Looking back on a full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's one experience almost everyone can relate to: an increase in online shopping. Between the first and second quarters of 2020, e-commerce sales increased by more than 30%, with Americans spending nearly $212 billion online during the onset of social distancing and quarantine lockdowns at the start of the pandemic.
More than making sure they were getting the essentials picked up or delivered in the safest way possible, online shopping also became a coping mechanism during the pandemic, helping people manage their stress and feelings of uncertainty. Similarly, some people also found some other ways to pass the time during lockdown, including finding a more liquid way to deal with stress. The COVID-19 pandemic also led to an increase in alcohol consumption, particularly among women.
So what happens when these two pandemic pastimes converge? To find out, we surveyed over 1,000 people about their experiences shopping under the influence during COVID-19. Read on as we explore how many Americans admit to making a purchase under the influence; what they were buying; which sites they shopped from; how much they spent; and how many felt buyer's remorse after the fact.
Retail therapy isn't just something people talk about – it's a real experience where buying things can literally put you in a better mood, a boost that sometimes lasts long after you've swiped your credit card and moved on with the day. Of course, as with all things, moderation is key, and it's important not to make bad financial decisions in an attempt to ward off stress.
When asked about shopping under the influence (of either drugs or alcohol), 70% of respondents acknowledged making at least one purchase while buzzed, a confession that was more common among men (76%) than women (64%). Shopping while intoxicated was also more likely to occur among millennials (74%), compared to 67% of Gen Xers and 55% of baby boomers. These aren't always one-off scenarios, either. Nearly half of our respondents said they made purchases under the influence once per month (49%), followed by those who participated in buzzed buying two to three times per month (36%), four to five times (12%), and six or more times each month (3%). Overwhelmingly, the weekends were the most popular time for these intoxicated purchases with Saturdays (56%) leading the charge, followed by Fridays (44%) and Sundays (39%).
Not everyone needed a special occasion to encourage their sloshed spending, but birthday parties (42%), holidays (41%), wedding parties (27%), and sporting events (26%) were common reasons people listed for making an online purchase while under the influence.
Purchases Under the Influence
So what are people buying when they go online shopping under the influence? The most common purchases were clothing (46%), food delivery (36%), wearable devices (30%), and video games (28%). While women were more likely to spend on clothing (55%) and food delivery (37%) while they were tipsy, we found men more inclined to buy wearable devices (33%) and video games (35%).
And while they might not always be ordering the same things, most people were going to the same place for their inebriated spending. Amazon (69%) was more commonly used for online shopping while intoxicated than Walmart, eBay, and Target combined (67%). In April 2021, Amazon posted its second consecutive quarter with more than $100 billion in sales, reaching record levels of profit as a result of the pandemic. Another 24% of respondents also reported using food ordering apps while under the influence, followed by 14% who used grocery or convenience store delivery apps.
The Cost of Inebriated Spending
Shopping under the influence isn't a new phenomenon – one study found that Americans spent nearly $45 billion while intoxicated over a 12-month period that began in February 2019 – but the pandemic may have exacerbated the situation. Among those surveyed, people admitted to spending an average of $564 in the past year on purchases made while high or drunk. Men spent more ($583), on average, over the last year than women ($526). Nearly tied, Gen Xers and millennials reported spending $604 and $603, respectively, compared to baby boomers' $338.
In some cases, these purchases might not have been without consequence. More than half of respondents (56%) said they made intoxicated transactions using money that was intended for more important expenses. More than half also said they spent money but didn't remember making the purchase, and that it took seven days, on average, to realize they'd bought something online. In these cases, people reported learning about their intoxicated purchases via confirmation emails (61%), bank statements (50%), and unexpected package deliveries (34%).
Intoxicated Buyer's Remorse
In moderation, retail therapy might not be a bad thing, but emotional shopping can become a problem if you don't recognize the signs that it's become habitual or if you can't set and follow a proper budget. Among people polled, two-thirds admitted to facing at least one negative financial consequence as a result of online shopping while intoxicated.
This included 33% who said their credit cards were declined, 29% who experienced an insufficient bank balance, and 26% who acknowledged having trouble paying their rent or bills. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans also said they incurred debt as a result of their intoxicated online shopping.
More than a third of people (35%) said they completely regretted their online shopping under the influence, followed by 53% who said they somewhat regretted their decisions and just 12% who had no buyer's remorse. Baby boomers (15%) were the most likely to say they had no regrets about the purchases they made under the influence. Despite not always being happy with their decisions, more than half of respondents also acknowledged keeping all of the purchases they made under the influence, and 42% of women said they were happy with their purchases, compared to 35% of men.
Making Better Buying Decisions
In general, it's not uncommon to go online shopping under the influence. As we found, a majority of men and women have made purchases while intoxicated, even though they haven't always remembered doing it or felt great about what they bought. Still, 40% of Americans anticipate the odds are high that they'll end up online shopping while buzzed at some point again in the future.
At CouponChief, we have a simple mission: to help you save money regardless of how sober you are when you spend it. With codes for over 84,000 online retailers, our members help to validate, rate, and comment on our codes to ensure they work. Better yet, when you contribute a coupon code yourself, we'll share 2% of the revenue it generates with you. More than just a one-stop shop for the best coupon codes, our financial writers and frugal living blog have helpful tips and insights for saving. Learn more online today at CouponChief.com.
Methodology and Limitations
We surveyed 1,010 people who have made online purchases in the past while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or similar. Among them, 55% were men, 44% were women, and 1% preferred not to answer. Respondents' ages ranged from 24 to 60 years old with an average age of 37.
For short, open-ended questions, outliers were removed. To help ensure that all respondents took our survey seriously, they were required to identify and correctly answer an attention-check question.
These data rely on self-reporting by the respondents and are only exploratory. Issues with self-reported responses include, but aren't limited to, exaggeration, selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and bias. All values are based on estimation.
Fair Use Statement
Think your readers might be buzzed and buying? Share the results of this study on online shopping under the influence for any noncommercial use with the inclusion of a link back to this page so readers have full access to our findings and methodology.