Lonely, non-empathetic people are more likely to have bad shopping habits.

“Consumers very often behave immorally. And while these behaviors are often legal, they are unethical and cost retailers billions each year,” said Jenny Jiao, assistant professor of management at Binghamton University.

The researchers gave the example of how consumers purchase an item, mostly clothing, then return it after use, intentionally taking advantage of the return policy.

“Wardrobing is when people buy an item, use it and then return it,” said Jiao.

“Someone may buy a big-screen TV for Super Bowl Sunday, only to return it on Monday; or they may buy a nice outfit for a night out, only to return it the next day.”

While there are numerous reasons a consumer may partake in this kind of behaviour, Jiao and fellow researcher Jing Wang of the University of Iowa focused on whether loneliness could be a factor.

“There are a lot of dark sides to loneliness. Past research has established that feeling lonely can make you have a lower evaluation of yourself or cause you to have lower self-esteem. It also can negatively influence your health, and impair your self-regulation and social skills,” said Jiao.

“We wanted to see how it affects the ability to make moral decisions.”

The research looked at the effect loneliness and empathy had on a consumer’s overall moral identity and moral decision making by conducting four separate studies.

“We found that lonely people are capable of empathizing and making moral decisions, but they may not have the intention or motivation to,” said Jiao.

“But when empathy levels increase, we don’t see much difference between lonely people and non-lonely people. Lonely people will be more likely to engage in moral behaviors and less likely to engage in immoral behaviors when they feel empathy.

“Those people who are returning TVs or golf clubs or dresses may be experiencing loneliness.

“If they can see how much work they’re creating for employees, or if they can see how much money this behavior is costing the company, they may start empathizing, which could result in them being less likely to return the products.”

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