of the modern man, we may consider the advantage of the well educated retail owner. And that is whether or not your customer has stepped in or clicked in to make themselves feel better or because they really do need a new pair of black pumps for the party Friday night, understanding their need to feel good about the entire experience is YOUR power. Treat them kindly!

Shilpa Rao

I surely believe in shopping therapy and it is a world over phenomenon. One feels good after picking up a great dress or shoes or sometimes just window shopping and seeing whats out there or on a deal. Technology glitches, too many clicks to browse and unfriendly checkout which does not allow you to change your mind easily, makes the shopping experience frustrating and stressful. Focus on the user experience combined with relevant variety is the key to such shoppers’ business.


Take Our Instant Poll

How well are retailers playing to the consumer practice of shopping to feel better, AKA retail therapy?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...