Where’s Hyperconsumerism Taking Us, Anyway?

Although everyone wants to feel as if they are saving the environment, many people’s purchasing choices belie this notion.


Whether it’s influencers starting off a TikTok by noting, “I’ve been seeing this product all over TikTok and had to try it,” or whether you’ve just seen the same ad everywhere, spending money for unjustifiable reasons is being normalized. (Jon Tyson / Unsplash)

Propelled by social media shops and influencers’ affiliate links, consumerism has evolved into something far more consuming (and expensive): hyperconsumerism.

Internet-based company advertisements are nothing new. As soon as social media hit the internet, advertisements weren’t far behind; Facebook allowed ads as soon as two years after its creation, Snapchat followed after three, AT&T flew the web’s first digital banner on HotWired.com (which would later become Wired.com), and soon, all companies knew that with a near-unlimited network of consumers, there was a huge market just waiting to be acknowledged. 

But what’s newer is consumers doing the advertising in lieu of companies. Informal partnerships and collaborations are suddenly everywhere because anyone can become an affiliate now; Amazon only asks that you type in rudimentary information about yourself and check off some boxes. You can even get paid without anyone purchasing anything. With hundreds of companies paying just about anyone for sales and clicks, it’s no wonder so many are jumping at the opportunity.

Theoretically, these partnerships are a win-win; the company gets a sale or some internet traffic, and you get paid. But apart from the seemingly easy source of income, there’s something to be said about the market that this circulates in. 

Social media is a notorious shaper of opinions. It’s cultivated a need to be popular and up-to-date, which has only widened the chasm between a perceived, ideal identity and an authentic one. Materialism shifts self-worth from intangible experiences and connections such as memories, relationships, and values, to personal possessions and achievements. And for some people, it’s difficult to feel fulfilled without constantly spending money. For people who have serious financial problems that cause them to struggle to afford essentials like medical care and food, although counterintuitive, spending money can make them feel some semblance of power over a part of their life, even if the only thing they are in control of makes their situation worse. 

Professor of Design at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design Frenchy Lunning accurately describes hyperconsumerism as “consumerism for the sake of consuming.” A survey by Capital One reveals that 77% of Americans feel anxiety about their finances. For people undergoing depressive episodes, which is now over 8% of the American adult population, it’s also a dangerous trend that can swiftly offset financial goals and fiscal stability. 

Ignoring morality, becoming an affiliate might be easy, but getting a substantial profit isn’t. Amazon’s fixed affiliate commission rates range from zero to twenty percent per item sold. In addition, you only receive a sales commission if someone buys from your link within 24 hours — which is most people’s definition of an impulse purchase. 

It’s become increasingly common to see social media personalities gushing about how their latest impulse purchase was so worth it and they can’t imagine their life without it now, only to reveal at the end of their video or reel or story that they’ve partnered with the company to bring you that same product — sometimes at a discount if you use the code they offer you. 

This leads to another reason why impulse purchasing has become more common. 

Impulse purchases come in thousands of shapes and sizes that all slot differently into our financial situations. You might order takeout if you’re feeling too tired to cook, or you might grab a chocolate bar at the register because ‘why not?’ Maybe your favorite ice cream brand is on sale, and you had a stressful day at work. Food, unsurprisingly, is the most common impulse purchase in America. According to Ramsey Solutions, a company focused on people’s self improvement, a third of Americans who food shop in-store report that they leave with at least one purchase unaccounted for in their budget. 

That’s a troubling number, especially given the fact the average American spends $276 every month on unaccounted purchases. That’s $3,312 spent a year. With an average salary sitting at just under $50,000, over six percent of earned income is spent on heat-of-the-moment decisions. And the easier something is to buy, the more likely a consumer impacted by emotional stimuli with low self-control is likely to buy it

It’s an integral part of the logic behind the creation of Amazon Go, a cashierless store that allows you to buy more effortlessly than ever. Just walk out with your items and the balance will automatically be deducted from your Amazon account or credit card. 

By removing cashiers and register lines, Amazon Go offers itself as a more convenient option for shoppers. But it also removes some of the few opportunities left to second-guess and potentially stop an impulse buy. While they might seem like a good idea at the moment, some shoppers may rethink their choice when it comes to paying for their purchase and ultimately put it back on the shelf.  

Despite more people making impulse purchases at home in their monthly bills, these same people usually can’t afford to make them. It’s an expensive habit, and fiscal irresponsibility, image-consciousness or status-consciousness, and using retail therapy to cope with emotions and issues often only worsens it. But consumers still like to believe they’re getting an exclusive  bargain and that the purchase will pay off sooner rather than later. 

For companies, hyperconsumerism is nothing short of a benefit, and a huge one at that. Consumers promoting their products has several benefits over a marketing team’s designing advertisements. For one, it’s cheaper. Almost ten percent of a company’s total revenue will be spent on advertising. 

Consumer advertising can also be more effective. From the consumer standpoint, advertising has a negative connotation because its ultimate goal is to take your money. Strong brand recognition helps with building a relationship with consumers, but relatability is often the foundation for cementing brand loyalty with new customers. “This is the modern world we now live in, where businesses using advertising and marketing tactics encourage us to buy things we didn’t even know we wanted,” said Jennifer Nini, founder of Eco Warrior Princess, a journal-turned-media brand dedicated to living greener. “It’s common now to buy our identities, buy our values, buy our way to happiness and for some, even try to buy their way into politics.” 

Thankfully, the future of consumerism isn’t as bleak as hyperconsumerism may make it out to be. Global accounting firm Ernst & Young’s Future Consumer Index reports that a majority of consumers are moving towards sustainability over overconsumption. Thrifting and second-hand shopping has seen a huge increase in popularity with people looking for vintage clothing or a well-loved item for which to give new life. By 2026, the thrifting industry is estimated to increase by double. 

“The typical person saw over 5,000 advertisements yesterday telling them to buy something new,” said Joshua Becker, writer for Becoming Minimalist. “Here’s one with the opposite message: Buy Less.”

Despite more people making impulse purchases at home in their monthly bills, these same people usually can’t afford to make them. It’s an expensive habit, and fiscal irresponsibility, image-consciousness or status-consciousness, and using retail therapy to cope with emotions and issues often only worsens it.