It has long been hailed as the ultimate way to let off steam by some members of the fairer sex.
Now, U.S. scientists have discovered that not only does retail therapy exist, but that it could be caused by an individual's fear of sudden death.
Researchers found materialistic people find terrorism and war more stressful than others - and are more likely to spend compulsively to help them cope.
Psychologists believe the rise of materialism around the world and its therapeutic effect on extreme stress might be a response to fear of death caused by acts of terrorism, disease and natural disasters.
The scientists from Michigan State University said people with possession obsessions often have lower self-esteem than others so are more likely splurge in the wake of severe psychological trauma.
Ayalla Ruvio, a business professor who studied people's shopping habits while rockets fell in Israel, said: 'When the going gets tough, the materialistic go shopping.
'And this compulsive and impulsive spending is likely to produce even greater stress and lower well-being. Essentially, materialism appears to make bad events even worse.'
Dr Ruvio led a two-part study of Israeli citizens living in a town that came under extreme rocket attacks for about six months in 2007.
She compared 139 residents of the southern town with 170 from another town that was not under attack to see how their symptoms of post-traumatic stress and shopping habits varied.
Along with researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel and the University of Illinois, Dr Ruvio analysed the psychological condition of the two groups.
The psychologists found that, when faced with a mortal threat, those who where highly materialistic suffered much higher levels of post-traumatic stress, while their tendency to buy impulsively and compulsively was increased.
Dr Ruvio said: 'The relationship between materialism and stress may be more harmful than commonly thought.'
The second stage of their research, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, surveyed 855 Americans about their materialistic nature and fear of death.
They found that shopping was used to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety about death among more materialistic people, but this was in response to fear of a variety of life-threatening events like car accidents, criminal attacks and natural disasters.