• I'm happy to introduce the Styleforum Happy Hour, our brand new podcast featuring lively discussion about menswear and the fashion industry. In the inaugural edition, a discussion of what's going on in retail today. Please check it out on the Journal. All episodes will be also be available soon on your favorite podcast platform.

  • Styleforum Gives - Holiday Charity Auction 7: Castangia from SARTORIALE

    We are very proud to present this year's edition of the Styleforum Holiday Charity Auctions, this year in support of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Spokane (www.rmhcspokane.org). Each Auction lasts 24 hours. Please follow and bid on all the auctions.

    The 6th auction is for a Castangia Suit or Sportcoat from SARTORIALE Please bid often and generously here

    Fok and the Styleforum Team.


    Bored of counting likes on social networks? At Styleforum, you’ll find rousing discussions that go beyond strings of emojis.

    Click Here to join Styleforum's thousands of style enthusiasts today!

This Year, More Than Ever, It's Tough to Be a Compulsive Shopper


Distinguished Member
May 20, 2007
Reaction score
From the WSJ:

This Year, More Than Ever, It's Tough to Be a Compulsive Shopper

The holiday season is notoriously stressful for people with drinking problems and overeating issues. But times have never been tougher for those diagnosed with a controversial disorder called "compulsive buying," or "shopaholism."

On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the first official day of the holiday shopping season, 31-year-old confessed shopaholic Nikki Ebben was holed up in her bedroom in Appleton, Wis., while her husband went to Wal-Mart to snag a $500 flat-screen TV. Ms. Ebben, who has maxed out 15 credit cards and racked up more than $80,000 in debt, says she vowed to stay away from stores. Still, she couldn't resist the temptation of e-commerce, particularly the appeal of 30% off and free shipping. While her husband was gone, she spent $400 at Toysrus.com and Target.com, using money from the couple's joint bank account.

"I went crazy," admits Ms. Ebben, whose mother stopped speaking to her for a time because she owed her parents so much money.

"I told her, 'We're retired now. We can't afford to bail you out,' " says Ms. Ebben's mother, Judy Patrie.

Anybody who has gotten a deal on a car, a dress or an electronic gadget can relate to the euphoric thrill that comes with shopping. But this year, the combination of retailers' aggressive discounting and current economic anxiety "is a disaster" for people who feel a compulsion to shop, says Terrence Shulman, a social worker and founder of the Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft and Spending, in Franklin, Mich.

View Full Image
Tough Year for Compulsive Shoppers
Getty Images

This year, the combination of retailers' aggressive discounting and current economic anxiety "is a disaster" for people who feel a compulsion to shop.
Tough Year for Compulsive Shoppers
Tough Year for Compulsive Shoppers

The bombardment of promotional emails and discount coupons from retailers this season is "like giving matches to a pyromaniac," says April Benson, a New York psychotherapist who specializes in the disorder.

Ms. Benson urges her clients to unsubscribe from retailers' email lists, block television channels like QVC and avoid "danger zones," such as Wal-Mart on Black Friday. The silver lining of the current economic crisis, she says, is that many compulsive shoppers are seeing their credit lines cut off, and that is forcing them to reckon with their illness. The problem: They often have no money left to pay for therapy, which frequently isn't covered by insurance.

Compulsive buying was first identified in 1915 by a German doctor who called it "oniomania" for the Greek term "onios," which means "for sale." It isn't listed in the American Psychiatric Association's catalog of officially recognized psychiatric disorders. But, because of a growing body of evidence that compulsive buying is itself a disorder -- not just a symptom of something else -- it is under consideration for inclusion in the next edition, to be released in 2011.

A group of Stanford University researchers caused a stir in 2006 when they reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry that about 5.8% of the U.S. population can be said to have "compulsive buying behavior," characterized by an abnormal preoccupation with shopping, purchasing of unnecessary items and adverse consequences, like "impaired social or occupational functioning, and/or financial problems." The researchers, who conducted a random survey of 2,513 people, were surprised to find that it affects men and women almost equally -- about 6% of women and 5.5% of men. Compulsive buyers tend to be younger (mean age 39.7 years, as opposed to 48.7 years for other respondents in the survey), and earn under $50,000 a year.

This month, the Journal of Consumer Research published another study of compulsive buying, using broader diagnostic criteria, which found that the prevalence of compulsive buyers in the U.S. could be 8.9% or higher. The study, conducted by marketing professors at the University of Richmond who surveyed 1,200 people, also found that compulsive shoppers are more likely to be anxious, materialistic, have low self-esteem and harbor negative feelings that are relieved by shopping.

Candy Thompson, a 30-year-old single mother of four in Indiana, attributes her shopping binges to bipolar disorder. In recent months, she says ballooning debt and other financial pressures have forced her to cut spending. But she nevertheless posted an ad recently on craigslist seeking "pointy toed boots and heels."

"I am a shopaholic and...I need to build my collection," she wrote in the ad. She says she already owns 220 pairs of shoes.

Ms. Ebben says she's embarrassed by her experience, but she agreed to be interviewed in hopes that she could raise awareness of the problem. "This disease has such a profound effect and complicates the lives of so many people," she says.
Holiday Sales

* Holiday Sales News Tracker: News and analysis
* Heard on the Runway: Fashion & Trends
* Complete Coverage: Holiday shopping news, analysis, video, data

Until she was fired for shopping on the job this year, Ms. Ebben worked as a sales-training manager for a cosmetics retailer, where she earned about $50,000 a year. She says she amassed a collection of hundreds of beauty products that still remain unopened at her home.

But she really started to spiral out of control in 2006, she says, when she and her husband, Jim, moved into a bigger house. Compelled by an urge to decorate, she began splurging on furniture, home decor and clothing, such as 17 pairs of designer jeans that cost up to $400 a pair. One day, she drove home in a new $30,000 Mini Cooper, purchased with a loan from the dealership.

Ms. Ebben's biggest weakness, she admits, was the Internet. "I loved the high I got when I clicked the 'submit' button when ordering clothes online," she says. "I knew it was wrong, but I didn't care."
Shoppers Anonymous

A new study that will be published in the Journal of Retailing in 2009 suggests that consumers with compulsive-buying tendencies prefer shopping online because the Internet enables them to avoid social interactions and to purchase stuff on the sly.

Compulsive shoppers are often ridiculed, dismissed or even celebrated in American pop culture. For example, a romantic comedy to be released in February is called "Confessions of a Shopaholic," based on a best-selling novel of the same title. In the movie, the severely indebted lead character keeps an emergency credit card encased in a block of ice in her freezer.

To Ms. Benson, the psychotherapist, tongue-in-cheek ads from retailers are particularly offensive. She uses a Barneys New York flier from several seasons ago advertising a "Psychotherapy Sale" in her lectures. This season, Barneys' Web site has a video in which creative director Simon Doonan urges women to "go mental in the shoe department," adding that buying a pair of Christian Louboutin boots is "the best way for relieving holiday tension."

Says Mr. Doonan: "Shopping is undeniably a more positive way to medicate your blues than knocking back gin and tonics. Shopping is enjoyable. Anything which gives people pleasure and enjoyment has the potential to get out of hand."
A Fix at Saks

Meanwhile, Saks Fifth Avenue this season offered 12 months of no interest and no payments for people who spend $2,000 or more in a single day, a deal that Mr. Shulman says is like a "crack dealer saying, 'Come here, try a sample.' "

Saks spokeswoman Julia Bentley says that "our customers are smart and savvy about their spending," adding that only those meeting "strict credit standards" were eligible for the deal.

Ms. Ebben says that the first time she reached out for help, in 2002, she called a therapist who "literally laughed at me." And when she attended her first Debtors Anonymous meeting this month, her husband, who used to joke that his wife was "just materialistic," came along.

At the time, Mr. Ebben said he didn't quite believe that shopaholism was really a disorder. But when the person leading the meeting read off a list of characteristics of compulsive debtors, he says of his wife, "It fit her to a T."

Write to Rachel Dodes at [email protected]

Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Styleforum is proudly sponsored by

Featured Sponsor

How many pairs of shoes do you own?

  • 1 - 4

    Votes: 29 3.6%
  • 5 - 10

    Votes: 141 17.4%
  • 11 - 20

    Votes: 265 32.7%
  • 21 - 30

    Votes: 129 15.9%
  • 31 - 40

    Votes: 70 8.6%
  • 41 - 50

    Votes: 48 5.9%
  • 51 - 60

    Votes: 24 3.0%
  • 61 - 70

    Votes: 22 2.7%
  • 71 - 80

    Votes: 17 2.1%
  • 81 - 90

    Votes: 7 0.9%
  • 91 - 100

    Votes: 8 1.0%
  • 100+

    Votes: 51 6.3%

Related Threads

Staff online

Forum statistics

Latest member