Charity calls on retail and finance bosses to launch new controls for impulse shoppers with mental health problems

Bosses to introduce ‘personalised controls’

In an open letter today the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute calls on 32 online retail and finance industry bosses to introduce ‘personalised controls’ to better support millions of impulse shoppers with mental health problems.

Increased spending affects 93 per cent of people with mental health problems during periods of poor mental health, whether that’s compulsive spending during the manic ‘high’ that comes with bipolar disorder, comfort spending to boost low mood in a period of depression or ‘social value spending’ - for example buying excessive gifts to make up for a lack of self-worth.

Recent figures from nationally representative polling showed that people with mental health problems are twice as likely to say they ‘always or often’ regret online purchases and twice as likely to make purchases they regret at night than people without mental health problems.

Today the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute publishes the results of a successful pilot of ‘the Shopper Stopper’, a tool designed to help, built with technology partner, Plexus.

The Shopper Stopper is a browser plugin that allows users to set the opening hours of online shops. When the user tries to access a shopping site outside of these hours the web page is blocked, and the user sees a message to remind themselves why they set it up, suggestions for other things to do instead of shopping and signposting to support with finances and mental health.

The charity found that, in 85 per cent of cases where a user came up against the block screen, they navigated away from the shopping site - showing that it was effective at preventing spending. More than a quarter of users (26 per cent) clicked through to money advice from the block page in the first two months of the trial.

Nearly half of the 12m consumers with mental health problems in the UK say they would like to set controls like spending limits in online shops to limit their risk of financial harm. As the pilot closes, the charity warns retail and finance bosses against profiting from this harm and calls on them to introduce these sorts of controls to their own services, including:

  • Time-specific blocking of transactions - for example, turning off a card or website at night when a consumer identifies they may be more likely to impulse shop
  • Time delays or second authorisation to process transactions - for example, asking a customer to approve night-time shopping in the morning
  • Spending limits for set time periods - for example, setting a daily or weekly spending cap , so customers can shop without causing financial difficulty.

Commenting, Simon Crine, Interim Director of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said: “Impulse shopping isn’t just a harmless bit of fun. For many people with mental health problems it can be the path to financial ruin. Impulse shopping is the next problem gambling - it’s a growing issue, and one that people want to be able to protect themselves from.

“So rather than targeting their adverts at vulnerable consumers, or turning a blind eye and taking the profits, I’m calling on leaders across retail and financial services to step up and take responsibility. People with mental health problems aren’t getting into financial difficulty because they’re greedy, or lazy, it’s because they’re unwell - and it’s time we took it seriously.”

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