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Study Finds Impulse Grocery Buying Not Always Random

May 20, 2010

News - Study Finds Impulse Grocery Buying Not Always Random 10.05.20

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Grocery shopping is for some a chore, for others a bit of fun, but for everyone, a necessity that requires some degree of planning and budgeting. And different people have different ideas about what constitutes a successful trip through the aisles.

A study co-researched by Baylor marketing professor Kirk Wakefield looks at consumer behavior in the grocery store. Some of those Waco shoppers may have been just the type of people he interviewed in local grocery stories before the release. The study looked at the nature of the "impulse buy"--items that may not be on a list of intended staples like milk, eggs, or meat. What he and other researchers discovered is that these unplanned items may not be as impulsive as thought--and might not be the budget-buster that they could be.

Dr. Wakefield says "in-store slack" is part of a mental budget that shoppers know they'll spend, but aren't necessarily sure on which specific items. Participants in the study were asked what they planned on buying, how much they intended on spending, and in some cases were even given scanners so the order they purchased items could be studied. The questioning gave researchers insight into their intentions, and allowed a little peek into shopping psychology.

Results showed that most consumers stuck closely to their budget, with the deviation averaging just 47 cents. Dr. Wakefield wanted to determine whether or not in-store slack affect the budget. Does it lead to overspending? Overall, the deviation says not much. But the more aisles the shopper visited, they more unplanned items they purchased. And some people are more impulsive than others. The combination of impulsive shoppers on long trips strolling many aisles, not surprisingly, was the biggest recipe for overspending.

There can be a number of reasons for the impulsiveness. The desire to splurge on treats in addition to staples, or maybe to buy a better brand. For one area woman, unplanned purchases were driven by her four children alongside.

Kids, disposable income, time spent in the store--all factors that impacted in-store slack and how much money was spent. So if needs like milk for the kids or vegetables as a side dish aren't the impulsive in-store slack items, what are? Dr. Wakefield said it's not unexpected.

The study can be used by grocery stores in their ever-continuing quest to determine how to best induce consumers to consume, since the "in-store slack" findings seems to suggest a zero-sum game--that it's not a matter of spending more for most buyers, but rather shifting the "what" rather than the "how much." Consumers can look at the mental deals they make with themselves-allowing the store to cue what they think they need with the additional money they have to spend. For KWBU news, I'm Derek Smith.

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