With the constant pressure and stress from online learning and the Covid-19 pandemic, many look for different ways to overcome isolation by finding happiness in other aspects of life. Around the world, people have experienced a diverse range of emotions and responses with the rapid spread of Covid-19 cases and many countries going under lockdown. Some face emotional turmoil and isolation during this time, but many businesses have thrived over consumers’ need to fill new voids in their lives. Moreover, online businesses have flourished during these stressful times, bringing momentary joy, “happiness,” and relief to many consumers.
The concept of retail therapy is not foreign to those wishing to be rid of the responsibilities and consistent pressures present in their daily lives—even if their participation in consumerism yields a momentary sense of relief. In March, the onset of quarantine disrupted the regular routine of school or work of many. While many found different hobbies or interests to fill their spare time, it soon became evident that one of the primary responses to the pandemic was a surge in online shopping. This provided many with something to look forward to during the weeks in isolation.
Although retail therapy can be favourable in providing comfort and motivation, it also opens the discussion of consumerism. Material goods consumption plays a prominent role in conversations related to pandemic and societal pressures. However, it is crucial first to understand the sociology of consumption.
The most significant factor affecting a rise to diverse marketing strategies and consumerism is the social malaise that numerous consumers wish to diminish, often without identifying the deep-rooted issue at hand. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, social media has become a powerful influencer on one’s character and lifestyle choices. Many social media influencers promote unrealistic lifestyles and beauty standards that focus on the materialistic aspects of life. Materialism is a value system correlated to the ideology that consumers are focussed on attaining the wealthiest and highest social status, essentially trying to fit the glorified images projected on social media platforms.
Social malaise is dependent on an individual’s response to their problems. Different people fight different battles, and while some obstacles may seem negligible to one person, it may be significant to another. Feelings of worthlessness and helplessness can be quickly subdued by the consumption of goods that are demonstrative of a higher social class or status. However, the truth is that these materialistic things flourish in insecurities and often continue the cycle of self-doubt. Through marketing techniques, a merchandiser works to convince consumers that their product aids the journey to achieving happiness.
Psychologists have conducted research that suggests individuals with a high consumer-cue condition average, meaning various cues easily influence their consumer behaviour, have significantly higher levels of depression and anxiety, directly correlated to self-dissatisfaction. After being in isolation for months, many have come to learn more about themselves, leading to a new-found focus on self-growth. However, this is not a straight or simple path. With the rise of social media apps, such as TikTok and Instagram, it can be argued that it is part of human nature to compare oneself to others. This, among other societal frameworks, has a significant effect on one’s confidence, physical health, and mental well-being.
Although this may not be directly visible, many different moral implications are embedded in the concept of marketing and the consumption of goods. More developed and modernized countries tend to revolve around the idea of building the most stable economy. Large corporations promote the ideology of extreme consumerism as they thrive off material goods consumption. Companies dedicate large amounts of money for marketing strategies that build from insecurities embedded in consumers’ minds. These strategies fluctuate depending on the products advertised, but the general scheme is always the same: to convince the consumer that their life will only improve by purchasing the product.
Social media influencers are direct targets of these marketing strategists due to their broad-reaching platforms. Negative moral implications are embedded in marketing, especially considering that many influencers support and advertise products they do not use themselves. However, since many are idolized and glorified in the eyes of society, their minimal support to a brand can result in a skyrocket of profits.
There are various perspectives on the sociology behind the consumption of material goods. The general agreement is that retail therapy is an unreliable concept followed by vulnerable groups being manipulated into making impulsive purchases. Additionally, material goods do not necessarily mean long-term happiness. The short-term happiness that marketing strategies highlight is one that many are merely content with—especially during times of hardship, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic. But does the number of goods you own really make you happy in the long run?