This One Weird Trick Will Help You Control Your Online Spending—Here’s How

Struggling to keep a lid on your online shopping bill? This scientifically proven trick could help you succeed.

Control-Your-Online-Spending-With-This-One-Weird-Trick_163502138-LDprodLDprod/shutterstockLove it or hate it, online shopping is here to stay—just keep in mind that there are some things you should never consider buying online. Still, 96 percent of Americans have bought something online at least once, and 80 percent have made an online purchase in the last month.  In 2015, Walmart’s online site netted the company a cool $13.7 billion in sales, with Costo online shopping valued at $3.4 billion. Ready to stop feeding the beast? New research suggests that limiting your online shopping to certain types of devices will help you avoid impulsive spending.

A new study published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services revealed that using a touchscreen rather than a PC can increase the likelihood of us buying something. Assistant Professor Ying Zhu, PhD, worked with colleagues to analyze thinking styles and purchase intentions of groups of students, comparing touchscreen devices with desktop computers. “With more than two billion smartphone users, the use of tactile technologies for online shopping alone is set to represent nearly half of all e-commerce by next year,” Dr. Zhu told Science Daily. But little research has been done into how this affects our decisions.

The team asked students to make two kinds of purchases: Hedonic (i.e. pleasurable choices such as chocolates or massages), and more practical options such as bread or printers. They noticed a difference between the buying behaviors. Those who used a touchscreen device to buy the indulgent options were more likely to make a purchase. But using a desktop resulted in more purchases of practical items.

The researchers believe this is because of the “feel” of the devices we use—a smartphone or tablet touchscreen—seems more carefree. “The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers’ favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers’ preference for utilitarian products,” said Dr. Zhu.

The team also found that those using touchscreen devices showed increased experiential thinking (learning through experience), while those using desktops did better in logical thinking processes.

Of course, the fact that a smartphone or tablet can be slipped into a pocket or purse, making it readily available, is bound to affect the ease with which we can shop. In fact, increasing numbers of people consider their smartphone to be an essential tool for daily living. But used wrongly, smartphones can adversely affect your sleep, and your mental health—to the extent that nomophobia (fear of being without a cell phone), is now an officially recognized mental condition, especially among students.

While there are many ways to control your online spending, Dr. Zhu has a practical take: “My advice for consumers who want to save a bit of money is to put away the smartphone when you have urge to spend on a guilty pleasure,” she says.

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