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Friday, April 17, 2015

Now, companies hiring counsellors like Optum International to wean staff from online shopping

MUMBAI:For 32-year-old Anirudh Sehgal (name changed), an executive with a multinational corporation, online shopping brought distraction to his work and distress to his personal finances.

Sehgal would always have multiple shopping apps open on his mobile phone and shop secretly for thrill, spending a bulk of his salary buying unnecessary stuff. An online shopping de-addiction programme conducted by his employer last quarter came as a life saver. Optum International, the organisation that conducted the de-addiction programme, has since also connected him with a counsellor.


"We not only made him realise the long-term impact and possible ways to tackle this addiction, we also connected him to our financial advisors who helped him plan his expenses better," says Amber Alam, head of business (India), Optum International (formerly PPC Worldwide), a provider of employee counselling.

It has so far conducted online shopping de-addiction programmes for about 500 executives.

The tribe of such compulsive online prodigals is slowly growing, say counsellors and psychiatrists. This is forcing companies to come alongside and offer help to executives addicted to buying stuff online.

"Shopping addiction exists in our study on exploration of behavioural addiction in community," says Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, additional professor, department of clinical psychology, NIMHANS, Bangalore.

About 4.7% of female respondents and 3.5% of male respondents admitted to online shopping addiction in a NIMHANS study of 2,750 people in the age group of 18-65 years. The study was funded by Indian Council of Medical Research, Delhi.

Every day, Sameer Malhotra, who heads the department of mental health & behavioural sciences at Max Healthcare, treats at least two patients struggling with compulsive online shopping disorders. Leading multinational corporations are seeking de-addiction and counselling assistance for their employees, companies that provide such assistance say.

'A lot of anxiety'

Optum International recently did a workshop for two leading multinationals in India. Each workshop is facilitated by a psychologist, who advises participants on behavioural aspects, and a financial analyst, who advises them on budgeting and shopping responsibly without going overboard. These are typically 90-minute sessions with 30-35 participants. Counselling sessions are also offered at the end of such de-addiction sessions.

"There is a lot of anxiety because people are spending money buying stuff on the Internet sitting in offices, airports, washrooms, wherever they can, and damaging their finances," says Alam.

Typical signs of online shopping addiction include loss of self-control, ignoring other tasks, binges of buying unnecessary products followed by stressed finances and guilt.

"This is a kind of compulsive behaviour where consumers get a kick or are compelled to buy things they do not need in abundance," says Max Healthcare's Malhotra. "It sometimes boils down to keeping them under supervision or keeping away plastic money from them," he adds.

Online retailers claim to be unaware of this syndrome. "We haven't come across any cases of online addiction among consumers so far," says Praveen Sinha, co-founder and managing director of Jabong.com. "But we are better prepared in their recovery process by digging data of their shopping behaviour. I doubt this will ever become an alarming issue for the ecommerce sector in India," he adds.

An email query and calls to Amazon and Snapdeal went unanswered while Flipkart said it cannot comment since the company hasn't encountered such instances.

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