UBC researchers want to help people who struggle with shopping addiction



Meet Sarah.

She is fashionably dressed and has shopping bags lined up in front of her computer, where she will film a video to show off her latest shopping haul.

To her online viewers, Sarah is glamorous and her purchases are the envy of many. Sarah loves shopping; she feels a rush of excitement after hunting for the perfect item and stumbling on an amazing deal.

What Sarah’s viewers don’t see on screen is that she is facing financial ruin, her marriage is at a breaking point, and the crushing regret that almost always follows a buying spree. Sarah struggles with compulsive buying (also known as shopping addiction).


UBC researchers from the Centre for Collaborative Research on Hoarding are currently recruiting participants for the Why do we buy? Understanding Acquiring Study.

May Luu, a PhD Candidate working with Dr. Sheila Woody in UBC’s Psychology department, revealed her goals and the purpose of this research.

Why do some people buy too much stuff?

We know why people buy stuff, but we do not know why people buy too much stuff.

Most people buy stuff for many reasons. Browsing and filling your cart with your favourite stuff can be a fun activity. Stuff can also be a way to impress others, entertain yourself, and be reminders of important times of your life. What we don’t know is how someone can go from an average person who enjoys shopping to Sarah’s situation (shopping addiction), where overbuying has put her in extreme debt and her close relationships may never recover.

What is the motivation for this study?

Research and clinical treatment for this problem are lagging – we need to change that.

Most people only see the positive part of buying and miss that behind Sarah’s façade, she is suffering. Right now, compulsive buying/shopping addiction is not recognized as an official mental health diagnosis and little research has been done to develop evidence-based treatments for this problem. Even if Sarah wanted to get help, very few clinicians are trained to treat compulsive buying. If she does find someone who can help, waitlists are long and the success of treatment is modest, at best.

What can people expect if they are interested in participating in this research?

You can participate in this study and be part of the solution.

Do your buying habits cause big problems in your life?

The study involves completing a 15-minute phone call and an online survey that takes around 1 hour.

To participate in this study, please email hoarding@psych.ubc.ca about your interest.

“This study will help us learn more about why people buy too much, with the goal of helping shopaholics take back control and live life to the fullest.”
PhD Candidate, UBC Psychology