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Discounts, fast fashion and retail therapy: The never-ending cycle of wanting

Patricia Tobing
Patricia Tobing

An observer-thinker student who loves literature and food more than people

Yogyakarta  /  Thu, December 6, 2018  /  03:16 pm
Discounts, fast fashion and retail therapy: The never-ending cycle of wanting

Shoppers in front of sale signs. (Shutterstock/File)

It was Thursday in the city of the Dutch parliament, Den Haag. For the people who live in this city, Thursday also means koopavond (late-night shopping).

As I was walking in the busy shopping block, I couldn’t help but look at the multitude of shopping bags that passed by me. Most were labeled with the names of the famous fashion brands such as Zara, H&M, Primark and so on.

A question popped into my mind: Why do people shop for these brands so much? And why do people shop at all?

The most obvious explanation for such a question is because people need to purchase something. Yet, this answer only covers product orientation. It does not provide a behavioral explanation for shopping itself.

One interesting explanation offers shopping as a means of entertainment and consolation. Shopping can offer a diversion from the routine of daily life, which represents a form of recreation or “retail therapy”.

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Psychology and Marketing, retail therapy can positively affect people’s moods. However, retail therapy doesn’t work the way it is generally assumed.

An article published by the Journal of Consumer Research showed that the act of actually having something is not a reason for the happiness found in shopping. Yet it is the emotion that is stimulated from desiring something that produces a thrilling sense of excitement. This has grown into an easy trigger for people to buy something that they don’t actually need. Nevertheless, one demand can’t simply be fulfilled without the existence of supply.

The price of clothing can decrease over time. Over the past years, our ways of producing, especially in the sphere of fashion, have shifted into a big business that only looks for profit. This has resulted in a chain where the producing process is outsourced in developing countries with a low labor cost and cheap materials like Bangladesh and India. It creates a big advantage for big companies to push down their cost of production and sell their goods at relatively affordable prices without necessarily losing profit.

Read also: Millennials like to shop for viral products: E-commerce company

The large profit makes it possible for them to expand their business even more and create a confounding fast distribution system that always keeps up with the newest trends and new pieces every week, making them as attractive as ever. In its simple sense, it reaps the biggest profit out of the unfavorable conditions of such countries to favor themselves. The collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh is the perfect example.

The combination of easy impulse in buying something along with plenty of options of cheap affordable goods is simply dangerous. Such brands offer numerous in-style types of clothing at low prices that creates an emotion of wanting and desiring, and this emotion makes us feel thrilled.

“It’s not that expensive anyway, I should buy it.” This way of thinking is simply harmful. Not only will it create a massive waste for the environment and nourish the consumptive behavior, but it also indirectly justifies the violation of human rights of the garment workers.

The act of shopping can also be seen as an act of consolation. People might or might not realize that the price of things that are actually essential and needed is increasing: housing, study tuition fees, insurance, etc. We sometimes seek comfort in these cheap materialistic things, such as a new T-shirt, to drive momentary happiness and mask the urgency of the things that we actually need.

We live in a world that is full of advertisements that suggest materialistic life and the pursuit of possession and owning stuff is what’s going to make us happy. Although one might argue that our economy is in fact based on materialistic values that the constant activity to purchase makes us survive.

We might not realize that it comes at a very high price: chemical waste, degradation of land, air pollution and importantly, inhumane working systems in outsourced countries.

As the holiday season is around the corner, opportunities to shop are wide open, ranging from national online shopping day (Harbolnas) to Christmas and New Year’s sales. One should at least consider people’s motives behind shopping. If it is only for the sake of momentarily stress-relieving, we might need to think again. In the sense of the economic capitalistic system, it might seem to be too far from our control. Yet, we do have full control over our actions and behavior.

Here are three tips that might help us shop responsibly:

1. Ignore discounts

This might sound a very harsh statement to start, yet it’s an important thing that we unconsciously let slide oftentimes. Is our purchase being influenced by that sale over the internet rather than a present need? We might want to think again.

It is wise to distinguish between “need” and “want”. Resist the temptation to buy something, especially if that is not on our need-list, just because it is on sale.

Read also: H&M revamps online shopping experience

2. Go for sustainability and quality

Am I going to use this again? Go for something that you will reuse; refrain from buying new things such as clothes, bags and shoes every time we need to go out. It is a very a flawed perspective to think that we can’t wear the same clothes more than two times when meeting someone.

In addition, go for quality that can sustain for a long period. Although sometimes it’s more expensive, we save ourselves the energy of buying it all again and help the environment by reducing waste. After all, if you really need it, you want to use it for quite some time.

3. Ethical labor practices

Consider the value of the things we buy. Remember that each product does not magically appear in the store. It went through a long process that most of the times neglect the human values and principles in the name of profit.

My personal suggestion is to try cruelty-free products, local shops or secondhand stores. Not only are we helping our domestic entrepreneur to grow, but we might also find a hidden vintage gem.

American author Paul Auster in his book Mr. Vertigo mentioned that “want” is a cycle. We tell ourselves, all of our problems will be solved once we have it, that we will be happy.

But that’s how it is with want, once we get the object of our desire in our hands, it starts to lose its charm. And bit by bit we realize that we are right back where we started. (dev/kes)


Patricia Tobing is a third-year student in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the Gadjah Mada University. She participated in an exchange program at Leiden University, Netherlands, in August 2018.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.