FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mental health charity calls on retail and finance bosses to launch new controls for impulse shoppers with mental health problems
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% 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% 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%) clicked through to money advice from the block page in the first two months of the trial.
Nearly half of the 12 million 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.”
Janet, who used the Shopper Stopper said: “The Shopper Stopper helped me so much. It made me so acutely aware of my destructive spending and how shopping excessively at my most vulnerable times was linked to my emotions, my feelings of worthlessness and lack of power over my life… I have now more or less taken control of my spending.”
Read the evaluation of the Shopper Stopper tool at https://www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/shopperstopperreport
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Notes to Editors
- The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute was set up by Martin Lewis in spring 2016, registered charity number 1166493.
- It conducts research and develops policies for banks, lenders, regulators, the health service and government to help people with mental health problems protect themselves from financial difficulties and get out of debt.
- Martin Lewis OBE, Money Saving Expert, is an award-winning campaigning broadcaster, newspaper columnist and author. He founded MoneySavingExpert.com in 2003 for £100 and remains its full-time Editor-in- Chief. It is now the UK’s biggest money site, with more than 14 million monthly users. Martin has his own prime-time ITV programme – The Martin Lewis Money Show – and is resident expert on This Morning, Good Morning Britain and BBC Radio 5 Live’s Consumer Panel, among others.
- Previous research by The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute revealed that, in a survey of 5,500 people with mental health problems, 93% said they spend more when unwell. The charity warns that even a short period of impulsive spending has the potential to unpick years of good financial management, burn through savings and cause a rapid buildup of problem debt.
- All other figures in this release are drawn from a representative survey of 2,051 people conducted online by Populus on behalf of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute between 9th and 11th December 2016. Data was weighted to be nationally representative. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules; for more information www.populus.co.uk.
- The Shopper Stopper is a browser plugin, developed by Plexus for the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute using insights from behavioural science. The experimental tool has just finished an eight month trial (January 2017 – September 2017). The plugin allowed users to:
- Set the opening hours of any online shops
- Write a personal message to themselves to appear when they try to access a shop outside of these opening hours, reminding themselves why they wanted to block the store in the first place
- Choose an alternative activity that is suggested to them on the blocker that appears when trying to access a closed store
- Give a ‘virtual spare set of keys’ to a friend who can unlock closed shops in an emergency
- The Shopper Stopper also contains signposting information for those struggling with their mental health or worrying about finances.