Shopping Begets Shopping

Put down the credit card, you unstoppable spending machine. Groundbreaking research shows that shopping leads to more shopping; not, as some predicted, happiness. Once you start buying, you build up what researchers call “shopping momentum,” and then you can’t stop.

Shopping momentum occurs when an initial purchase provides a psychological impulse whose momentum drives the purchase of a second, unrelated product… Momentum occurs because the initial purchase moves one from a deliberative to an implemental mindset, thus driving subsequent purchases.

So how do you get in the zone? Shopping has two distinct phases. First, you wisely deliberate a product’s value. Once you decide to buy, you reach the second phase, where it becomes easier to make additional, more expensive purchases, without returning again to the deliberative phase.

Planning can derail mindless spending. Keep your money in separate places to create a pause between decision and purchase. Like with grocery shopping, make a list before hitting the mall to avoid extraneous purchases. If you want to browse, ask salespeople to hold items and come back the next day to re-evaluate your selections with a thrifty friend.

Buyer Beware: Shopping Can Lead to More … Well … Shopping [Stanford Graduate School of Business]
The Shopping Momentum Effect (PDF) [Journal of Marketing Research]
(Photo: enmanuel)


Edit Your Comment

  1. dgcaste says:


    So if we want to browse at the grocery store, do we ask the floor people to hold our bread and eggs til tomorrow?

  2. Rando says:

    Pretty much true. I’m pretty good with buying only things I need while occasionally spoiling myself. I just bought a new HDTV then that lead me to buy a blu-ray player…then surround sound

  3. Surprised Cat says, “I spent HOW MUCH?”

  4. wring says:

    @dgcaste: i love the smell of fail in the morning.

  5. SadSam says:

    I put stuff in my shopping baskets on line and then I go back a couple days later or a week later and if I still want or need the item I purchase it. I’ve had stuff in my basket for months (its also fun to watch the prices go up and down).

    I also stick to a list when I shop, not on the list I don’t buy it. If its something I really need it can go on the next list.

  6. evslin says:

    @SadSam: I’ve been doing that shopping cart trick too. I’ve been wanting to pick up a PS3 for awhile now, and after seeing the total bill for the system + a game or two on Amazon, I keep that number in the back of my head as I go through the pay period adhering to my established budget.

    Helps me decide if I a) really want it and b) can really afford it.

  7. TechnoDestructo says:

    If you keep buying food, that will only enable you to require MORE food later on.

  8. luz says:

    Funny! But I only do this with alcohol, and the Deliberative Phase of Beer only lasts about a nanosecond.

  9. KarmaChameleon says:

    @randotheking: That’s not shopping momentum, that’s getting the most out of your HDTV. I had fun trying to explain this to my mom when she bought a 42″ Sharp Aquos over the holidays. Of course she couldn’t afford a Blu Ray player after she got hosed by the Circuit City guy buying cables and useless accessories and Firedog install.

  10. Keter says:

    Huh? That sounds like a compulsive behavior akin to what you see in alcoholics or compulsive gamblers…they can to some degree inhibit themselves from taking that first drink or making that first bet, but once that’s done, it’s all over for them. That pattern clearly indicates abnormal psychology, so this makes me wonder if the structure of the study really captured the way people shop, or just the way compulsive people shop. (Or, scary thought, that a LOT of people now are compulsive shoppers.)

  11. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    @TechnoDestructo: Very true. If you simply stop buying food, soon you will never need food again!

  12. clevershark says:

    @aaron8301: You’ll lose weight too!

    Seriously though, I’m one of those people who always used to dismiss this sort of dynamic as “excuses”, until I realized that I had previously engaged in exactly the sort of behavior we’re describing.

  13. joessandwich says:

    I’m fully aware that this happens to me, which is why the Christmas season is so bad for me. First I’m buying stuff for other people, then I’m using my gift cards and usually always end up buying extra stuff. I just did that at REI this weekend.