Does shopping leave you feeling spent?

Why coming home empty-handed leaves shoppers feeling guilty

Date published: 2007-12-14 3:12:31 PM

Holiday shopping may leave you feeling guilty, especially when the credit card bills come in, but sticking to your budget may not be the answer either, according to researcher Darren Dahl at the University of British Columbia.

“Consumer guilt isn’t uniform,” explains Dahl. “Some people feel guilty when they overspend, but interestingly, others feel badly when they don’t spend enough.”

By examining the post-shopping feelings of hundreds of subjects, Dahl discovered that successful salespeople form an emotional bond with their customers. The stronger the bond, the more likely a customer is to feel guilty when they leave without buying.

“It’s like going to a different hairdresser and then running into your usual stylist on the street,” he says. “It’s your money and your hair, so it shouldn’t matter what you do with either one, but often people feel as guilty about that as they would if they had cheated on a girlfriend.”

The importance of this salesperson/shopper relationship really confirms the old adage that good service will translate into loyal shoppers, he says. In fact, consumers who don’t buy will often try to get rid of their guilt by going back later and buying something else.

But, he warns, consumers’ loyalty only extends to the individual salesperson—not to the store itself. Store managers, he says, should try to avoid turnover and employ human resources techniques that ensure good salespeople stay on the job.

And while his research holds obvious lessons for business, Dahl says his true goal is to help the shopper.

“We want to empower consumers by making them aware of the connection between their feelings and their shopping habits,” he says. “The first step in avoiding consumer guilt is to be aware of how you feel after you shop—and long before the credit card bills roll in.”

Darren Dahl’s research on consumer behaviour is supported by SSHRC’s Standard Research Grants program.