How we all are falling victim to Diderot Effect

It is a given that you have experienced Diderot effect, irrespective of the fact that you are aware about it or not. The Diderot effect is a social phenomenon which is directly related to shopping. 

The effect is two fold. The first part suggests that any product purchased by consumers will be related to their identity, hence they will reflect, relate to their purchases. The second part suggests that an introduction of any additional or complementary product along with their prime purchase will result in spiraling consumption. If it is still too complicated, here is a simple explanation. Along with any of your prime purchases, you always buy accessories, complimentary sides that you may or may not need. So, you end up buying things that you didn’t even know you wanted, just because it was complementary to your prime purchase. The term Diderot effect was coined by anthropologist and scholar of consumption patterns Grant McCracken in 1988, and is named after the French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–1784), who first described the effect in an essay. 

Why Do We Want Things We Don’t Need?

Just like everyone, we all have fallen victim to the Diderot effect. For example, you buy a car and then you purchase all sorts of things that can go with it like tire pressure gauge, a car charger for cell phone, an extra umbrella, a first aid kit, a pocket knife, a flashlight, emergency blankets, and even a seat belt cutting tool. There is a high chance that the last car you owned, you made it past many years without needing any of the extra equipment. You fall down the consumption spiral. You can see many such examples around you. 

We have a natural inclination to feel more fulfilled with more things around us. We never look to downgrade, we always want to upgrade. We would rather accumulate and add than get rid of things. In the words of sociology professor Juliet Schor, “the pressure to upgrade our stock of stuff is relentlessly unidirectional, always ascending.” 

How to master this effect?

After reading all of this, if you are wondering how to master this effect, we do have some pointers that can help you. You have to learn how to select, choose, eliminate and focus on the things that matter and you truly need. The other way of encountering the Diderot effect is reducing your exposure. Any habit is always triggered on a cue. If you can control the triggers by avoiding them, you can steer clear of the Diderot effect. A simple step like unsubscribing from the offer emails, or meeting your friends at a park rather than a mall can also help. These self imposed limits will help you control the shopping urges.

At times it is good to learn and know about the psychological terms and phenomenon. You don’t have to think that it is just you who has no handle on what you buy. There is an explanation and a reason behind your urges and your attraction to buy things for the fulfilment of the shelves of your house or your desk. 

E-commerce industry and Diderot effect:

The e-commerce industry has leveraged a lot on this effect. If you have noticed that when you buy any product on popular e-commerce websites, it always suggests that “people who bought this also bought the following items”. Sometimes even offering you exciting deals on the combo offer. The algorithms are designed to notice and project the behaviour of the purchases along with related items. This helps the buyer sometimes as they don’t have to search additionally. For example: If you buy a phone, the phone cover automatically comes in suggestions. Your choice of products or your previously bought products are all a part of this.  


The Diderot effect may or may not cause any troubles in your life, but it does affect your pockets. The next time you are shopping, you can pay attention to all the things that you need. Ask yourself a question, Do you want this product? Or Do you need this product? The offers and the deals might excite you and tell you otherwise but you have to stay strong. The consumer behaviour is very predictable. Hence the websites and the stores are cashing in on your shopping habits. So for your next shopping spree, be aware and choose wisely. 

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