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How you can avoid the lure of online shopping

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information purposes only and do not constitute as first direct offering financial advice. Specialist advice should be taken in relation to specific circumstances. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of first direct.

Even without lockdown, our heads are in our screens more than ever. In this article, we find out how we can stop splurging while we’re scrolling.

Alex is a journalist and author, who writes for The Guardian, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery29 and Elle among others. Her book, Open Up - Why Talking About Money Will Change Your Life, helped people start open conversations about their finances. Here’s what she had to say, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 

Time to read: 4 minutes

With laptops, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches and smart TVs, we’re more connected than ever before. And with online shopping become more of a normality, we could be susceptible to buying things we can’t afford. So, how do we control our online shopping urges?

When non-essential shops were shut in lockdown, it didn’t stop us shopping. Many of us made a new online purchase they we’d previously only made in-store. So, how do the big stores still have us filling baskets even when we’re sat on our sofas?

The thing that reels me in are discount emails hitting my inbox. One moment I’ll be emailing a colleague and the next I’m debating whether to get a dress in leopard print or black. Often you can go from opening up the email to purchasing in about 5 clicks.

It’s not just emails that make me want to buy things, I’m triggered by Instagram squares, by Facebook ads and even by a girl standing in the queue for the supermarket wearing a particularly fetching floral facemask.

Companies and big business know that with our screen time going up and up, we’re easy targets to buy things we haven’t budgeted for and neither need nor want. The way we pay doesn’t help either; the effortless, frictionless nature of transactions like Paypal or one-click checkouts means we don’t really have to engage in what we’re doing; we can spend money before we’ve had time to think about the consequences. So how can we stay in control of our spending and beat those shopping triggers and not become advert bait?

Don’t let adverts stalk you

You’re scrolling through the news or going deep on an ex’s Twitter feed and you keep seeing those dumbbells you looked at yesterday. It’s not a sign that you need to buy them, no it’s a sign you need to delete your cookies. Go to your Internet history and where it says ‘cookies and other site data’ click the box to ‘clear data’, don’t let them get you!

You’re smarter than an algorithm

Although those algorithms are clever. Suddenly in between a meme about wine and photos of a socially-distant BBQ, a pair of jeans that I thought only existed in my head appear before my very eyes. ‘How do they know?!’ I ask my screen. Answer, because I am as predictable as every other 36-year-old woman who likes posts about Fleabag and signs anti-plastic petitions. So next time you see the perfect item of clothing in your feed, you know – it’s not heaven sent to you, it’s the result of an algorithm, proof we can all be categorised. Just knowing that makes me not want to buy them.

Instagram is a shop not just a social platform

Everything looks better on Instagram: cars, plants, home gyms. Instagram has the semblance of being real so we’re much more likely to fall for a well art directed shot than elsewhere.  You can easily find yourself making that impulsive purchase and don’t the companies paying for those ‘sponsored posts’ know it. It’s easy for an influencer to sneak in a cleverly disguised #ad post. Try counting the number of posts in your feed before #ad, it may shock you to realise just how much of your feed is actually adverts. And with millions of ads served in a single month alone, try to notice what makes you press ‘shop now’ or which influencers have you clicking through to online shops – and once you’ve spotted your Instagram triggers, the answer is simple: block, unfollow, mute advert.

Beware the emails

I'd always rather open an email that promises to show me 'video chic headwear' than an email from my accountant or a colleague. Which is why when they land in my inbox, they mean I can end up shopping just because I’m putting off replying to a work email. The subject line is always clever, on the hottest day of the year they’ll send an email with the subject 'From Baleric to Baltic, five desk fans to keep you cool'. They’ll title another email 'The ten classics everybody should have in their wardrobe', only the clothes they are selling are not ten classics, they are a collection of ten items they need to shift quick. Next time you’re asked to sign up to a newsletter to get 10% off your next purchase, take the initial discount, but then unsubscribe. 

Don’t shop while you’re down, bored, anxious, stressed…

A shopping hangover is a very real thing, but there is a way to avoid that queasy feeling of guilt the day after a haphazard moment in an online shop. Just as you shouldn’t do a food shop when you’re hungry (makes you far too susceptible to that cookie scent they pump out of the doors), don’t start filling a basket online because you’re angry or feeling down about work.

And if you do buy something you probably could have done without, don’t beat yourself up. Multi billion pound companies are selling to us all the time, we just have to start watching out for those triggers and learn from our past mistakes. That and install an ad-block.

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