Shopper stopper

By Rose Acton - 03 Jan 2017

It is now easier and faster than ever to shop at the click of a button – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. While this brings many benefits, it can come with its downsides too. As shopping speeds up, and access to easy credit delays the need for payment, the pace and scale of harm can grow quickly.

While half of us admit that we make purchases we regret online, particularly in sales, for people with mental health problems it can be especially hard to control spending. In our survey of 5,500 people with mental health problems, 93% told us they spent more when unwell – shopping to fill an empty day, to buy something that might make them feel better when nothing else is working, or shopping in a manic high when some things are too tempting to resist.

“When I am sad, depressed, isolated I go on the computer to escape and end up buying stuff, then it gets out of control”

“The spending was my way of proving I was a ‘good’ mum able to provide the best for her children. I was totally obsessed, I bought and got through over 100 buggies in four years.”

As simple as sending it back?
Our new research, the results of a survey with Populus of over 2,000 people, found that people with mental health problems are more likely to regret online purchases and are more likely to struggle to return them.

Figure 1: How often do you regret purchases made online?

They are more likely than those without mental health problems to say they find it hard to get to somewhere to post returns (39%), they don’t understand the returns process (30%) or that they struggle with feelings of shame around ordering things they regret (28%). Four in ten people (40%) with mental health problems who didn’t return the last thing that they regretted buying wanted to just pretend it had never happened.

“Boxes arrive and I am not really interested. The boxes pile up and the hoarding gets out of control. Debts, boxes, junk, nowhere to run to, to escape. Back on the computer, more stuff bought. Fear, anxiety, panic increases, depression deepens.”

“I couldn’t return unwanted/unsuitable items due to agoraphobia.”

The Shopper Stopper
Members of our research community, who have lived experience of mental health problems, told us they often particularly struggle to control their spending online at night – when their defences are down due to lack of sleep and they are alone. Nearly a third of those with mental health problems surveyed said they buy things they regret after 10pm (31%). 

“With my depression, I don’t sleep very well, long lonely nights, plenty of time to browse the web… the ability to buy online has added to my debt.”

This is where the idea to create a tool that could help people set the opening and closing times of online shops began.

The Shopper Stopper is a new tool, designed to give you more control over your online spending. It is a browser plug-in which allows you to set the opening and closing times of online shops. You can choose the shops you want to block, and the times you want to block them – so whether you know you are particularly susceptible to night-time shopping, or you have a particular weakness for a certain shop – you can tailor it to your needs.

We would like to say a big thank you to all of our research community who so generously gave up their time to tell us about their experiences and who also tested the tool in its early stages. A massive thank you also goes to Plexus, our technical partners, who built the Shopper Stopper and generously provided their time and expertise.