Study Shows Many Mexican Shoppers Are Compulsive Buyers

June 10, 1997

by Alan Hunt

WACO, Texas - Compulsive buying could be "a real problem" in Mexico, say two researchers who have been studying consumer behavior in that country.

Dr. James A. Roberts, of Baylor University in Texas, and Dr. Carlos Martinez, of Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores De Monterrey, say a "high percentage" - nearly 7 percent - of the Mexican consumers they surveyed fit the compulsive buyer image.

"This is at the high end of previous studies which found between 1 to 6 percent of U.S. adults could be classified as compulsive buyers," their study points out.

They say the trend is inevitable with the increasing presence of American companies, products and popular culture in Mexico. This scenario "has undoubtedly affected the shopping behavior and attitudes of many Mexican consumers," they point out.

"One need look no further than the United States and Mexico for an example of converging cultures. NAFTA has helped speed up a process already underway."

The two researchers say earlier studies show that Hispanics enjoy shopping more than non-Hispanics, and Hispanics were also found to like the mall atmosphere more than non-Hispanics. "Heightened enjoyment of shopping should lead to more frequent shopping trips. In spending a lot of time in malls, exposure to products will be increased and the likelihood of spending will rise."

Similarly, they say, previous research has found that Mexican-American consumers do not like to delay spending money to achieve gratification and "have present-oriented attitudes."

The easy availability of credit cards is another factor. "The strength of the relationship between credit cards and compulsive buying suggests credit cards and their use should be at the center of any attempt to address the issue of compulsive buying," the two professors say.

"As the use of credit cards becomes more widespread in Mexico, compulsive buying and consumer debt will likely increase." The researchers say the marketing of credit cards to vulnerable populations such as the poor and young could benefit from legislation that restricts or puts qualifications on how the cards are marketed.

For their study Roberts and Martinez questioned a random sample of college students (172 women and 109 men aged between 19-24) from a major Mexican university.

They term as "interesting" the fact that they found no significant difference between men and women when it came to compulsive shopping behavior. In contrast, previous studies in the U.S. found women to make up the majority of compulsive buyers. The researchers point out that in most Mexican households, Hispanic husbands traditionally make important decisions relating to purchases.

Other factors they suggest lead to compulsive buying in Mexico include heavy television viewing, the growing middle class, the government's free market policies, the privatization of Mexican banks, the increasing number of U.S. financial institutions entering the Mexican market and the fact that checks are not widely accepted in Mexico.

Warn the researchers, "The emergence of Mexico as a major economic force in terms of purchasing power and its close ties to the United States suggests that compulsive buying could be a real problem." They say it is "critical" that Mexican government officials and public policy makers have a clear understanding of the incidence of compulsive buying and its causes.

"Compulsive buying has potentially severe consequences for the individual affected, others around him or her and society at large."

For more information, call Roberts at (254) 755-3523.

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