With anxiety high and our heads in our screens we’re even more susceptible to buying things we can’t afford, so how do we control our lockdown urges?
The shops are shut but that hasn’t stopped us shopping. How do the big stores still have us filling baskets even when we’re sat on our sofas? The thing that reels me in are discount emails hitting my inbox. One moment I’ll be emailing a colleague and the next I’m debating whether to get a dress in leopard print or black. Often you can go from opening up the email to purchasing in about 5 clicks. If they catch me at the right moment, when I’m feeling a little down, or bored, or even when I’m in a particularly good mood, I can spend £24 in a matter of seconds on an item I had no idea existed five minutes ago.
It’s not just emails that make me want to buy things, I’m triggered by Instagram squares, by Facebook ads and even by a girl standing in the queue for the supermarket wearing a particularly fetching floral facemask.
Companies and big business know that with the boredom of lockdown peaking and our screen time going up and up, we’re easy targets to buy things we haven’t budgeted for and neither need nor want. The way we pay doesn’t help either; the effortless, frictionless nature of transactions like Paypal or one-click checkouts means we don’t really have to engage in what we’re doing; we can spend money before we’ve had time to think about the consequences. We’re bored, we’re anxious and these emotional ups and downs all affect our mental capacity and will-power. So how can we stay in control of our spending and beat those shopping triggers and not become advert bait?
Don’t let adverts stalk you
You’re scrolling through the news or going deep on an ex’s Twitter feed and you keep seeing those dumbbells you looked at yesterday. It’s not a sign that you need to buy them, no it’s a sign you need to delete your cookies. Go to your Internet history and where it says ‘cookies and other site data’ click the box to ‘clear data’, don’t let them get you!
You’re smarter than an algorithm
Although those algorithms are clever. Suddenly in between a meme about wine and photos of a home-schooling art class, a pair of jeans that I thought only existed in my head appear before my very eyes. ‘How do they know?!’ I ask my screen. Answer, because I am as predictable as every other 36-year-old woman who likes posts about Fleabag and signs anti-plastic petitions. So next time you see the perfect item of clothing in your feed, you know – it’s not heaven sent to you, it’s the result of an algorithm, proof we can all be categorised. Just knowing that makes me not want to buy them.
Instagram is a shop not just a social platform
Everything looks better on Instagram: cars, plants, home gyms. Instagram has the semblance of being real so we’re much more likely to fall for a well art directed shot than elsewhere. You can easily find yourself making that impulsive purchase and don’t the companies paying for those ‘sponsored posts’ know it, it’s easy for an influencer to sneak in a cleverly disguised #ad post. Try counting the number of posts in your feed before #ad, it may shock you to realise just how much of your feed is actually adverts. And with millions of ads served in a single month alone, try to notice what makes you press ‘shop now’ or which influencers have you clicking through to online shops – and once you’ve spotted your Instagram triggers, the answer is simple: block, unfollow, mute advert.
Beware the emails
I'd always rather open an email that promises to show me 'video chic headwear' than an email from my accountant or a colleague. Which is why when they land in my inbox, they mean I can end up shopping just because I’m putting off replying to a work email. The subject line is always clever, on the hottest day of the year they’ll send an email with the subject 'From Baleric to Baltic, five desk fans to keep you cool'. They’ll title another email 'The ten classics everybody should have in their wardrobe', only the clothes they are selling are not ten classics, they are a collection of ten items they need to shift quick. Next time you’re asked to sign up to a newsletter to get 10% off your next purchase, take the initial discount, but then unsubscribe.
Don’t shop while you’re down, bored, anxious, stressed…
A shopping hangover is a very real thing, but there is a way to avoid that queasy feeling of guilt the day after a haphazard moment in an online shop. Just as you shouldn’t do a food shop when you’re hungry (makes you far too susceptible to that cookie scent they pump out of the doors), don’t start filling a basket online because you’re angry with the person you’re quarantined with or feeling down about work.
And if you do buy something you probably could have done without, don’t beat yourself up. Multi billion pound companies are selling to us all the time, we just have to start watching out for those triggers and learn from our past mistakes. That and install an ad-block.
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