Does social media promote shopping addiction?

It might happen to all of us to go for shopping to uplift the mood, cope with stress or get relieved from negative feelings. The act of being engaged in the shopping to improve one’s mood is called “shopping therapy”. However, if a typical shopping pattern turns to a strong craving for unnecessary products, it will be a point for concern. Individuals who shop beyond what they afford to satisfy some unmet needs such as love and affection or get social recognition are prone to a psychiatric disorder which is known as compulsive buying or shopping addiction.

The rise of e-commerce has aggravated this disorder specially in digitally savvy societies like Malaysia where online shopping platforms such as Lazada, Zalora, Shoppee, PrestoMall, etc. have become a trend among youth. The major sale events like Singles’ Day of 11:11 or 12:12 grand end year sale that have been well received by Malaysians compel them to make larger purchase than what they would need. Following the mentality of ‘own now, pay later’ young people are susceptible to get trapped into the disorder. Malaysian youth whose desire is to look prestigious pursue excessive lifestyle regardless on the indebtedness they enter. According to the department of statistic Malaysia, in 2019, 9.4 million of young people have been to the brink of bankruptcy. Since there is a thin line between shopping therapy and shopping addiction, in this article we intend to draw readers attention towards some psychological factors causing youth crossword the line towards addiction.

Apart from online shopping platforms, usage of social media is also regarded as another route that exposes people to more purchases of products. Malaysians average daily time on social media is reported to be 2.8 hours per day in 2015 which is higher than global average of 1.8 hours a day in the same year. Excessive usage of social media makes youth believe this “ideal filtered” picture of others is the reality of their lives. Then, they may think they are not prestigious, smart and financially strong enough compared to their followees. They struggle to fill up this “empty self” through material consumption that is very likely to plant the seeds of compulsive buying disorder in them. In this regard, the social media are attacked for promoting the materialism and making the society a consumption-oriented one.

To scrutinize the consumerism among youth, Assoc Prof Dr. Saeed Pahlevan Sharif, Head of Research, Faculty of Business and Law at Taylor’s University, brings forth the ‘money attitude’ and ‘identity confusion’ concepts. In his research articles he claims that excessive usage of social media exposes youth to various identities which provokes the identity confusion among them. Following the celebrities and well-known figures in various fields, youth conceptualize the ideal life as what they see in social media. But the life depicted in social media through some edited photos might not be real. Comparing their life with the rest via the filtered photos can lower the self-confidence, as they consider other people miles ahead in the social and monetary status. Noting the median age of 28.3 years among Malaysian population, the high proportion of “digital native” youth in this country, highlight the heightened potential of being trapped in identity confusion. Moreover, to cover the confusion between the ‘ideal ‘and ‘real’ identity, youth would be engaged in endless stream of buying products which can be continued to the stage of compulsive buying disorder.

Dr. Saeed also explains that compulsive buying among youth is not limited to the desire over a products per se, it largely refers to the status, dominance, power and the prestige that possessing the products portray for them. In the identity formation stage, where youth strive to impress their peers, their attitudes towards money causes an increase in material goods consumption. In his research papers on Malaysian college students, he empirically found that excessive usage of social media is one of the causes of identity confusion which ultimately put the students on the brink of shopping addiction. 

To end this competition of displaying the ideal life in the contest field of social media, parents and education system can play an important role. The habit of saving should be implanted at the family level from a very young age. Later, the higher learning institutions such as colleges and universities should take over the responsibility of developing this habit to assure that the young generation is financially literate enough to enter the materialistic societies. In today’s era that the Internet is an inevitable component of youth’ life, they should be equipped with sufficient knowledge to avoid being trapped in a psychological disorder of compulsive buying.  Being financially savvy looks as important as digitally.

Written by: Dr. Navaz Naghav, lecturer at Faculty Business & Law, Taylor’s University

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