IT IS THE SEASON of spending money, a lot of it. You just finished spending loads of money in Ramadan, primarily on food, and most probably you are spending more money for Eid, primarily on clothes and gifts. It is an annual pattern, and it may even reach the level of being a habit.
Let’s understand what is a habit first. Charles Duhigg, in his bestseller book ‘The Power of Habit’ wrote: “It is any activity that follows the same behavioral and neurological patterns,” and “It is the action that almost consumes no brain power, no thinking, no decision making, it is automatic.” Think about the action of brushing your teeth; you do not spend much of time holding the brush in your hand and thinking what to do next, it is automatic. Most probably you will be thinking about something else.
For most of us, shopping for Ramadan and Eid is a habit, once these two occasions come upon us, that’s what we think about. It does not matter if the house is full of food before Ramadan, we still get that urge to go out and buy food that we might not even consume during the whole month. The same goes for Eid, even if there are new clothes hanging in the closet, it is Eid, therefore it is the time for a new shopping spree.
Now let’s examine this shopping behavior a bit deeper. For any behavior to be called a habit, it should go through what Charles calls “the habit loop.” The loop starts with a signal, a trigger to incite the brain to engage in the habit. Then there is the behavior itself, the routine we call habit. And the last part of the loop is the reward, the prize that the brain would be thinking of before entering the loop again in the future.
If we apply this habit loop on our shopping behavior, we could see that the trigger in our case is the occasion itself, Ramadan or Eid. It is enough for a lot of people to say that Ramadan is tomorrow to see them running through supermarket aisles collecting food. A few days later, they will be hopping again from one shopping mall to another, looking for fashionable clothes and jewelry, for it is time to prepare for Eid.
The retail market is well aware of such habits and works on exploiting it to the maximum to increase its profits. Retailers implement their advertising machines to introduce more triggers to attract customers during these special seasons; it is sales before Ramadan, or new merchandise that is only displayed a few days before Eid.
The second part of the loop does not need proof for it is self-evident. Shopping malls are jam-packed with customers hungry to satisfy their urge to buy new stuff. Now the last part of the loop is the reward, which in our case has a combination of social and psychological elements. It all revolves around self-fulfillment that we have been able to buy new or glamorous products. We’ve acquired the latest in the market. And because we are in the habit, in the automatic mode, we do not realize that this last notion is not necessarily true. The products we just bought are not the latest in the market. Stores just kept them hidden for months so they could charge us premium for them in the height of the season. Then, a few days after Eid, the exact same goods are displayed at much lower prices! This is a classic example of businesses getting the best out of a habit they helped create. The other reward resulting from this habit is related to our social status. We like to reflect higher stature by showing off our purchases. We invite family and friends over for breaking the fast in Ramadan, so the table is lavishly prepared for twice the number of invitees. We like to show off our new designer thoubs, dresses, shoes and handbags on the first day of Eid.
This is the kind of power such habits have on our lives. It is not all good or bad, like anything else in life, it depends. Whilst we are encouraged to form positive habits, like healthy dieting and exercising, it is also recommended that we get rid of damaging ones like smoking, spending too much time online, or wasting money on unnecessary shopping.