Opening the Shopping Floodgates
Ever notice how sometimes when you go shopping for one thing, you end up bringing home four or five other things? How many times have your heard, “I only came in for…” at the check-out? It’s one of the reasons I shop with a list and only add to my list, not to my shopping.
From Stanford comes a new set of studies that talk about how shopping can lead to more shopping. It seems that buying that fateful first item may open the shopping floodgates.
People were given the opportunity to buy discounted items from the researchers as compensation for their participation in the study. Some people were offered a light bulb, others received something more relevant to their needs like an educational CD. This was to vary how likely people were to buy the first item. It came as no surprise that people who received a light bulb were less likely to buy it compared to those who received the CD. Then folks had the chance to buy a second item: a keychain.
Turns out, the people who bought the CD – something they wanted — were more likely to buy the keychain even though the second item was completely unrelated to the first. Turns out shopping is a two-stage process:
- People deliberate about a purchase, weighing cost and benefits, the degree to which they need the item, and so on.
- Once the deliberation is over and the buying begins, a subtle psychological mechanism comes into play and a roller coaster of shopping can begin.
That first buy creates what the researchers call “shopping momentum.”
Most people don’t have a clue that this is happening to them. Outside of stores, people think rationally. Inside stores, a whole different dynamic comes into play and people may be triggered to shop MORE by the sheer act of shopping. That’s why smart stores put momentum starters at the front of the store; you know, those small items it’s easy to pick up, which don’t require a lot of deliberation. Those little buys get you on a shopping roll. It’s also why smart retailers use “loss leaders” or products they sell at a deep discount to get you into the store. They know that when you pick up those 24 rolls of toilet paper for a buck fifty, you’re going to have opened your shopping floodgates and buy all the other stuff at full price.
So are there ways to slow down your shopping momentum? Indeed there may be. It seems that when you must open two separate wallets, envelopes or other containers for your money, you’re more likely to think twice before jumping on the shopping bandwagon. That’d make a good case for not filling your basket and checking out all at once, but buying smaller loads of stuff at a time. It also could help your case if you put the cash you intend to spend into an envelope (and write your list on the front) before heading off to the store. You’re less likely to dip back into your wallet for impulse purchases.