New research published in Psychological Reports explored the relationship between materialism and flow states when shopping. The results revealed that if individuals are materialistic, it will reduce their flow state when shopping. This suggests that materialism may limit flow states even when engaging in something that supports the materialistic personality.
These findings suggest retailers should make efforts to decrease feelings of materialism when people shop and increase environmental cues that may encourage a flow state.
Consumer psychologists and consumer researchers alike have long recognized shopping as an activity that may facilitate flow experiences. “Flow” is a state of total absorption in a task; there is total focus on the task and the feeling that time is suspended. Flow experiences when shopping are associated with positive outcomes for retailers, such as increasing intentions to return, spending longer time in the store, and making more purchases.
Researchers have previously studied factors that contribute to flow experiences within retail environments and found that perceived ease-of-use of e-stores, credibility, and interactivity were all integral parts of experiencing flow; furthermore, the type of shopping being performed and shoppers’ focus on specific tasks can have an effect as well. But there has yet to be research focusing on individual differences that might alter this experience.
Materialism is one such factor. It can be defined as individual differences among endorsement of values and goals centered around material possessions to express status, such as money. Materialism may also be seen as either an ideal, goal, or personality trait. This study measured materialism using Aspiration Index to assess any correlations between materialistic goals and shopping flow states.
These authors of the new research argue that people pursuing extrinsic goals, like materialistic ones, may experience less flow. Furthermore, materialistic people could find intrinsic motivation from activities aligned with their goals, like shopping. Finally, materialistic goals could even have positive outcomes on shopping experiences through conspicuous consumption.
In order to explore the relationship between materialistic goal orientation, flow, shopping, and consumer behavior, the research team developed two studies. The first was a cross-sectional investigation to discover whether those with higher materialistic goal orientation experienced more or less flow while shopping. In the second study, materialistic goals were intentionally primed to become more prominent to investigate causal relationships with flow experiences.
The findings of study one indicate that when individuals were discovered to be more materialistic, they were less likely to experience flow when shopping. Study two found that when materialistic goals were reinforced, individuals experienced less flow when shopping, indicating that materialistic pursuits may limit enjoyment and satisfaction associated with a flow state.
The research team does identify some limitations of their work. For example, this experiment took place online, which may have limited how closely shopping activities aligned to materialistic goals; future research should explore how various environments impact flow experience.
These findings cast doubt on assumptions that materialism inhibits flow due to a lack of interest, liking, or goal alignment with activities conducive to it. Instead, materialistic goals seem to be responsible for most reductions of flow across activity types. Because shopping in flow was found to produce positive commercial outcomes, marketers should therefore avoid promoting materialistic objectives in shopping contexts in order to increase flow.
The study “Flow experiences in shopping activities: Testing materialistic goal orientation as an antecedent“, was authored by Amy Isham and Tim Jackson.