How to resist our "Buy It Now" culture

This article is part of a collaboration with iQ by Intel.

Managing a budget has never been easy, but with the siren’s song of one-click shopping, it is becoming harder and harder. Devices like Amazon Echo don’t even require a button stroke, letting you shop with your voice, and algorithms are constantly dangling in your face temptations directly targeted at you. If you are not careful, you end up with a mountain of video games and fitness products delivered to your doorstep. We talked to a few well-known consumer behavior psychologists to find out the best strategies for persevering in the face of an Internet full of frivolous buys.

Do your online shopping in a dull, quiet room

It’s common knowledge that salivating mouths make for avid shoppers. That is why grocers tempt your senses with scents like fresh baked bread and free samples of salty snack foods. But that’s only a half-truth. According to Dan Ariely, author of the bestselling book Predictably Irrational, “To a large degree, we get tempted not by the smell of the object, but the smell of the place more generally—things like the atmosphere.” It follows that a good line of defense against the urge to pull the trigger on instant purchases is to have a designated place where you do your online shopping, ideally an unappetizing or otherwise boring room such as your office, or, even better, the bathroom.

Take a long walk before you click that button

One smart tactic is simply to leave your tablet on the coffee table and take a stroll around the block. Then come back ten minutes later and see if you still want that Treasure Troll case for your phone. Chances are: no. This simulates the physical act of walking from the back of the store to the front, where you will sometimes have a change of heart and put an item you don’t need back on the shelf. With traditional online purchases, this was compensated for with the two or three minutes you spent finding your wallet and entering shipping details on the screen, but not so in an instant online shopping spree. “Many people will find themselves buying things they would not have bought if they had experienced more of a cool-off period of going through a checkout,” says Lars Perner, a professor of clinical marketing at USC.

Peek at your online checking account/credit card statement first

This one is hard to do—you have to remember passwords and take a look under the hood at your finances—but it will save you. Part of the problem with online insta-buys is the transaction is one peck of the keyboard away from being completely virtual. “When we are in a physical environment, we realize we are going to open our wallet and part with some money. But in the online world, things are less salient. The moment you just click on something, you don’t feel the same pain of paying,” says Ariely. Gawking at your online checking account should lend online transactions some consequence. However, the fate of free flowing funds may ultimately be inescapable as more people adopt things like Apple Pay, carrying over virtual shopping practices into the physical world, he warns.

When all else fails, seek outside help

Therapy seems like a strong resort, but you may need some form of meditation or nature hike to decompress from all the mental stress of instant shopping. Perner says that cognitive dissonance—that’s the state of holding two conflicting views at once—could occur from lightning-quick purchases. It may sound strange that buying diapers from Amazon would screw with our heads, but there is quite a bit of research that suggests it does. Because these purchases encourage spontaneous shopping, we lack enough time to properly make smart, informed decisions. This can lead to post-purchase dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling you get when you realize you just blew money you don’t have on items you don’t want. So while you shop online, remember: breath in, breath out.


Header image: Marc Biarnès via Flickr (cropped horizontally from original)

Image credit: Tim Reckmann via Flickr

Image credit: Daniel Foster via Flickr