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Today we humans are constantly driven to make our lives easier and more comfortable. The intent is good but the gains in efficiency are leading to newer consumption patterns. Over the past few years, we have seen manifold changes in gadget usage, shopping channels, and the global markets. Online shopping is one of the various forms of technology used to make our lives easier. However, its excessively increased usage brings about some serious negative impacts on consumers and the environment.

This research aims to understand the psychological impacts of online shopping due to the consumption patterns of consumers today in an urban setting. It is an attempt to understand the happiness and satisfaction levels of online buyers regarding material possessions and the emotions that play a role in stimulating ever-increasing consumerism. This study was taken among individual online shoppers from the age group of 20 to 35 years since young people have been the majority of online shoppers. The results of the study highlighted that a large number of people are unaware of the impacts of online shopping since they are lost and confused in the spectacle of consumption glorified by the dominating brands.

Introduction

According to the Population Reference Bureau, four births take place each second of every day all around the world (estimated in 2011). Interestingly, 35 Amazon orders take place per second every day all around the world, according to Life in Amazon. The human population is shooting up and so are the online shopping orders. Online shopping has become the biggest industry that is promoting consumerism and is altering shopping behaviors. It is expected that 70% of internet users in India will have purchased products online by 2020.

On August 12, 1994, the New York Times’ big and bold headline shouted, “Attention Shoppers: The Internet is Open” and documented the sale of a Sting CD over the Internet between two friends. The world celebrated the first-ever online transaction and hoped to see a more advanced, hassle-free, and efficient future. Soon the online shopping industry was a boom. Amazon which launched as an online bookstore in 1995 started selling music and video downloads, electronics, apparel, furniture, food, and toys. Quickly, a lot of other businesses started capitalizing upon the Internet and e-commerce industry as well. Today the global economy is highly dependent upon the online shopping industry. It has completely transformed the marketplace and has given a whole new dimension to business operations in the 21st century. It is acting as a catalyst to give newer opportunities for entrepreneurs, small and medium businesses, high-skilled workers, and consumers. It is giving rise to stronger and healthier business-customer relationships and is highly increasing interactivity within the economy, thereby bringing the world much closer. The stock markets are controlled by the big e-commerce companies as their potential market share keeps on increasing with their increasing customer base. Online shopping has faithfully done its job of empowering people and giving them access to a variety of choices of unique commodities at their doorsteps.

E-shopping is constantly capturing the market, especially targeting younger audiences, which is evolving and increasing day by day in number. However, today the world is experiencing its undesirable effects, with a much greater force; opposite to the positive impacts that were expected during its initial years. Dependence of the humans and the economy on the e-commerce industry is igniting ever-increasing consumerism. Consumerism is a big problem in today’s society. Greater industrial production leads to greater availability of goods and services, which is why businesses are promoting consumerism to ensure that the goods so manufactured are sold to their respective consumers. It is putting more and more pressure on the finitely available resources and is leading to more pollutant emissions, increased land use, deforestation, and accelerated climate change. Online consumerism is at its peak because of its effect on consumers’ psychology. Brands study the psychology of consumers and constantly make efforts to alter their perceptions. They tailor the buying processes, persuade consumers through their app designs, use several marketing tactics, and advertise in the name of happiness. Material possession is glorified by the brands as a symbol of one’s social status and self-worth which ultimately leads to shopping addiction, and thereby its greater consumeristic effects on the environment.

2. Objectives of the study

The objectives of the study are:

    • To analyze the psychological impacts of online shopping on consumers
    • To find out if online consumerism is a designed experience by the big brands
    • To understand the strategies used by the brands to create online shopping addiction
    • To analyze how happiness and other emotional factors play a role in developing an online shopping addiction

 

3. Research methodology

3.1 Research Design

The research study follows a mixed-method design wherein both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection are used.

3.2 Sample Size

117 online buyers were targeted to collect the quantitative data out of which 5 respondents were targeted for qualitative data.

3.3 Sampling Technique

Simple Random sampling technique was used while selecting the target group. The sample is random because each respondent has an equal chance of being chosen.

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3.4 Hypothesis of the Study

Online shopping has a direct impact on the psychology of consumers and is accelerating hyper-consumerism.

4. Findings and analysis

Majority of the online shoppers are from the age group of 18 to 35 years. Out of 116 respondents, 87 respondents are from the age group of 18 to 25 years. This signifies that online shopping is majorly targeting younger audiences, who are energetic, enthusiastic, and flexible i.e. open to innovations and behavioral changes.

The research study showed that every 1 person in 14 people does not purchase products online. Out of 116 respondents, 85 people purchase products online once a month, 13 people purchase once a fortnight and 3 people purchase once a week. Majority of the consumers tend to buy clothing & apparel and electronics from online shopping platforms. Apart from this, many people buy books, household goods, food, groceries, and e-tickets online. It is understood from the survey responses, that on average, people tend to spend up to Rs.2000 on their online purchases in one month. Consumers above 35 years of age generally tend to refrain from regular online purchases, because of their inability to touch and to personally check the quality of the products.

Consumers shop when they want to and from whichever shopping platforms they are comfortable with, may it be online shopping or offline shopping. The world has been struggling to handle problems associated with over-consumption, since way before the advent of online shopping. However, with the current technological advancements, the shopping behaviors of consumers are highly diverted to the e-commerce industry. Speed, convenience, reliability, and relevance allow consumers to bend more towards online instead of offline shopping. Ease in shopping, time convenience, availability and accessibility to a variety of brands, competitive pricing, doorstep deliveries, free and discounted shipping, and promotion/discount coupons are some of the main reasons for the frequent purchases made by consumers from online shopping websites.

Apart from the operational convenience, online shopping sites are designed effectively to enhance consumer’s shopping behavior and thereby lead to greater sales. Big online shopping services like Amazon, Flipkart, etc have identified how they can influence consumer’s purchasing decisions. Features like “add to cart” and “add to wish lists” prompt people to spend their time scrolling a hundred products on the app with or without an aim to purchase. According to the survey, 50% of consumers use their shopping carts as wish lists, while 37% load up the cart to purchase. The responsive design of the app with such features succeeds in creating a desire to own something, may it be in someone’s direct need or not. Another marketing tactic used by the companies includes the “numerical star rating” which has a direct impact on consumer purchase, supported by the recency effect i.e. listing positive reviews of a product or service’s performance first, which drastically improves their overall performance. These e-commerce brands monitor one’s entire shopping experience and tailor his/her buying process to previous purchases. This influences the buyer to purchase more. Along with these marketing and sales promotion tactics, online shopping sites tend to provide suggestions for the products to their site users. This suggests that they aim to create a whole new dimension of purchase for their customers by offering them suggestions that could increase their overall sales. Shopping sites effectively communicate with reminders as to why the user should purchase a product from their online store rather than some other source. This is done by giving simple, but strong sales incentives i.e. by displaying the actual MRP and the MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price or list price). Consumers are always in a hunt for competitive prices and such incentives gradually attract them. Hence, online shopping is completely a designed experience that promotes greater consumption and thereby leads to a shopping addiction.

“Perhaps this is what the Hybrid Age is all about marketing masquerading as theory, charlatans masquerading as philosophers, a New Age cult masquerading as a university, business masquerading as redemption, slogans masquerading as truths”, says Evgeny Morozov, an American writer, and researcher from Belarus in his article The Naked and the TED published in The New Republic. The new age is defined as an ideology of capitalism and development that is branded as acceptable. Morozov’s contemptuous mockery over the deviating definition of the new tech era hits correctly to the underlying unknown problems so created by it; the e-commerce industry being one of it

Online shopping sites use their branding, marketing, and advertising to promote consumerism in the name of ‘happiness’. Happiness is portrayed by the brands as an emotional outcome of material possessions and social prestige. “Once we as a world transferred over to the consumer-capitalist society, that particular set of desires become encouraged and held up as one of the highest goods and something that is a way to build a meaningful happy life”, said Tim Kasser, a professor of psychology at Knox College and the author of a book called The High Price of Materialism.

When asked online shoppers upon their levels of satisfaction and happiness in online shopping, 60% of the respondents were very much satisfied with their online shopping experience. However, the happiness gained from the online shopping experience is highly short-lived. This happiness may be in terms of making a product purchase, or the excitement to open the package or show people out there about their material possessions and uplift their social status. “Materialists place unrealistically high expectations on what consumer goods can do for them in terms of relationships, autonomy, and happiness”, says social psychologist Marsha Richins, Ph.D., University of Missouri. Similarly, Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, argues convincingly that man was most tempted to distract himself with pleasure when his life was void of meaning. A lack of meaning to life makes it easier for brands to sell an illusion of happiness in the form of consumerism. Consumerism is highly glorified by the sellers out there and has become an estimator of our social worth.

A shopping experience is a collaboration of a lot of different emotions under different situations. Direct psychological factors like happiness, fun, relaxation, entertainment, and enjoyment and indirect factors like stress, depression, boredom, and loneliness work together to develop online shopping addiction. It has become a tool to feel good and conquer negative feelings like stress, anxiety, and depression. It has been branded as a way to cope with difficulties and emotional pains in life by purchasing more. Along with this, the technology has managed to create a fear of missing out (FOMO) and online retail brands have managed to tap into this fear to increase their sales. Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and New York Times best-selling author of the book Alone Together says, “We are lonely, but we are afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we are designing technologies that will give us an illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” Her argument convincingly conveys that with the advent of technology, we as humans have connected digitally, but eventually we have become isolated and lonely. And finally, in this process, we tend to consume more to feel happy and satisfied, thereby leading to intensive shopping addictions.

5. Conclusion

Daniel Dubois, a passionate social entrepreneur and a change-maker says, “The need is the ability for us to shift our society from a culture of hyper-consumption and ownership to interdependence and access.” All of us today are people of convenience and we resort to buying new things from online platforms. They have been designed in such a way that they promote excess consumption and alter our buying perceptions. In today’s society, the impacts of the e-commerce industry on our psychology are highly unknown. Online shopping is constantly tampering with the emotional values of the consumers, which is ultimately leading to shopping addiction. Shopping addiction gives rise to ever-increasing consumerism, followed by its negative impacts on the environment.

ProtoVillage, a 1095-day project to develop a remote village cluster in Andhra Pradesh, India into the prototype of an adequate village cluster, sustainable, socially cohesive, and economically viable is a brilliant example of celebrating abundance. Villagers have abundant natural resources at their disposal, but they consume only what is needed. Nature and its gifts are respected there. This example allows us, the urban consumers to question ourselves as to how much should we consume and how much should be enough for us. Conscious buying behaviors and a sustainable lifestyle are the need of the hour today to manage problems associated with consumerism. What if we resorted to buying only what is needed, renting instead of buying, shopping eco-conscious brands, shopping with a list, avoiding expedited shipping, reusing, recycling, and minimizing waste generation? Would this allow us to be a more responsible consumer? It is the time when we all should understand the importance of two words – ‘alternatives and choices’- choosing alternatives to create small changes in our habits & lifestyles and make an immediate positive difference that could lead us to a better future. The choice to choose is ours. 

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