Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping- Bo Derek
Shop till you drop! Last year Alibaba sold $9.3 billion worth of goods in 24 hours. Recently Flipkart sold around $300 million dollars in their 5 day sale. Amazon and Snapdeal has similar numbers to flaunt. Every second 10 iPhones, 75 hamburgers are sold by McDonald’s and 20 smartphones are sold . 70 millions cars are produced every year. The world trade size is 20,000 billion dollars every year.
As humans our appetite to consume is amazing. We are one and only species that needs more and more of different, better and new things in life. Shopping has become the way of life many with even a modest disposable income. Look around your house. It is filled with products you have not used or used very little but bought because you felt like you should. What explains this unique instinct of humans to desire and consume more and more?
As evolved species – Sapiens aren’t we?- we are wired to go beyond survival in our day-to-day existence. Humans are the only species which can recognise itself when a mirror is placed in front of us. Hence we need to look and feel better for ourselves first and then for others. Hence a cloth to drape our modesty becomes a garment. From functional we move on to style and substance in all that we require. Is there a science behind this buying behaviour of ours?
Sure is. With trillions at stake companies have invested billions to study what triggers our instinct to buy. fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) is a new technology that is being deployed to study our behaviour. The field is called neuromarketing and what it is revealing is shocking to say the least.
Sample this. What does a Christian nun and a die-hard Apple iPhone fan have in common? Nothing you might say. fMRI scans reveal that the word Jesus and iPhone activate the same brain areas of Christian nun and the iPhone fan! In essence, iPhone holds the same place as God for the Apple fan. Such is our devotion to the brand and products that we buy. Neuroscientists funded by marketers are aggressively searching for the ‘buy button’ in our brain. As if ‘sale’, ‘50%’ off or ‘free’ are not triggers enough to binge on needless supplies. Scary.
Retail therapy is another example of consumerist mind set we have developed. Blow away the blues in your life by spending money in a mall. Reading a good book, spending time with your family or friends or working on a social cause are alternatives that are never considered. Such a spending habit leads to another social problem – conspicuous consumption. It is buying to show off rather than to fulfil a need. When our shopping habits reach conspicuous consumption level, consumerism takes an ugly turn and leads to social disturbance. Newspapers regularly carry stories of small time white-collar thieves who take to crime to buy those expensive gadgets.
Advertising is to blame to a certain extent. Advertising that goes beyond recommending better and efficient choice does real harm. Brand imagery creates clannish behaviour in us. Have-it clan vs have-not clan. Carbon footprints, obesity, disconnected family (though everyone has a phone!) are some of the ills of a consumerist society.
The solution is simple. Simplify your life. Buy only what is needed, not what is desired. A better model is always around the corner and you will be caught in a never ending buying trap.
Buying the latest iPhone6s does not make you a better communicator. Listening to others and respecting their views and time does.
Think before you buy. You may not.