Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD or CB): How Marketing Plays a Role in Deepening the Obsession

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Compulsive buying (known as CBD or CB in this review) is an addictive behavior in which individuals experience pleasure in uncontrollable purchases of material items. Unfortunately, most victims of compulsive buying cannot afford the purchased items nor are the items needed. Marketing firms, corporations, and many advertising and sale campaigns tempt people with CB into their next purchase. This study analyzes how brand-marketing (advertising) tactics and materialism target victims with a compulsive behavior disorder. Also, this study will analyze how each entity contributes to an argumentative role in the compulsive buying disorder. Although CB seems to be increasing in popularity, compulsive buying disorder remains a neglected issue in the most clinical environment. The goal of this study is to provide insight into concerns related to CB and to offer evidence on how marketing and advertising affect those with compulsive buying disorder. 

Disambiguation: CBD is also thename given to the checmical compund contrained within cannabis. You can read more on CBD and it's medical benefits here.

Literature Review

More than 100 years ago, Kraepelin defined compulsive buying disorder as “oniomania,” and still today this particular disorder has become a well-known problem with consumers (ref). The disorder has become popular, yet, the lack of knowledge may contribute to the clinical environment lack of interest. As part of the research process, there was not much literature on the topic. Unfortunately, many people do not admit to having a problem with compulsive buying. Many people insist that their shopping habits be more recreational; yet, shopping has become a common cure and sometimes used to obtain an emotional uplift. In the early 20th century, Bleuler and Kraepelin were the first known to describe CB clinically. In Bleuler’s text, the author stated “As a last category Kraepelin mentions the buying maniacs (oniomaniacs) in whom even buying is compulsive and leads to senseless contraction of debts[1] with continued delay of payment until a catastrophe clears the situation a little-a little bit never altogether because they never admit to their debts” (Bleuler, 1930). 

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Controlling the overpowering impulses which drive purchasing desires is almost impossible. As a result, these overpowering impulses causes stress and sometimes long-term consequences. Compulsive buying disorder results in substantial long-term debt that causes emotional and economic nightmares. For the past two decades, research focusing on consumer behavior has highlighted the fact that the compulsive buying occurrences and the disorder’s negative consequences for individuals and society at large (O’Guinn and Faber, 1989; Weaver, Moschis, and Davis, 2011). This literature review aims to expand the reader’s knowledge of compulsive buying disorder and explain how marketing and advertising tactics play a role in provoking those with this disorder to buy compulsively.This review also aims to look at the connection between compulsive buying disorder elicited by boredom and negative mood.


Compulsive buying is defined as an obsession with frequently buying and shopping episodes or overpowering urges to participate in meaningless buying (McElroy, Keck, and Pope, 1994).  The obsession with shopping and buying occurs in phases. Compulsive buying serves as a substitute for feeling pleasure and gratification. Consequently, the after-effects of participating in compulsive buying is described as feeling remorse and guiltiness. Remorsefulness and guiltiness can be credited to the inappropriateness of the spending behavior and the negative consequences. Also, compulsive behavior is defined in the literature as a “chronic, repetitive purchasing behavior that occurs as a response to negative events or feelings” (O’Guinn and Faber, 1989).[2] The inability to make appropriate adjustments to compulsive buying and spending behaviors lead to personal distress that interferes with social, marital, or occupational relationships (McElroy, Keck, and Pope, 1994). 

This feeling makes consumers purchase products to help alleviate negative feelings or stress, disappointment, frustration or lack of self-esteem (Scherhorn, 1990)  as well as material values, endorsement, depression, perfectionism, decision making difficulties and narcissism which have all been shown to be related to CB (Dittmar, 2005) (Kyrios, 2004) (Rose, 2007) . The people with CBD are primarily interested in the process of shopping, browsing, choosing, and ordering but not in the use of the goods and these individuals are ashamed of their spending behavior, and the associated with lying and interpersonal conflicts (Astrid, James, &Martina, 2015).    

Yurchisin and Johnson stated that compulsive buyers’ behavior is driven by powerful, uncontrollable urges to buy (2004). Research states that compulsive behavior is linked to internal tension, often involving frustration that can “only be relieved by buying” (Billieus et al., 1433). After the consumer surrenders to compulsive buying, he or she begins to feel a sense of positive effects that are “driven by negative affectivity but maintained by the positive emotions experienced at the point of purchase” (Kettlett and Bolton, 89).

Who is affected by compulsive Buying?

The survey results revealed that 2,513 adults within the United States admitted that compulsive buying behavior (Koran, Faber, and Aboujaoude, 2006).  The survey concluded that CB victims were mostly low income (Meuller, Mitchell, and Crosby, 2010). However, the findings were different in European population-based studies (Meuller, Mitchell, and Crosby, 2010).  As it related to possible gender effects, different surveys revealed different results with some suggesting that women are affected more often than men. Also, the results determined there was an increase of CB in the adult population over the last 20 years (Raab, Reisch, and Gwozdz, 2008). Also, women normally value appearance than men. For instance, past research has shown that female compulsive buyers spend more on clothing and cosmetics, and the primary cause of CB in women could be the need or desire to appear more attractive (Roberts and Pirog, 2004).

Based upon a general population survey conducted by Dittmar, 92 percent of respondents that considered compulsive buying were women. Most compulsive buyers begin in their late teens or early twenties (Christenson and Faber, 1994). However, this age is typically the time frame that teenagers attend college. Unfortunately, this could be the reason many college students have an excessive debt by the time they graduate from college. McElroy et al. reported, 17 out of the 18 individuals with CB, admitted to having one or more first-degree relatives with significant depression. Eleven of the 18 reported having an alcohol or drug use disorder. Also, three of the 18 respondents reported having an anxiety disorder (McElroy, Keck, and Pope, 1994).

Shopping is an unclassified sport for many women, they are typically in competition with themselves and find that by purchasing a new item they have now won. There’s nothing deemed wrong with retail therapy but when is retail gone too far. Despite contrary beliefs, the thrill of shopping is just as invigorating for women suffering from compulsive buying disorder as it is for a drug attic shooting his or her arm for a high. Women engage in compulsive buying due to their need to feel better emotionally or override their feeling of boredom. The variety of shopping stores, advertisements, an online boutique, sales papers all in heightens a need to shop be I️t want or need. While some may feel that a shopping addiction could never consume one’s life like substance addiction, there are those who beg the differ. For women, the feeling she gets when she sees a shoe that’s vibrant in the cooler and begging for attention is hard to avoid. It must be mentioned the placement of the detailed, matching handbag in the display window by the shoe, how could one not purchase both. The tingling feeling she gets when she takes the top of the shoe, and the rustling of the paper makes her feel like a kid on Christmas. She feels no worry because at that point all guilt and shame is subsided by happy emotions due to a new purchase. Sometimes the purchase of new clothing feels like a new beginning, a fresh start to create a new identity. Each garment tells a story, and by purchasing a new piece, one can now rewrite the story. 

Marketing: A Risk or Just Reality

When we think about CB, it is hard not to try to pinpoint the roles that society or marketing have played in the expanding of this disorder. Consumers are entrenched with television commercials daily while watching their favorite show or a movie. Even when riding in the car, there are many advertisements played on the radio. Each of these marketing strategies focuses on alluring the consumer to buy. Marketing tactics and strategies play a risk of pushing those with CB in stores through promotions, commercials, billboards, advertisements, and announcements. Researchers argue that advertising dwells on the material benefits of consumption by stressing upon the individual’s need for achievement and of anxiety[3] produced by completion, by manipulating people’s emotions and persuading the exposed consumer to irrational consumption (McBride, 1980).

Marketing Tactics That Seduce

In relation to an average commercial, marketers use factors such as cultural, psychological and emotional factors drive consumer into compulsive buying as a result of being exposed to hundreds of commercial messages daily (Arens, Weigold, and Arens, 2007). In this time, everyone is selling something. The best advertisements seem to receive the better financial benefits; however, consumers experience a greater disadvantage by participating in impulsiveness buying. The primary goal of advertising for manufacturers is to seduce consumers and to arouse them into purchasing their products. Compulsive buyers associate buying with an act that inspires their social status (Roberts and Jones, 2001). Unfortunately, as soon as the CB watches a commercial they feel the desire to make a compulsive purchase. From a contextual point of view, the closeness to large commercial centers has been linked to increase the possibility of compulsive buying (Valence et al., 1988). People of lower socio-economic classes are targeted more and participate in compulsive buying to reduce stress yet lead to buying, smoking, drinking, and any other disorders. In reality, marketing and advertisement are ways the industry target its consumers. Robert and Jones (2001) suggested that advertisers use status appeals most frequently after price appeals as a way to address the desire for power and prestige amongst consumers.[4]

Advertisers and Their Targets

Advertisers who target compulsive buyers tend to create material aspirations for individuals and emphasize the need to reduce inner tension by addressing the extrinsic reward of appearing attractive (Roberts and Pirog, 2004).[5]  Research suggests there is a close association between compulsive buying and the specific types of external stimuli such as sales promotions and bargains offered in a retail setting (Rajagopal, 2008). Although advertising does not directly increase the willingness to pay, consumers are more willing to buy advertised products in comparison to products that are not being advertised. Positive attitudes towards advertising result in profits for companies when the company’s brands are implanted within the consumer’s mind (Haan and Moraga-Gonzalez, 2011).  Compulsive buyers feel more vulnerable to advertising than non-compulsive buyers via (a) TV, (b) magazines, (c) billboards, and (d) the Internet (Degrawe and Brengman, 2014).  Store displays, promotional discounts displays, and lower prices are responsible for creating a positive impressive that promotes compulsiveness by invoking emotional arousal (O’Guinn and Faber, 1989). Each plays a critical role in persuading the person with CB into a compulsive purchase.

Mood and Boredom

 Previous research shows a connection between compulsive buying behavior as a correction for negative moods and boredom. One researcher stated that bad moods are improved by engaging in potentially uplifting activities. A researcher identified five concepts that influenced compulsive buying behavior. These five concepts were initiated by the term retail therapy, which helps soothe underlying negative moods. Faber and Christenson’s (1996) study provided evidence that mood enhancement was motivating factors for compulsive buying disorder. Buyers often feel negative moods that can only be subsided by partaking in something that pleases them. Individuals who engage in compulsive buying disorder often feel negative moods like anxiety, depression, and loneliness. (Faber and Christenson, 1996) reported that negative emotions are often categorized as internal antecedents of CB. Consequently, it has been suggested that CB helps to regulate negative mood states (Kellett and Bolton, 2009). According to paper-pencil self-monitoring forms or ecological momentary assessment, compulsive buyers often report negative emotions such as sadness, loneliness or frustration before buying (Christenson et al., 1994; Faber and Christenson, 1996). Furthermore, these emotions dissolve during or shortly after buying (Christenson et al., 1994; Miltenberger et al., 2003; Mueller et al., 2012; Schlosser et al., 1994). 

Negative and undesirable mood states have been previously shown to precede compulsive buying episodes, and improvements in mood have been shown following the shopping experience. Compulsive buyers often feel a sense of pleasure once they are actively engaging in a shopping experience. The purchase of an article of clothing, shoes, jewelry, and other tangible items helps alters a compulsive buyers mood. The view that compulsive buying is indulged in as a mood regulation mechanism, to transform the negative mood into a more positive one has been mentioned in various other studies. Miltenberge (2003) found that compulsive buyers reported negative mood as one of the leading causes of compulsive buying, which in turn provider relief for negative moods. The notion that negative mood influence compulsive buying goes alone with the noted definition presented by O’Quinn and Faber  (1989) which stated that compulsive buying is chronic repetitive purchasing that becomes a response to adverse events or feelings. Furthermore, the research found a correlation between negative mood and boredom as a driving force for compulsive shopping behaviors. Miltenberger (2003) study suggest that the intensity of boredom before buying reported by compulsive buyers were comparable to the intensity level of the negative emotions experienced.  In previous studies boredom has commonly been discussed as a combination of low arousal and dissatisfaction or displeasure (e.g., K. Daniels, 2000; Mikulas & Vodanovich, 1993; Pekrun, 1992; Russell, 1980; Warr, 1987). An anonymous compulsive buyer from the website, stated, “I have found that when I do not have a lot going on in my life, I tend to shop more.  I find myself taking a trip to the mall or perusing e-commerce websites.  Shopping provides a sense of excitement which may be missing in a person’s life.  Just the simple experience of being in a mall or store is exciting, as there are bright lights, colorful displays, uplifting music, and lots of treats for the senses.  That sure beats the monotony of day-to-day life which we all sometimes experience.” This personal declaration from an individual who suffers from compulsive buying behavior gives clear evidence that boredom influences compulsive buying behaviors.


Content analysis

 Study 1 was motivated by a desire to establish compulsive buying as a self-treat to help improve one’s mood or to change the state of boredom. This content analysis also seeks to determine whether or not these facets negative mood and boredom help explain ones compulsive buying behavior. The target group of this study is individuals written messages who suffer from compulsive buying disorder who stated or implied shopping to be a mood corrector or an escape from boredom. A coder will look at the blog entries of twenty-five women from the website Recovering who have been classified as compulsive buyers between December and March. The coder will analyze the messages of the individual messages approximately two times a day both morning and night; daily the coder will see how frequently the terms negative mood or boredom were stated or implied in reverence to “why” women felt the need to engage in compulsive buying behavior. Faber (2004) study concludes that the experience of negative emotions motivates individuals or block out negative self-awareness by engaging in compulsive buying behavior. Once data have been collected, the coder will summarize the data by displaying results as it coincides with the terms of frequencies of messages that alluded or mad mention of negative mood and boredom as a reason to engage in compulsive buying behaviors regarding percentages or averages. 

Hypothesis 1: There will be a positive correlation between negative mood and boredom as a cassation factor to compulsive buying behavior. 


A coder will describe what it is he or she will be looking for in the messages of the compulsive buyer. After he or she knows that they are to study the messages of compulsive buyers, they would then proceed to the blog where women share their personal experiences of compulsive buying. Once a coder has to determine what they are going to analyze the individual must now determine the terminology frequency that they wish to code. The coder will then count the presence of the implication of or the stating of the words negative moods and boredom being the determinate factor of when to engage in compulsive buying behavior. Determine the frequency of the mention of those two facets and report them using a frequency table after that the data would be analyzed regarding percentage.

Inferential Testing

Study 2 was motivated by a desire to establish a connection between the need to communicate about compulsive buying behaviors as a way to help improve one’s mood and cope with the outcome of their actions. This study uses inferential testing to determine or predict whether or not a woman feels the urge to talk about her compulsive buying behavior. The target group of this study was subjects with compulsive buying disorder. The methods used to conduct research will be an emailed survey to participants who are considered compulsive buyers. All participants in the study will be a sample of female compulsive buyers ranging in age from 18 to 32. A survey will be distributed to each who posted within the dates of December 25th through March 25th. The survey will be a compilation of questions from the self-gifting consumer behavior scale Churchill’s (1979) that aims to see how strongly do mood and boredom cause an individual to engage in particular behaviors.  The survey will help determine how often do compulsive buyers feel the need to engage in conversation about their experiences before and after. The sample group will help predict how strongly compulsive buyers feel the need to talk to or write about their compulsive buying behaviors.

Hypothesis 1

There will be a strong need for women to talk or write about their compulsive buying behaviors to help themselves cope with or feel supported.


 For this particular study, Each participant will be told that the purpose of the study is to investigate whether or not they have a strong urge to write or talk about their compulsive buying behavior. Each participant will be provided with a survey with questions to be answered on a scale of 1-5. One being less likely feel and urge to talk or communicate about compulsive buying behaviors, and five being a strong sense of urgency to communicate about compulsive buying behavior. The participants will be asked to complete the survey before they go shopping and after they go shopping then send it back. I’m pretty sure there are various reasoning why a compulsive buyer may feel the need to talk about or write about the way she feels before and after engaging in compulsive shopping behaviors. Participants will be asked various questions regarding what drives them to engage in CB and how strongly they feel the need to tell or write their experience. For each time an individual has a weak or strong sense of urgency to talk about behaviors she would be asked to mark it on the scale. The participant’s urgency to talk about their compulsive buying behavior will be measured using and  inferential test. Where the sample of this study represents the larger population of women, who engage in compulsive buying behaviors.


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