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Splurging Leads to Panic Buying Sprees, Says Shopping Researchers

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What's the harm in treating yourself to a little something fabulous this holiday season? A lot, in fact, if researchers at Boston College are to be believed. According to professors at BC, splurging on one out-of-the-ordinary item can trigger an avalanche of purchasing—a panic-buying spree. "You might end up buying things to match this for God knows how long," Henrik Hagtvedt, a professor of marketing, told Discovery magazine. "It could lead to a virtually never-ending process of just buying more."

To test this seemingly common experience, Hagtvedt and colleague Vanessa Patrick, of the University of Houston, began by giving a pendant and $5 to 56 women, presumably as a welcome gift before the start of some other kind of experiment. The women were told that they could exchange the pendant for another $5. Or they could exchange the money for a pair of earrings that matched the pendant.
What they chose to do depended on what their gift looked like, Hagtvedt and Patrick reported in the Journal of Marketing Research. Among a group of women who were given a plain, translucent orange pendant, 86 percent chose to return it for money, while 14 percent bought the earrings. When given a more unique and colorful striped pendant, on the other hand, just 14 percent sold it back, and 57 percent went for the matching jewelry.

In a similar experiment, participants were shown pictures of either a plain and boxy red armchair or a version with curved edges, unusual angles and other provoking design elements. They also saw an ordinary living room that would suit the plain chair but would make the more stylish chair look out of place.

After imagining that they had bought the chair and were going to put it in the living room, more than 60 percent of people who had seen the high-design chair said they'd buy more furniture to match it, while about 25 percent would return it. Among those who had seen the plain chair, though, less than 20 percent said they would buy more stuff, and more than 60 percent would return it.

Obviously, this doesn't mean you shouldn't treat yourself once in a while. "If buying a nice scarf makes your coat feel old and ratty, that might be a reason to not buy a nice scarf," said Mark Bergen, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. "But sometimes I wonder if it doesn't mean it's time to buy a new coat."
· How a single splurge spawns a shopping spree [Discovery]