Shopaholism – Analysed

July 1, 2011 Off By Fried Guest


Jayaprakashan Ambali

Consumerism is taking roots in India, spurred by the new shopping malls and fuelled by the high disposable incomes of an increasing number of young Indians. Shopaholism, retail therapy, shop till you drop etc. are the popular terms for this emerging consumer tendency to buy more than their wants, let alone their needs. Scientific term for this compulsive behaviour is Oniomania, increasingly being recognised as a mental disorder by the medical fraternity; no doubt ignored by the retailers.

Etymologists say that the word originates from the Greek “Xianos” meaning “for sale” and “Onos” meaning price in Latin. The psychologists overworked with characterisations of all kinds of afflictions affecting the post industrial society do not have much funding for work on Oniomania; retail and manufacturing giants the world ever are not supporters of this line of research. Who would want to cure a disease that fills their coffers?

In the good old days people bought what they needed, that was in agrarian age. In the industrial age people bought what they wanted. Now even the wants have been satiated. In the post industrial society, people are on a buying spree for the sheer excitement of the buying itself and the associated thrill of bargain hunting.  Yes, that is what it is, man has returned to his evolutionary roots, to a pre-agrarian age of hunters. Humans are finally in touch with their primordial instincts for hunting, the fountain springs of Serotonin that makes them feel good.

The “Sale” signs in shopping malls wake up the hunting spirit deep inside modern men, same as what an overweight wild boar did to our forefathers. The only difference is that the final kill is performed not with a spear or a club, but with a piece of plastic at the check out counters. A kill is a kill, what ever the weapon used. The hazards of the chase through the shopping aisles are no different from that through the impassable thickets. Carrying the kill after the hunt is a lot easier, if only the shopping trolleys would cooperate, and go in the direction we want them to.

Religions are very old and they are supposed to guide us to the eternal spirituality, the foundations of human existence. Clearly that sacred path to spirituality has to cross the valleys of primal instincts and that is why all the major sales in every society coincide with religious festivals. Crowds thronging the Christmas, Eid and Diwali ‘Sales’ are only stoking up the hunting instincts on the path of nirvana. Oniomaniacs, stripped of the trappings of civilisation and its pretensions, but true to their natural instincts, are closer to the nirvana than others who flock to the temples of worship.

At last we have the retail marketers taking us to the heavens, religion has become the most potent sales pitch for them. Religion is not the opiate of the masses; it is the Viagra for the marketers. Marxism is dead, and rightly so.

As in all hunting, knowledge about the prey is crucial to success, and bargain hunting is no different. These are some useful tips, a sort of ground rules, in the hunt for best bargains in the jungle of malls. Avoid simple “Sale’s”, even when they plastered all over the shop windows. ‘Super Sales’ are always better, and one should never leave a ‘Mega Sale’ without a stab with the plastic weapon on the bargains.

‘Moving Sales’, one should never miss; it is like chasing a lion to its den for the final kill. First, attack at the ‘Moving Sale’, find out where the shop is moving to, and there will always be an ‘Opening Sale’ at the new location, the place to make the final kill on the bargains. One can thoroughly enjoy this, chasing the prey all around the city to its new den, even when one might end up with the most useless item, third kitchen scale.

‘Closing Down’ sales are very tricky, one should avoid them. There is not much excitement in this hunt; it is like hunting a sick, old and wounded animal. I once bought my third pair of spectacles at a ‘Closing Down’ sale, and even after one month the shop did not close down. I took the matter to the Consumer Affairs Court in Bangalore as a case of false advertising with no success. The shopkeeper testified that he ‘closed down’ the shop at the end of each day’s trading and that is all what he meant by the sign “Closing down Sale”. It is a retail jungle out there, there are chameleons and phantoms.

‘Stock Take Sales’ have no rhyme or reason. When one has hired staff to count and check every stock item, why should one have a ‘Sale’, unless the damaged or life expired items are on ‘Sale’? Old stock, non-moving items would be out of fashion any how and no adrenalin will rush for this hunt. They are complete turn off on Serotonin, and no oniomaniac will be found dead in that type of sale.

Only once have I seen an ‘April Fools Day Sale’. Naturally the prices were higher than normal. There is no hunting here; you are being hunted by the shop keeper. Avoid these sales; they are quick sands for oniomaniacs.

Like any hunter one has to be in tune with nature, in harmony with the seasons. Our forefathers knew that changing seasons confused the prey, good time to hunt. Never buy at ‘Winter Sales’ for example, always buy at the ‘End of Winter Sale’, that is when the hunting is at its best, buy some al-paca jumpers, closest to hunting the real ones on the slopes in Argentina.

Animal liberationists are the sworn enemies of oniomaniacs. Hunting for crocodile leather and tiger skins have always brought man to his primal instincts; now it has to be satisfied by bargain hunting for animal fur and skin products in the jungles of malls. Thanks to these opponents of animal hunting, oniomaniacs are the only ones who can come any where near to a real hunt.

Of late, I am very confused, in Kerala. They have started “Grand Kerala Shopping Festival (GKSF)” to promote shopping, as though to replace the traditional shopping linked to Onam, Vishu, Christmas and other religion linked festivals.  Is it possible that a new religion is being created for the oniomaniacs with shopping god on the altar? That god of shopping can really own the country, The Gods Own Country, Kerala.

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