New research from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has revealed our difficult relationship with online sales, as thousands of people make purchases they regret, feel unable to navigate returns processes and end up in financial difficulty. This issue is even worse for people with mental health problems.
The charity, founded by Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, found that nearly two thirds (63%) of people who had made purchases they later regretted did so because of sales, and nearly one in ten (9%) said that they always or often regretted purchases made online. As services like Amazon Prime Air and PayPal Credit speed up shopping and delay payment, the pace and scale of this potential harm is set to increase.
This is a particular issue for those who are already living with mental health problems. Around half of this group said they make purchases they regret when they are alone (48%) or feeling low (52%) and nearly a third say they do it when shopping in the night (31%). These figures are all nearly double those for people without mental health problems (24%, 22% and 16% respectively).
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has revealed that we are also struggling to return goods we regret buying, with three quarters (75%) of people saying they did not return their last regretted online purchase. Nearly half (45%) of this group said that this was because postage was too expensive and nearly a third (31%) just wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened or said that it was too difficult to get somewhere to post it (30%). For people with mental health problems these figures are even higher, with around four in ten either wanting to pretend the purchase never happened (40%) or struggling to get somewhere to post it (39%). More than a quarter of people with mental health problems (28%) didn’t return their last regretted online purchase because they were too ashamed.
Today the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute launches a free experimental online tool to help people to control their spending. The ‘Shopper Stopper’ is a browser plugin that allows shoppers to set the opening hours of online stores, enabling them to block access at times they find purchases particularly hard to resist, such as the middle of the night. The tool, which today will allow users to sign up to join an early beta test, closes online stores and prompts users with a personal message when they try to shop outside their pre-set ‘opening hours’.
Commenting, Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, Founder and Chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said:
“Mental health problems can erode people’s self-control and decision-making ability. We want to empower people with tools that put them back in the driving seat. Many people shop to make themselves feel better in periods of depression, to give things to others to feel needed or to fill the time when they’re bored or lonely. But the boost it gives is transitory, while the financial pain it can cause lingers on and on.
“The constant availability of online shops and increasingly sophisticated targeted marketing techniques make resisting spending impulses even more difficult, and increase the pace and scale of financial harm that results. Today we’re launching our own experimental tool to help shoppers counter that. It’s by no means a cure-all, but by allowing people to set the opening hours of online shops, we want to add a little extra friction into the buying process. We need as many people as possible to take part in this test – to see if it works for them and if we should expand it – so please download the tool, have a go and tell us if it works for you.”
Polly Mackenzie, Director of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute added:
“Increased spending is a symptom of a number of mental health problems, but that doesn’t mean that those living with them should be written off to a life of financial difficulty. This isn’t spending driven by greed, it’s emotionally driven and it’s hard to control with willpower alone.
As well as launching our own experimental tool to help, we’re calling on retailers to allow shoppers greater control over their retail environment. We want to see retailers enabling things like daily spending limits and the ability to opt out of night-time marketing emails, as well as improving returns processes. This will allow their customers to shop when they really want and need to, rather than driven by loneliness, boredom or depression.”
Join the trial by downloading the Shopper Stopper at www.shopperstopper.co.uk
Read the background policy note at www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/retail