While many jokes and sales of specialty merchandise have been made that make light of consumers who frequently shop and buy (e.g., "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping," or "I am a shopaholic"), for 18 million Americans suffering from compulsive buying, the process of shopping and buying has caused their lives to literally go out of control. The outcomes of this disease for individuals, families, and business are all negative. In a marketing era of social responsibility, if marketers either knowingly or unknowingly encourage increased consumption among compulsive buyers, potential negative outcomes stand to impact others well beyond the span of the personal psychological and financial situations of individual consumers.
The purpose of this study was to explore in depth the structures of human consciousness of compulsive buyers by employing the qualitative research tradition of phenomenology. The study was framed by the social constructivist paradigm where my emphasis was on understanding how the essence of each individual consumer's sense of reality was shaped by her/his particular circumstances and lived experiences.
From a theoretical perspective, the study offers an integrated framework by bringing together diverse constructs/data themes from previous research in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, sociology, and marketing. Personality antecedents and short- and long-term consequences of compulsive buying were presented in the framework.
The study's research question was, "What are the essential structures of the lived experiences of compulsive buyers?" A criterion-purposive sample, where all participants currently experience or have experienced the phenomenon of compulsive buying, was selected. Data collection and analysis were performed from prolonged engagement at Debtors Anonymous meetings over a 12-month period, plus in-depth interviews from six volunteer participants.
Individual participant models of compulsive buying were constructed and juxtaposed against the original theoretical model. Data theme frequencies across participants were tabulated and discussed for comparisons against the theoretical model.
Results indicated that while each participant's lived experience of the disease shared most theoretical themes identified by previous research, participants also revealed additional data themes unique to her/him. Marketing implications and recommendations for improved marketing strategy were offered.