Every day, millions of fingers do the ‘browse, add to cart and checkout’ dance across countless keyboards around the globe. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards online shopping and triggered changes in human behaviours that are likely to have lasting effects. While online shopping was considered the hobby of the tech savvy in the past, now almost every member of the household has jumped onto the online-shopping bandwagon. Whether its grocery or medicines, school supplies or cosmetics, apparel or high-end gadgets, exercise equipment or fast food almost everything is being bought online.
There’s fierce competition among e-commerce websites. Flash sales, heavy discounts and mega deals are frequently launched to attract more and more customers. But with great availability comes great expenditure. Not everyone is comfortable sharing details of their online shopping with family members. The reasons may be varied but more and more people are hiding their purchases from their spouses, parents and immediate family members.
“Shopping for personal items is associated with selfishness or the belief that a mother shouldn’t spend on herself. And you will be surprised to know how much ingrained this concept is in our society.”
“Living in a joint family system, one seems to be answerable for every small personal item that is purchased,” says Farah, mother of two. “The fear of disapproval or being considered extravagant weighs heavily on the mind. I often pass off new clothes as gifts from parents. Even a whiff of new perfume or sight of a branded purse can send in-laws in a tizzy. Because new purchases can cause rift or arguments in the house, even husbands become disapproving so I have to lie about my shopping habits. I make sure the delivery guy doesn’t ring the bell and calls on my number so that I can collect things personally without alerting anyone in the house.”
“Looking good comes at a price. I am addicted to hair and skin care products especially anything that promises me a blemish free, spotless skin,” laughs Anum, a young college student. “I know advertisements are created to manipulate our spending habits but whenever I see an ad promising radiant, acne free skin, I have a strong impulse to try the product. I am not ashamed of my addiction but I do hide my stuff because I don’t want my other female relatives borrowing cosmetics or hear snarky comments about my spending habits.”
“Privacy, giving space and minding one’s own business are still rare concepts in our society. Our older generation is not used to parcels being delivered and especially those which come with cash on delivery tag. You end up feeling like a convict on trial. It’s also about changing traditions. If I go to a local market, buy unstitched cloth, visit rangai wala, lace wala and the tailor, it will be considered ‘normal’ behaviour. Having a branded pret kurti delivered to the doorstep makes my in-laws set up a tribunal that could make the Spanish Inquisition look Lilliputian.”
Money is one of the main reasons married couples fight and sometimes the best way to avoid an argument with the spouse is to hide all evidence of a shopping spree. But what does this say about our relationships, when a person has to lie, cheat or hide their actions to avoid an argument or judgmental opinions. For many women, it’s about independence – a desire to have a little personal space and freedom to buy things and not have to explain or be answerable to anyone. But since we live in a society with a lot of financial interdependence within families, this is a hard thing.
“Most of us are raised to believe that running the household, budgeting and saving for the children’s future is a woman’s responsibility, especially our daughter’s dowry if you are blessed with them,” says Fakhra who has three young daughters.
“Shopping for personal items is associated with selfishness or the belief that a mother shouldn’t spend on herself. And you will be surprised to know how much ingrained this concept is in our society. Many still think that money should be saved for the future or spent on children but this is an outdated concept especially as working women have their own money and their own needs for which they should neither be judged nor made to feel guilty.”
If a person does not possess a strong will power or is unhappy or stressed in life, they may not be able to resist and end up buying unnecessary stuff which leads to further guilt and stress.
But there is another side to the story too. People sometimes use shopping as an excuse to alleviate boredom or emotional stress or even indulge in ‘revenge shopping’ where a person who is forced to live a frugal lifestyle embarks on secret shopping and spends a huge amount of money on luxury items.
For people who feel compelled to hide their purchases, it is similar to other addictions — there’s a sense of stress and guilt attached to their actions, and hiding the purchases is an attempt to hide that shame.
Munira Ahmed, a certified Life Coach and founder of Parenting and Relationship Coaching Pakistan (PRC) says, “Material possessions are sometimes falsely equated with happiness but actually it is the process of shopping that gives a person a rush of adrenalin which wanes after a little time. If a person seeks happiness through this experience, he or she may end up buying a lot of stuff that is neither wanted nor needed. People need to replace this addiction with more meaningful and positive experiences such as learning arts and skills which have a positive impact on the mind and soul.
If a person does not possess a strong will power or is unhappy or stressed in life, they may not be able to resist and end up buying unnecessary stuff which leads to further guilt and stress. Being mindful requires setting boundaries for yourself.”
“Paradoxically, the more material possessions you accumulate, the more stress and dissatisfaction you feel,” says Ahmed, whose workshops aims to empower women to take control of their wellbeing and over all lives. “Physical clutter and emotional clutter both have a very negative impact on the person’s’ psyche so it is best to be mindful regarding your impulses. Above all be honest with yourself. If impulse buying and secret shopping is not hurting your finances then fine but if it is being used to fill a void or putting your family under financial constraints, then one needs to address underlying issues. Work on your personality and self-confidence so that you are not cowered into lying or cheating about your shopping habits in front of your spouses or in-laws. But above all do not seek contentment and happiness by accumulating possessions and then stashing them in the dark corners of your closet.”