The Dark Side of Globalization and Consumption: How Similar Are Chinese and German Consumers Toward Their Proneness to Compulsive Buying?Journal of Asia-Pacific Business


Alexander Unger, Gerhard Raab
Business, Management and Accounting (all) / Business and International Management


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Journal of Asia-Pacific Business, 16:4–20, 2015

Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

ISSN: 1059-9231 print/1528-6940 online

DOI: 10.1080/10599231.2015.997624


The Dark Side of Globalization and

Consumption: How Similar Are Chinese and German Consumers Toward Their

Proneness to Compulsive Buying?


University of Applied Sciences, Ludwigshafen, Germany

One discussed cause for the emergence of conspicuous buying patterns is the spread of materialistic consumer culture. Assumed is the interaction of certain dispositional factors like lack of confidence or emotional deficiencies, with external factors like the predominating consumer culture. This study compares the threshold state China and Germany; both countries are strongly different in their cultural backgrounds. Nonetheless, the authors hypothesized a relatively high level of compulsive buying among consumers as well as a higher percentage of compulsive buyers among women in both countries. Both assumptions were largely confirmed, demonstrating the relevance of compulsive buying as a global problem.

KEYWORDS compulsive buying, compensatory buying, impulsive buying, China, Germany, globalization, consumer culture, consumer behavior

Address correspondence to Dr. Gerhard Raab, Ludwigshafen University of Applied

Sciences, Ernst-Boehe-Str. 4, 67059 Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany. E-mail:

Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at 4

Compulsive Buying of Chinese and German Consumers 5



According to the American Psychiatric Association (2000), compulsiveness is defined as a repeated behavior, driven by irresistible compulsions, which is harmful for the concerned person. Hatterer (1980) as well as Scherhorn,

Reisch, and Raab (1990) underlined the existence of behavioral compulsive consumption patterns that are substance independent like compulsive gambling or compulsive working and even compulsive buying. The classification as impulse control disorder is called into question by several authors (Christenson et al., 1994; Hollander & Allen, 2006; McElroy, Keck,

Pope, Smith, & Strakowski, 1994; Ridgway, Kukar-Kinney, & Monroe, 2008).

Those who agree with the current classification argue that all types of non-substance-related behavioral addictions, even pathological gambling or addictive Internet usage, weaken the concept of addiction that therefore should remain reserved to substance-related addictions like dependences on alcohol or other drugs (Holden, 2001).

Many consumers enjoy shopping without being compulsive buyers, but sometimes this system of self-gratification by enjoying the process of buying itself can turn into a pathological pattern of shopping (O’Guinn & Faber, 1989). Probably, the insidious aspect of compulsive buying is the creeping changeover from frequent but unproblematic buying to pathological and conspicuous patterns of buying. Consider also that compensatory buying is regarded as a form of enhanced buying frequency that is not yet compulsive but could become so (Friese, 2009). Compensatory buyers use buying for emotional regulation as do compulsive buyers, but they could refrain from doing so if, for example, their financial resources decreased due to economic crises, unemployment, or necessities to spend money for unexpected reasons. To pursue the triggers of compulsive buying, first it is useful to question what motivates compulsive buyers. It is assumed that they are in search of acceptance, appreciation, and confirmation. Presumably they intend to compensate or numb aversive feelings like inner emptiness by continuously buying products that are often not useful or overstep the budget of the concerned consumers (Koran et al., 2006).

Especially women can be affected by the phenomenon, but regarding this point there remain open questions. Some authors are not convinced of the higher vulnerability of women for extensive shopping patterns. Although it is clear that men can be affected by compulsive buying, many studies observed higher percentage rates among women compared to men (Black, 2007; Dittmar, 2005b; Koran et al., 2006; Manolis & Roberts, 2008; Ridgway et al., 2008; Scherhorn et al., 1990). One of the open questions is whether these higher rates evolve because of different response styles, due to higher willingness of women to admit being compulsive buyers, or if women indeed show higher rates of compulsive buying. Although both genders can be 6 A. Unger and G. Raab affected by compulsive buying, men and women show different interests in the types of products which were bought (Black, 2001; Christenson et al., 1994; Scherhorn et al., 1990). Maybe the different rates result from dissimilar products bought by men and women: technical equipment, music tools or automobiles bought extensively more by men were perceived as part of hobbies, sport activities or life-style, so they are seen as functional, thus justifying buying them. Additionally, men could be even better in ignoring the fact that buying itself could fulfill some functions concerning the regulation of emotions. Some authors argue that men often develop other addictions like compulsive gambling, or getting more involved with alcohol drinking or cigarette smoking which could be seen as more conforming to masculine self-perception than shopping.

Due to the high acceptance of extensive shopping in society, it is difficult to sensitize the public to the problem (Dittmar, 2005a; Kukar-Kinney,

Ridgway, & Monroe, 2012). Shopping is one important pillar of economy (Woodruffe-Burton, Eccles, & Elliott, 2002), and that’s why it is not easy to discuss critical sides of shopping. Furthermore, compulsive buying is often a relatively unspectacular phenomenon and consequently hard to detect for others as well as hard to name for the concerned persons themselves.

In the latter case, psychological self-defense mechanisms, like reduction of cognitive dissonance or biased self-perception, could play an essential role.