"Retail Therapy": An Investigation of Compensatory Consumption and Shopping Behaviour

Helen Woodruffe-Burton, 2001

Compensatory behaviour is engaged in by individuals in response to a need or a 'lack' which they are unable or unwilling to satisfy directly so they seek and use an alternative means of fulfilment. When this alternative need satisfaction takes the form of consumption activity, this is termed 'compensatory consumption'. Compensatory consumption – consuming x to make up for a lack of y – can include, for example, eating, drinking or using drugs. However, in this study, the central focus is on the use of shopping as compensatory consumption. The phenomenon of compensatory consumption was identified and defined as long ago as the early 1960's (Dichter, 1960, 1964). However, it was not until 1988 that Gronmo examined this facet of consumer behaviour in more depth and argued in conclusion that ""compensatory consumer behaviour is an important phenomenon which deserves attention"" (Gronmo, 1988, p. 84). However, Gronmo's analysis was not based on primary research but on the interpretation of earlier published work into other areas of consumption. Thus, this is the first dedicated study to explore compensatory consumption behaviour from the perspective of the individual in relation to shopping. The two main objectives of this study reflect both the subject under investigation and the research process:

""to develop understanding of the concept of compensatory consumption and also to extend the discourse on methodology and the role of the researcher in a way which will further understanding of the topic and be useful to others.""

An in depth study has been undertaken based on interpretive modes of inquiry which has explored the lived experience of compensatory consumption of individuals, both men and women, in the context of shopping behaviour. A richly contextualised account of compensatory consumption has emerged which has been examined in depth to develop a conceptual framework for compensatory consumption. The significance of other aspects of consumption, such as consumption meaning and the social context of consumer behaviour for example, has also been highlighted. Shopping has been examined from a number of perspectives and a conceptual framework for shopping has been proposed. The research reveals the reality and complexity of the role of consumption in individuals' lives and the 'highs' and 'lows' of the individual compensatory consumption experience. Additionally, a reflexive account of the research experience explores issues pertaining to the research design and the research process from two perspectives, the personal and the feminist, and methodological issues are examined critically from the perspective of 'new paradigm' consumer research.