Impulse buying and a hoarding mentality can be common habits during difficult times, and experts say that making unplanned purchases helps some people feel they have regained control in the face of the unprecedented uncertainty that has been triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Covid-19 and all that ensued has resulted in many people experiencing mental health concerns such as low or anxious moods, engaging in addictive behaviours,” says Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of Lighthouse Arabia.
“Resorting to shopping to alleviate their low or anxious mood is not something we have observed more or less of, but it would make sense because many people struggle with retail therapy and chase the dopamine release that comes with spending money and chasing the next high.”
An Amazon Mena representative said there was an increase in online shopping for everyday products such as household staples, groceries and hygiene items, including face masks and disinfectants, in the early days of Covid-19.
However, over the past few months, there has been an increase in lifestyle categories that reflect current trends, such as working from home. Other categories that have seen an increase in sales include kitchen, entertainment and sports products, the Amazon representative adds.
Ali Kafil-Hussain, chief of staff at online shopping site noon.com, says: “At the height of the pandemic, we saw spikes in sales for personal care products, supplements, household essentials and personal protective equipment.”
“When remote working became standard and people started spending even more time at home, we saw an increase in sales for home office equipment, garden and balcony furniture, backyard pools, video games and gym equipment.”
Worldwide spending patterns suggest that people usually fall into two categories during a recession: those who spend and those who save. “Many people felt no desire or need to spend money because they did not need new clothes or shoes as they were not going out as much. However, these individuals may have felt more comfortable shopping online for home appliances, books and home renovation projects,” says Dr Afridi.
She adds that there are others who struggle with difficult feelings and may resort to addictive behaviours, such as shopping or eating to feel numb. “These people may not consider their budget when they spend. This is where they can get themselves into debt because they are spending to avoid negative feelings, not because they have the money or they need/want something,” Dr Afridi says.
During the height of the UAE's stay-at-home measures, many retailers offered discounts or other promotions to keep consumers spending through the pandemic. But those who availed of the offers may now find themselves with high levels of debt and struggling to make repayments, says Chris Keeling, a chartered financial planner at The Fry Group.
“Some who took loans or other forms of borrowing just before or during the pandemic could now be regretting their decision as many have found themselves with a change of circumstances, whether that be personal or professional, with many either needing to relocate, facing a salary reduction or a job loss,” Mr Keeling adds.
Here, we talk to UAE residents about their top spending regrets during Covid-19.
1. Exercise equipment
The popularity of working out at home spiked during the pandemic because gyms were closed, leading to a number of UAE residents buying home exercise equipment to continue their routines. A majority of purchases included exercise bikes, treadmills, weights and dumbbells, which many now admit are lying around unused after gyms reopened.
“With gyms being closed and seeing a lot of people on my social media feed working out at home with weights, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and purchase two kettlebells for Dh200 in total,” says Zainab Nalla, a British expat in Dubai.
Although Ms Nalla regrets buying the kettlebells during Covid-19 because she no longer uses them, she has repurposed them as doorstoppers.
2. Clothes and shoes
As working from home became commonplace during the pandemic, a majority of UAE residents relegated their corporate clothes to the recesses of their wardrobes and switched to leisure wear.
Choden Bhutia, an Indian expat, regrets buying a lot of casual wear and shoes during sales in Dubai amid the pandemic. “Being unable to use them frustrates me as we do not go out and have a social life like before.”
Ms Bhutia spent a few thousand dirhams on her purchases. "It can be considered as a form of stress buying as we were confined to our house. I rarely use these clothes and shoes now, but maybe in the future," she tells The National.
3. Home gadgets
With people spending more time at home, it provided the perfect opportunity for some UAE residents to put their cooking skills to the test, resulting in a spike in the sale of kitchen equipment.
Indian expat Diana Dsouza succumbed to this trend and decided to learn how to bake during the pandemic. She purchased a conventional oven for Dh400 in July and has been baking ever since for her family.
“I regret buying the oven because after I started using it, I have gained 5 kilograms and developed cholesterol. I still use it to bake unhealthy stuff. After this purchase, I was forced to buy an Apple Watch to keep a tab on my health,” Ms Dsouza adds.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Wright purchased a cordless vacuum for about Dh3,000 during the stay-at-home restrictions to keep on top of the cleaning when her maid couldn’t come to work. “By the time the vacuum was delivered over a month later, my maid was able to come again and now it sits unused in the box. I regret buying it,” says Ms Wright.
4. Theme park annual pass
With UAE theme parks closed for several months during the movement restrictions, Javaria Haq, a Pakistani expat and blogger, regrets buying an annual theme park family membership for IMG Worlds of Adventure for almost Dh400, which she purchased just before the movement restrictions.
“This is a wasted purchase because the theme park has neither given us a membership extension nor reimbursed us for the days we missed out owing to the stay-at-home measures. The membership has already expired,” Ms Haq adds.
The family also subscribed to the Dubai Entertainer app in January for Dh495. However, with a limited amount of restaurants only offering takeaways during the pandemic and the family preferring to dine indoors for safety reasons, they have not used the app much. “The membership will expire by the end of the year,” Ms Haq adds.
5. Self-care kits and make-up
Beauty salons were also closed during the stay-at-home restrictions and even after they reopened, they faced restrictions on their services to protect customers. This resulted in a spike in sales of self-care items such as nail care kits, do-it-yourself waxing sets and face masks. However, with beauty salons reopening and services being restored, these products now remain idle.
Just before the pandemic struck earlier this year, Sharjah resident Anima Puthukudi wanted to give herself a makeover and splashed out on a variety of lipsticks, spending about Dh300 on her haul of make-up. "With face masks mandatory while stepping out now, I regret buying all those lipsticks," she tells The National.
Travel has taken a big hit during the pandemic. However, many UAE residents say they regret buying travel planners, air tickets, travel insurance and holiday packages.
Ms Puthukudi’s four-member family had plans to travel to India and purchased trendy suitcases for her children worth Dh900, which have never been used.
7. House upgrades and new cars
Some UAE residents upgraded their residential accommodation just before the pandemic, only to find themselves regretting the higher spend later. Sharath Premkumar moved to a bigger apartment in Dubai Hills Estate just before the pandemic-induced restrictions were introduced.
“I moved into a new house in February, which translated into a much higher rent. So, I feel a move at this time was not a good idea,” he said.
Mr Premkumar also bought a new premium car in February. In hindsight, he says he should have waited before making this purchase.
8. Staple food items
Although the UAE did not face a shortage of canned food and toilet paper, as was witnessed in other parts of the world in April, some consumers resorted to hoarding staple household goods to ride out the pandemic, thus causing a temporary shortage of some products in grocery stores.
Ms Nalla recalls visiting a supermarket during the initial days of panic buying, only to see that the store had temporarily run out of products such as chicken, eggs, pasta and pasta sauce.
“We did the same the next day and bought 10 bags of pasta, several bottles of pasta sauce, cereals and cereal bars. We eventually finished using them, but in hindsight, we should not have resorted to panic buying,” she adds.
9. Home office supplies
In mid-March, most UAE employees were asked to work remotely. Often spending eight or nine hours a day working from home, they soon realised that slouching on sofas and beds with their laptops perched on their knees was an ergonomic health hazard.
Prioritising comfort, UAE residents purchased work desks and ergonomic chairs, backrests, standing desks, printers, wireless headsets, wireless keyboards and even accessories to decorate their home office.
“Working from home on a couch was painful during the lockdown. I purchased a comfortable chair and table for remote working,” says Mithun U. “Now, I have to work from office completely and my home office is a wasteful purchase.”
10. Toys and games
The school closures in the UAE during Covid-19 forced parents to think of new ways to keep their children occupied at home. From jigsaw puzzles to crosswords, dollhouses, indoor play tents, board games, piano mats, racing car tracks and video games, parents were doing all they could to keep their children occupied and entertained. Ms Puthukudi says she paid Dh150 to buy new craft supplies for her children, but after the initial excitement, the children moved on to other games and the craft items have been forgotten.