“When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping”

-Marshall, 1991

Retail Therapy

For a long time, American companies have been banking on the concept of self-treats to boost their business. The phrase ‘retail therapy’ was first used in the following context by Mary T. Schmich, “We`ve become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy.” The term became common use during the 1980s which just goes to show how young the concept is.

Now, if we start looking into how it works, the concepts are pretty simple. We feel that we are running out of resources and to replenish them, we buy small treats for ourselves. It is similar to the concept of how travelling improves the mood. The only difference is that here, the focus is on instant gratification of desires. Now, this phenomenon has been studied multiple times in the West but in an Indian context, the studies on it are minimal at best.

Culture & Retail

It is important to understand that the culture that one comes from plays a very important role in the purchases they make. India has a collectivistic culture whereas the Western cultures are more individualistic. In India, the ability to share the things we buy with others might play an important role in what we choose to buy.

Retail Therapy in India

When going through the literature, I found just one study that presented evidence on the influence of retail therapy in India. It goes without saying, retail therapy is mostly an urban phenomenon where consumerism isn’t necessarily looked down upon. The study used 30 people and interviewed them before and after a shopping spree. People had described their mood as sad or lonely before the purchase but reported a happy mood after the said purchases.

Why do we buy?

It also reports that people see browsing through options and the power to choose between them as an indicator of them being in control. We shop not for our needs, but to feel that we are in control in an otherwise chaotic world. We also shop to reward ourselves on some success or achievement. This means that retail therapy isn’t always about improving a bad mood but also about reinforcing positive ones.

What do we buy?

When unconsciously going for retail therapy, men tend to buy food and women focus on apparel. Both men and women also tend to go for books, electronics or footwear depending on their individual choices.


It is time that the Indian retailers start looking at their consumers not only as functionaries but also as therapy seekers. Studies have found that the music and number of choices presented play a big role in the likeliness of a consumer returning to the store. Ambience is another component that people unconsciously consider when browsing. Whatever we say or do, one thing is for sure, the Indian consumer is evolving and the quicker the retailers adapt to their needs, the sooner their businesses will flourish.




Retail Therapy: A Strategic Effort to Improve Mood A. Selin Atalay HEC Paris, France Margaret G. Meloy Pennsylvania State University