Friday, October 3, 2014

Dopamine - the real shopping superpower

Shopping is enjoyable consumption


When consumption is enjoyable leisure time activity we call it shopping. Many people find shopping very entertaining (ex. Hirschman & Holbrook (1982)[i], Mäki & Boedeker (1997)[ii]), Boedeker (1995)[iii], Boedeker (1997)[iv]).Shopping is one way to manage mood. There are several sources providing pleasure from shopping: we solve problem (buy items we need), we buy opportunities, identity claims and ways to improve our image in the eyes of peers. Even though shopping may be fun itself, a nice pass of time, we also get biological pleasure from shopping. When we shop, our brains produce a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel good.

How dopamine makes us buy


Our brains produce dopamine when we expect a reward (Schultz (2000)[v]). When we see nice products, we imagine ourselves having and using those products. We imagine how our lives will be better with the products. This makes us feel so good, that we nearly automatically wander towards the register (unless a budget limit or reason intervenes). Since dopamine is related to anticipation of a rewarding experience, it may explain why people derive pleasure from window shopping (Parker-Pope (2005)[vi]). We learn to expect dopamine rush in certain situations. When we see, hear or smell possible reward related things the dopamine level goes up. Dopamine is a natural part of human reward system, by doses of dopamine, we learn what is good for us. Expected reward of shopping may be self-appraisal, social, status or just plain dopamine dose. Buying makes us happy – at least in the short run. Dopamine provides very short pleasure; as soon as we step out of the shop it starts vanishing from our brains.

Dopamine is addictive


Dopamine is highly addictive and it makes us potentially addicted to shopping. Our brains remember how good it felt last time we did some serious shopping. When dopamine levels are high, people act more impulsively than when they are low (Pine et al. (2010)[vii]). Dopamine  rush is a hindrance for rational thinking. Since we start to experience dopamine already at the planning stage, and it causes impulsivity it is hard to resist. The figure below illustrates.



This impulsive behavior in connection with the dopamine’s relation to anticipated rewards explains many addictions (Pine et al. (2010)[viii]). A compulsive buying disorder is an uncontrollable obsession when a person shops or thinks about shopping all the time. Buying expensive products and using a lot of time in shopping has unfavorable financial and social consequences. The serious compulsive buyer buys things that she/he does not even think he would need.

 7 ways to improve your marketing with dopamine

  1. Marketing can be used to strengthen the image of expected reward. We should try to get the consumer image how their lives will be improved by the product.
  2. Scent marketing is based on dopamine. When we experience good scents, our brains produce dopamine, we feel good and we are eager to shop.
  3. Using riddles in marketing is a nice way to add dopamine in your customers lives. When they solve the puzzle, they get the reward in form of dopamine rush and they feel good.
  4. Cute pictures produce dopamine. We like to see pictures of babies and kittens. The enjoyment of everything cute gets positively associated with the product.
  5. Small pleasant surprises add dopamine to our lives. Marketing that repeat a pattern and then breaks is is a good example. See more.
  6. Gamification is a good way to add dopamine, since games reward people. When we play, learn and succeed we get rewarded. This is why so many marketers are adding games to their campaigns.
  7. Sweepstakes get people imagining all the nice things they could do if they won the prize. In the spirit of pleasant expectation they participate in the lottery and might buy the product also.

When I gathered the list I used some ideas from following blog posts : 

How dopamine affects your shopping behavior


From consumer’s point of view, it might be a good thing to recognize how dopamine affects behavior. If you wonder or regret your shopping afterwards, the knowledge of dopamine might help you, to make better decision in the future. For example the site ”The DopamineProject – Better living through dopamine awareness” is dedicated to raise the awareness of dopamine. Even though dopamine is an uncontrollable biological reaction, we can try to control our behavior. I feel that, I have been able to reduce somewhat my own vanity shopping. But sometimes it is just so nice to buy something ,small (or big), very unnecessary…




[i] Hirschman, Elizabeth C. &  Holbrook, Morris B. (1982): “Hedonic Consumption: Emerging Concepts, Methods and Propositions”, The Journal of Marketing, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Summer, 1982), pp. 92-101

[ii] Mäki, Katja & Boedeker, Mika (1997): ”Kulutus – arkista aherrusta vai iloista irrottelua?”, Publications of Turku School of Economics and Business Administration, Series Discussion and Working papers 4:1997

[iii] Boedeker, Mika (1995): ”Optimaalinen stimulaatiotaso shoppailemalla?”, Publications of turku school of Economics and Business Administration, series Discussion Papers and Working Papers 6:1995

[iv] Boedeker, Mika (1997): ”Recreational Shopping: The Role of the Basic Emotional Dimensions of Personality”, Publications of turku school of Economics and Business Administration, series A-9: 1997 (väitöskirja)

[v] Schultz, Wolfram (2000): “Multiple reward signals in the brain”, Nature Reviews Neuroscience Dec2000, Vol. 1 Issue 3, p199-207

[vi] Parker-Pope, Tara (2005): “This Is Your Brain at the Mall: Why Shopping Makes You Feel So Good”, Wall Street Journal - Eastern Edition 12/6/2005, Vol. 246 Issue 122, pD1-D1

[vii] Pine, Alex & Shiner, Tamara Shiner & Seymour, Ben & Dolan, Raymond J. (2010): “Dopamine, Time, and Impulsivity in Humans”, The Journal of Neuroscience, 30 June 2010, 30(26): 8888-8896;

[viii] Pine, Alex & Shiner, Tamara Shiner & Seymour, Ben & Dolan, Raymond J. (2010): “Dopamine, Time, and Impulsivity in Humans”, The Journal of Neuroscience, 30 June 2010, 30(26): 8888-8896;

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