Retail Therapy

Article byKosha Mehta
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Retail Therapy Meaning

Retail therapy is the act of shopping to reduce stress, anxiety, or sadness. It is the belief that buying oneself a new item, whether it be clothing, accessories, or home decor, can provide a temporary sense of happiness and fulfillment. The term “retail therapy” was coined in the 1980s and has since become a purposeful act for people to cope with difficult emotions.

Retail Therapy

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Retail therapy has critics who argue that it promotes materialism and consumerism to solve emotional problems. In contrast, buying new things can provide temporary relief, which is important. However, it should be recognized that it is not a sustainable or healthy long-term solution.

Key Takeaways

  • Retail therapy can temporarily relieve negative emotions and boost mood, but it’s not a substitute for addressing underlying emotional issues.
  • Engaging in retail therapy without considering the financial, environmental, and ethical consequences can lead to negative consequences such as financial strain, addiction, and environmental degradation.
  • To use retail therapy healthily and positively, it’s important to set a budget, identify triggers, practice mindfulness, find alternative coping mechanisms, and seek professional help.
  • It is important to be aware that the benefits of retail therapy are often short-lived and to prioritize sustainable, healthy coping mechanisms over temporary fixes.

Retail Therapy Explained

Retail therapy is a term used to describe the act of shopping as a form of stress relief or emotional support. It has become a popular practice among people who feel overwhelmed or down, as buying something new can provide a temporary sense of happiness and satisfaction.

The idea behind retail therapy is that acquiring new possessions can help people feel better about themselves and their lives. Whether it’s a new outfit, jewelry, or home decor item, shopping, and purchasing can provide a sense of control and agency in a chaotic and uncertain world.

Despite this, retail therapy remains a popular way to manage emotions. Many people find that treating themselves to a small purchase can provide a much-needed boost of happiness and confidence. As long as it is not relied upon as the sole means of coping with difficult emotions, retail therapy can be a harmless and enjoyable way to treat oneself.

While some criticize retail therapy as promoting consumerism and materialism, others argue it can be a healthy and positive coping mechanism when used in moderation. As long as it is not relied upon as the sole means of managing difficult emotions, retail therapy can be an enjoyable and harmless way to treat oneself and boost one’s mood. However, it’s important to recognize that the happiness gained from retail therapy is often short-lived and not a substitute for addressing underlying emotional issues.

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Examples of Retail Therapy

Let us have a look at the examples to understand the concept better.

Example #1

Let’s say that Sarah has had a particularly rough week at work. She’s been feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and nothing seems right. So on her way home from work, Sarah decides to stop by her favorite clothing store and see what’s new.

As Sarah browses the racks, she starts to feel better. Then, finally, she finds a cute dress that catches her eye, and when she tries it on, she loves how it looks on her. As she heads to the checkout, she realizes that buying the dress has given her a much-needed sense of control and agency. She feels like she’s made a positive choice, giving her temporary happiness and confidence.

While the dress won’t solve Sarah’s problems, it has given her a brief respite from her stress and a small self-esteem boost. As long as Sarah doesn’t rely on shopping as her sole means of coping with stress, retail therapy can be a helpful tool for managing difficult emotions healthily and positively.

Example #2

An article by Deseret News states that retail therapy, particularly online shopping, can become addictive and exacerbate symptoms of depression. In addition, the article cites research suggesting that people who engage in retail therapy to cope with negative emotions may be more likely to develop compulsive shopping behaviors, leading to financial problems and other negative consequences.

The article also highlights the role that social media can play in perpetuating the cycle of retail therapy. For example, online shopping and social media platforms often use algorithms to show users products and advertisements tailored to their interests and browsing history, making engaging in compulsive shopping behaviors easier.

While retail therapy can temporarily relieve negative emotions, the article suggests it is not a sustainable or healthy long-term solution. Instead, the article encourages readers to seek out professional help if they are struggling with depression or other emotional issues and to find alternative coping mechanisms that are healthier and more sustainable.

How To Stop?

Recognizing the problem is the first step to breaking any habit. It’s important to acknowledge that retail therapy can become a habit or a coping mechanism that one relies on too heavily.

Here are some strategies that can help break the cycle of retail therapy:

#1 – Identify Triggers

Identify what situations or emotions trigger your desire to engage in retail therapy. For example, are you more likely to shop when you feel stressed, sad, or bored? Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can develop a plan to deal with them healthily.

#2 – Practice Mindfulness

Pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re shopping. Are you really enjoying the experience, or are you just trying to distract yourself from difficult emotions? By practicing mindfulness, you can become more aware of your motivations for shopping and make more intentional choices.

#3 – Set A Budget

If you’re concerned about overspending, set a budget before shopping. Then, stick to this budget and avoid impulse purchases.

#4 – Find Alternative Coping Mechanisms

Instead of turning to shopping when you’re feeling down, find alternative coping mechanisms that are healthier and more sustainable. For example, exercise, meditation, and spending time with friends are healthy ways to manage stress and negative emotions.

#5 – Seek Professional Help

If you’re struggling with underlying emotional issues, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. A therapist can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms and address the root causes of your emotional distress.


Retail therapy, when used in moderation, can provide several benefits to individuals, such as:

  1. Boosting mood: Engaging in retail therapy can provide a temporary sense of happiness and satisfaction, which can help improve one’s mood and reduce stress.
  2. Providing a sense of control: Shopping can provide control and agency in a chaotic and uncertain world. This feeling of control can help reduce feelings of anxiety and helplessness.
  3. Self-expression: Shopping can also be a means of self-expression and creativity. It allows individuals to experiment with different styles and find new ways to express themselves.
  4. Socialization: Shopping can be a social activity, providing opportunities for individuals to connect with friends and family.
  5. Support the economy: Retail therapy can also positively affect the economy by supporting local businesses and creating jobs.


While retail therapy can provide some benefits, there are also several potential disadvantages to consider:

#1 – Financial strain

Engaging in retail therapy can quickly become expensive, leading to financial strain and debt. Overspending can cause long-term financial problems and interfere with one’s ability to meet basic needs.

#2 – Addiction

For some individuals, such therapy can become an addiction, leading to compulsive shopping behaviors and negative consequences such as financial problems, relationship issues, and declining mental health.

#3 – Environmental impact

It can also have negative environmental consequences, as the production and transportation of consumer goods can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems.

#4 – Supporting unethical practices

Engaging in it without considering the ethical practices of the companies being supported can contribute to environmental degradation, labor exploitation, and other unethical practices.

#5 – Not a sustainable solution

While such therapy can temporarily relieve negative emotions, it’s not a sustainable or long-term solution to underlying emotional issues. It’s important to address the root causes of emotional distress and develop sustainable coping mechanisms over time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is retail therapy real?

Retail therapy is a real phenomenon where individuals shop to alleviate stress or negative emotions. It’s often used as a self-care or reward after a difficult experience.

Why retail therapy work?

Retail therapy can temporarily relieve negative emotions and boost mood, but it’s not a sustainable or healthy long-term solution. It can also lead to addiction, financial strain, and other negative consequences if not used in moderation.

What is retail therapy, and why can it be dangerous?

Retail therapy refers to shopping as a way of coping with negative emotions. However, it can be dangerous if it leads to compulsive shopping behaviors, financial strain, and other negative consequences.

How to replace retail therapy?

To replace retail therapy, individuals can find alternative coping mechanisms such as exercise, meditation, spending time in nature, or seeking professional help to address underlying emotional issues.

This has been a guide to Retail Therapy and its meaning. We explain how to stop it, its examples, benefits and disadvantages. You can learn more about retail marketing from the following articles –

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