Personality traits are one of the main sources of people’s decisions and can help to predict behaviour in particular situations. For years, brands and businesses have been using the Big Five personality traits to understand consumer behaviour. The relationship between personality traits and shopping behaviour is important as it has also led to research linking personality types and shopping addiction.

Whilst it is not completely understood why some people suffer from shopping addictions such as compulsive buying, their personality can provide an insight.

The Big Five personality traits

The Big Five personality traits are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Those who achieve a high score in the openness trait tend to be creative and open to new experiences and ideas. A consumer with a high openness score often places more importance on reliability than style.

Conscientious people tend to be planners who prefer a structured approach to life. As consumers, they tend to have strict money management.

Extroverts draw their energy from being around other people and, as a consumer, extroverts are “driven by motives such as socialising and meeting people”.

People with a high agreeableness score have empathy and compassion. These consumers are “attracted to social innovation and environmental concerns” and are not interested in prestige or status.

People with high scores of neuroticism can be awkward, pessimistic, jealous and lack confidence. They tend to be compulsive buyers and susceptible to copying mass behaviour.

What is compulsive buying and which personality traits are associated with it?

Research has linked neuroticism and extroversion to compulsive buying. The conscientiousness personality trait showed a negative relationship with compulsive buying - it might actually help to protect consumers from shopping addiction.

There are various suggested diagnostic criteria for compulsive shopping which include: “being preoccupied with buying, intrusive impulses to buy, spending more than can be afforded, often on items not needed and useless, with a result of distress and interference in social, financial, occupational functioning”. ​​Compulsive shopping also refers to having an uncontrollable shopping motivation. Often those who suffer from compulsive shopping invest so much time and effort into shopping that it impairs other areas of their life.

Consequences of compulsive shopping include financial problems, shame and embarrassment, guilt or remorse, and also problems such as marital conflict, work problems and academic troubles.

Compulsive buying is not recognised as a distinct behaviour addition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), however, the consequences and negative feelings associated with it can be detrimental to those who suffer from it.

Online shopping has grown in popularity amongst nearly all shoppers in recent years and is particularly attractive to people who suffer from shopping addictions. There are several reasons why online shopping is more attractive to compulsive shoppers. For example, compulsive shoppers are able to buy what they want without being seen by others, they can avoid social interaction while shopping and are able to seek out a variety of products.

There are varying reports of how prevalent compulsive buying is, with some research suggesting between 2 to 8% of individuals could be affected, whilst other reports suggest up to 16% of individuals suffer from compulsive buying.

It is important to note that compulsive shopping is different to impulsive shopping. Impulsive shopping tends to be largely unplanned and happens spontaneously to an external trigger. However, neuroticism also seems to be linked to impulsive buying.

Why are certain personality traits linked to shopping addiction/compulsive buying?

Most research has linked high levels of neuroticism with compulsive buying, so it is important to understand why this personality trait predisposes people to have a shopping addiction. A study that explored the impact personality traits have on online shopping behaviour explained that people who are more neurotic will seek psychological stimuli via price-bidding for merchandise to avoid negative emotional reactions.

Extroversion has also been linked to shopping addiction. Researchers believe this is because extroverted consumers have higher degrees of socialisation and are more willing to share their experiences with others. Extroverts are more willing to take suggestions from their peers into consideration when making purchases. Their high levels of socialisation enable their compulsive buying behaviour.

It is important to understand that shopping addictions are serious. With increased e-commerce usage and the rise of social commerce, it is becoming easier for those with shopping addictions to feed their addiction without others knowing.