Chronic Returners May Be 'Bulimic' Spenders

ByABC News via logo
January 7, 2006, 8:48 AM

Jan. 7, 2006 — -- There are an estimated 15 million shopaholics in America and many of them are chronic returners. Some are driven to return the things they just bought because the feel guilty, or some make the purchase for the high and never really intend to keep the items.

Some compare it to the eating disorder bulimia -- also characterized by binging and purging.

Many consider it a harmless habit, but a woman who asked to remain anonymous said she spends 20 hours a week returning items. Shopping once cost her home and 401K fund. Returning is her way of fulfilling the emotional need to spend.

"One hundred percent of the time I have regret, remorse, guilt," she said. "It can make me physically ill."

It's been estimated that one in 20 Americans struggle with compulsive shopping and 70 percent of Americans visit the mall once a week.

Dr. April Lane Benson, a psychologist who authored "I Shop, Therefore I Am," said serial returning is a well-kept secret because it carries so much embarrassment and shame.

It's "something people don't tend to talk about because the person who is the compulsive returner is often very perfectionistic and feels that they should be more in control," said Benson, a psychologist who specializes in treating compulsive shoppers.

Benson said dopamine levels rise during the anticipation of the buy and then crash afterward.

It has been estimated that retailers lose billions of dollars a year to bad returns.

To avoid the problem, Mauro Farinelli, the co-owner of the Denim Bar in Arlington, Va., has a seven-day return policy.

"You understand how much the item costs, and it looks really good on you which brings you happiness, so there should be no reason why you would want to return," he said.

"If you have shopping bags lining your hallway and your car trunk is a revolving door, you may have a problem," Benson said.

She added that people with "bulimic spending" may send others to return their items because they are ashamed and embarrassed.

Benson said people should ask themselves a few questions before they buy: Where am I? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay? Where will I put it?

"Those questions slow you down so that you really begin to think about what you're doing and what are the consequences," she said.