Just as I feared! BPS Research reports a recent article containing a series of small studies that shows "retail therapy" does work -- at least in a sample of young American consumers. And they found little evidence of regret or guilt after the purchases. Here is the description of the third and most compelling of the studies:
"Lastly the researchers had 69 undergrads complete two retrospective consumption diaries, two weeks apart, documenting their purchasing behaviour, mood and regrets. All the participants admitted in the first diary to having bought themselves a treat (mostly clothes, but also food, electronics, entertainment products and so on). Sixty-two per cent of these purchases had been motivated by low mood, 28 per cent as a form of celebration. Surprisingly perhaps, treats bought as a form of mood repair were generally about half the value of treats bought for celebration, reinforcing the notion that retail therapy is constrained, not out of control. Moreover, according to the diaries, the retail therapy purchases were overwhelmingly beneficial, leading to mood boosts and no regrets or guilt, even when they were unplanned. Only one participant who'd made a retail therapy purchase said that she would return it, given the opportunity."
I better not show this study to my teenage daughters. They love retail therapy and I have never seen a hint of guilt from them... only the motivation to do more in the future!
The citation is: Atalay, A., and Meloy, M. (2011). Retail therapy: A strategic effort to improve mood. Psychology and Marketing, 28 (6), 638-659 DOI: 10.1002/mar.20404.