Women and Addictive Consumption in the UK

Sue Eccles, 2000

Addictive consumption is an extreme form of consumer behaviour still relatively understudied. Feelings of great anticipation and excitement prior to and during the shopping experience are replaced by guilt and shame afterwards. Addictive consumers buy for motives unrelated to the actual possession of the goods, and most purchases remain unused. The goods, money spent and the behaviour itself are developed and maintained in secret over a period of time. This thesis presents the results of a study of 46 women identified as addictive consumers. Through phenomenological interviews, they describe their thoughts and experiences both within the shopping environment and in their everyday lives. A rich picture of the reality of being an addictive consumer emerges, not only in terms of the consumption activity but also of the precursors to and consequences and means of self-managing the activity. For the first time, addictive consumers are presented as women who have adopted what is traditionally considered to be a male-based mechanism for coping with depression or unsatisfactory situations – that is, doing something rather than thinking about their problems (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1987).

These women have chosen to engage in a familiar, enjoyable and socially acceptable activity – i.e. shopping – to gain some kind of control in their lives. Paradoxically, the activity is developed and maintained to such an extent that it controls them. The consumption behaviour is almost identical in each case, but addictive consumers are not a homogeneous group. Four patterns or sub-groups of addictive consumers emerge – the existential addict, the revenge addict, the mood repair addict and the serial addict. This research is unique to the study of addictive consumers in that it is woman-centred. The researcher and the researched have had similar social conditioning and experiences that are particular to women. This, together with the existential-phenomenological approach, has allowed a more detailed, accurate and revealing picture to emerge of women as addictive consumers.